Blogging Bayport Alameda

September 18, 2012

You asked, they answered: Barbara Kahn, School Board candidate

Filed under: Alameda, Election — Tags: , , , — Lauren Do @ 6:08 am

1. Turnover of principals at Wood, Lincoln, Encinal and other schools have been high, how important do you think stable leadership is for schools?

Leadership that is positive brings people together, encourages input and buy in from a majority of stake holders, parents, students and teachers.Leadership that is positive has a vision that they share and an ability to incorporate change and modify the vision to move it forward. Stability is not the criteria which differentiates effective from non-effective leadership. Good leadership entails building a team that is working together to accomplish a goal. Good leadership encourages input from all participants. Good leadership acknowledges that he/she does not have all the answers and values the power of the community. Good leadership creates its own stability. Our district lacks effective leadership at the top, hence problems continue at all levels.

2. Describe your understanding of how Measure A funds have been allocated and what steps will you take to restore confidence in the voters who are angry about the way the funds generated by Measure A have been used?

I will work towards the district adopting policies on transparency that put it in line with the City Council’s Sunshine Ordinance. Perhaps the most difficult question that arises from the allocation of funds from Measure A is the lack of transparency . I served on the oversight committee, and while I must assume that the administration characterized its expenditures in line with Measure A, there was no way to make an unequivocal statement that the spirit of the Measure A was reflected in the way funds were spent. The staff reported to the committee with spread sheets showing expenditures by category and these lined up with the categories in the Measure. Since the reporting was done by the same people who were spending the money there was no way to verify that x dollars spent in category y was truly inline with what was expected. In defining the role of the committee, the district instructed


150 computers purchased and paid for under the technology portion of the measure, does not tell us where those computers went. Transparency would tell us where the computers were placed in classrooms? to administrators? to the district office? to Bay Farm Island Schools or to Ruby Bridges.? The overall tenor of the district presently is less than transparent and this impacts most questions that you pose. The role of the committee was clearly defined, and we were essentially charged with checking out the numbers that were supplied by the district. Transparency is the only way that the community will have confidence in district decisions?

3. What criteria would you use to determine if a teacher was effective or ineffective, and based on that criteria, what should be done to ensure that the district only employs effective teachers.

This goes way beyond the purview of a board. Teacher evaluation is a function of the principal who is in turn responsible to the superintendent The buck stops with the superintendent. A good superintendent works with administrators to coach and mentor and set standards for teacher evaluation. Test scores, few parental complaints quiet classrooms pretty bulletin boards do not define a good teacher. Observations of classrooms in action, feedback and constructive criticism by administrators, always within the parameters of contract and law, should be required of the superintendent by the board. Every teacher who is “not a good teacher” was tenured by a principal. When a new teacher is hired, there are processes in place for the mentoring of that new teacher. The superintendent is responsible for seeing that these occur. Testing is one measure and while it may not give an accurate picture of a particular teachers performance due to the extreme variation in the population from school to school, and from classroom to classroom, it should provide guidelines to the distribution of resources to schools based on need. Principals need training in supervision and evaluation.

4. What criteria would you use to determine if AUSD administration staff was effective or ineffective, and based on that criteria, what should be done to ensure that the district only employs effective administrators.

You are not a leader if nobody is following you. Essentially the board is responsible for the hiring and supervision of the superintendent—perhaps the only way the board impacts professional performance. In the posting for the superintendent’s job for which the present superintendent was hired, the following were listed as personal characteristics required “ … treats others with dignity and respect….Creates a district climate of cooperation and collaboration…Ability t o listen to new ideas and divergent opinions and secures meaningful involvement of staff parents and community…Recognizes that all staff members are integral to the success of the district…experience in negotiations with a demonstrated record of creating a positive climate in employee relations and a record of creating a climate of cooperation and collaboration.”

I support the criteria developed by a previous board, but obviously something happened on the way to the Forum

5. If elected, what will you do to be proactive about securing adequate funding for our children? What outside-of-the-box ideas do you have to force the politicians to adequately fund our schools now?

School funding is precarious, subject to political vagaries. We have explored legislative and judicial avenues to secure appropriate funding for our district—to no avail The root of the problem lies in Proposition 13 which has impacted every area of communal need in California from pot holes to pensions and it needs revisiting. Not a very popular idea, but one which surfaces periodically. I would support the district taking a proactive role in joining in the efforts to make this change.

6. What single educational program and/or improvement will you push or recommend to better AUSD and describe the program and/or improvement.

I am not an educator and could not recommend with authority any specific program. I do believe that we fall short in the area of equity. In allocating Measure A funds for innovative programs to 3 schools, 2 of the schools chosen were in the most successful schools and affluent areas of our city. The explanation that was given was that these were the schools that submitted outstanding programs. If the district were truly concerned with equity and closing the achievement gap, district staff would have been charged with working with the schools whose students were the neediest to develop proposals.
I believe that a return to interest based bargaining with the bargaining units would go far to defuse the current state of unrest . We are not adversaries.

7. In 2010, AUSD adopted a Master Plan, explain your understanding of the Master Plan and AUSD’s implementation of the stated goals.

The Master Plan is a very fine document—that is what it is—a document. The first area covered in goals and strategies is “Redesign the Central Office” We are not P G & E . I believe the first goal should be, as every decision should be “Is it good for kids?” As I read through the Master Plan I was struck by the lack of passion or feeling for the children we serve or our community. I have no quarrel with raising the bar, requiring teachers and administrators to be responsible for performance or with much of the Master Plan. It is very academic and except for some specifics (Parcel tax language) it could be written for any school district. It is tone deaf to Alameda.

8. As an elected official what is your specific role in promoting civic engagement as opposed to staff’s role?

I believe that school board members should be available and accessible to the parents and the community. At present the communication route is via the board meeting, which is in a formal and probably intimidating venue. Questions may be raised, but the board does not respond to the questions at the meetings. Pete Stark conducted community meetings in Alameda where citizens were free to go and share concerns with him and get answers. I would like to work on a plan whereby board members (within the strictures of the Brown Act) would hold informal and regular meeting with parents and community members in more relaxed settings. Board members are elected to represent the community. They do not own the school district.

9. Who is funding your campaign and which groups and individuals have endorsed your candidacy?

I have received an fppc number but have not asked for financial support. My original intention was to run a “NO BUDGET” campaign and request that any contributions be made to a local school or the Alameda Education Foundation. It did not take long for me to find out that YARD SIGNS were an imperative. My political friends were elated that I decided to run and they have offered financial support . I have been endorsed by the teachers union and they will be independently participating. They will not be contributing financially directly to my campaign. I will be running a campaign independent of their endorsement. I am grateful for their endorsement. I think that teaching is an extremely difficult and important job and if this recognition earns me their endorsement , so be it . I will be filing reports with the Secretary of State detailing contributions if and when they occur.

Bonus Question: There are multiple seats available in the races for City Council, the School Board and the Hospital Board. Besides yourself, who will you be voting for in your race and why?

It is imperative that a new board works together for the benefit of children . There is no way to tell who will be on that board. Taking sides publicly makes no sense if consensus on vital issues is the goal. I believe that everyone who is investing time and energy in running for the school board cares about kids and education. We differ on issues and approaches, but not on a concern for education.


  1. No one in the District can answer the legitimate question about equity and the distribution of Measure A funds which Kahn raises. If someone in the District stated that funds were distributed because a few successful and well funded schools proposed a plan and other schools who needed the funds did not, then there is a serious problem of leadership and equity.

    Comment by Commonsense — September 18, 2012 @ 6:42 am

  2. With all due respect, I have to say my perception of the Master Plan is different than Ms. Kahn’s.

    As I understand it, the intent of the Master Plan was to solicit feedback and develop consensus about what Alamedans wanted for their school district. It was developed over the course of seven months and involved eight community workshops, two dozen smaller meetings hosted by volunteers, 30 school site meetings, two community surveys, and a teacher survey created by the AEA.

    I attended most of those 8 community meetings and I saw Alamedans from all over the island present at them. The debates about what was right for our community were often long and passionate (and illuminating). As such, I don’t see the Master Plan as being “tone deaf” to Alameda. I see it as a reflection of what the community said it wanted for our schools.

    I also don’t believe the plan is just an academic “document.” The vision and strategies discussed in the plan — including passing a parcel tax, creating innovative school options, increasing student achievement, re-working school evaluation methods, keeping K-3 class sizes at 25:1, and maintaining neighborhood schools — have very much been integrated into the district’s policies and practices over the last two years, all with the intent of creating a district that is more responsive to the educational needs of our kids.

    If you’re interested in learning more about the Master Plan, I’d encourage you to watch the presentation about it given at a recent Board of Education meeting. (Click on agenda item F6 on to watch.) It’s 30 minutes long but I think it’s a really good way to learn more about the plan’s vision and strategy, as well as the progress that has been made in integrating those strategies and meeting those goals over the last two years.

    Comment by Susan Davis — September 18, 2012 @ 12:55 pm

  3. It’s really disheartening to see a school board candidate show so little respect for all the work done by the community on the Master Plan. I have to wonder if Ms. Kahn participated in the Master Plan process. I can’t believe that she would call the Master Plan “tone deaf to Alameda” if she had been there.

    Comment by Oh the Irony! — September 18, 2012 @ 2:27 pm

  4. Kahn’s constituency isn’t the public, it’s the teachers union.

    She hears every tone in their song.

    Comment by Jack Schultz — September 18, 2012 @ 3:46 pm

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