Blogging Bayport Alameda

September 19, 2012

You asked, they answered: Niel Tam, School Board candidate

Filed under: Alameda, Election — Tags: , , , — Lauren Do @ 6:09 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?

I think it is important to have stable leadership in the schools. Over the 43 years in which I have been deeply involved with the Alameda schools, there has been large turnover of principals and district administrators, especially with an incoming superintendent. Some principals leave due to retirements and others move on for better opportunities. For principals and administrators, AUSD is one of the lowest paying Districts in the Bay Area. When I was elected to the school board in 2008, I encouraged that the superintendent look for principals within our teacher leaders. I would support an Administrative Internship Program for our district. During my own AUSD career, I was given this opportunity, the same time that another teacher leader, Diane Hale was. Both of us went on to become principals. I would support the re-creation of an Administrative Internship Program. The Teacher’s Union must also agree to such a program. Presently we have two elementary principals who were teachers in Alameda. In the 2011-2012 school year, there were 3 co-principals at Encinal High School. I believe that if we hire principals who worked and lived in Alameda, they would be more likely continue to work in Alameda, contributing to stable leadership.

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?

One of the school board’s commitments is to maintain accountability and transparency with all expenditures of Measure A dollars. A key component of this commitment is maintaining an 11 member Oversight Committee that is to annually review the District’s compliance with the terms of Measure A. This committee meets 3 times a year and the district’s Business Service Officer and his staff reports to them. Anyone from the public can attend the meetings, and the AUSD Board encourages the use of this vehicle. The Measure A Oversight Committee is an independent group of individuals from the community was created and reported its findings at a recent AUSD Board meeting, available through the District. Basically the report found that the District is in compliance with Measure A. I will continue to carefully listen to the findings of the Measure A Oversight Committee, and work collaboratively to address any deficiencies.

Had Measure A not passed, there would have been many lay-offs, and teacher to student ratios would have been much higher. About 74% of Measure A funds are devoted to teachers and over $3 Million in revenue is budgeted directly for teacher salaries. This amount is in lieu of a reduction in salaries, or a salary roll back, which would have taken place if Measure A did not pass. In addition over $1 million in funds go directly toward the restoration of 5 instructional days for teachers. These days would have been eliminated for teachers and students if Measure A had not passed. Also, more that $4 million is allocated to fund teacher positions that would have been cut without Measure A : K-3 (1 Teacher for 25 students), AP teachers in the high schools, high school counselors, secondary fine arts teachers, elementary music, P.E. and media center teachers.

I have been told that one of the main areas of contention about expenditure of Measure A funds is that the teacher ratio of 1-20 for K-3rd grades were not restored. Actually, Measure A funds never stipulated this and it is unfortunate that the Measure was erroneously presented in this fashion. This past 2011-12 year, class ceiling sizes for K-3 were kept to 25 students or less, as created in Measure A, which is smaller than most of the surrounding public school districts.

The School Board approved the following allocations for 2011-12 to the eleven specific categories established by Measure A:

  1. Maintaining Small Class Sizes for grades K-3 – 13-14%
  2. Maintaining High Quality Neighborhood Elementary Schools – 7-8%
  3. Secondary School Choice Initiative and AP Courses
  4. Programs to Close the Achievement Gap – 15-16%
  5.  High School Athletics Programs – 4%
  6. Enrichment Programs – 6%
  7. Attract and Retain Excellent Teachers – 25-26%
  8. Counseling and Student Support Services – 6%
  9. Alameda Charter Schools – 3-4%
  10.  Technology – 5%
  11. Adult Education – 4%

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.

As a school board member I review the district policies in regards to evaluations and ask whether the evaluation processes are completed correctly. Specific processes should take place in the evaluation of a teacher and it is the principals of each school, under the supervision of the Superintendent, who is responsible for administering the evaluation processes. The evaluation of a teacher is based on the California Standards. They are also based on what was negotiated in the teachers’ contract. There are specific guidelines and timeline for the evaluation process that a principal must follow. When a teacher is interviewed for a position an interview team is made up of the principal, teachers, a classified person and parents. The team then submits its recommendation to the personnel office and the personnel office checks the references. The principal meets with each teacher at the beginning of the year to review the criteria for her/his evaluation. There is a timeline for observations and feedback from the principal. If the teacher did not agree with the principal’s feedback there is a grievance process that is specified in the AEA Contract. It is the principal’s evaluation that determines whether the teacher is effective or not effective.

A temporary teacher can be release without reason for the first three years of her/his teaching career. A beginning teacher is provided with a BTSA provider as a support. After the third year of teaching the principal cannot release the teacher without going through the procedures written in the AEA contract.

As a teacher and principal for 39 years, I am intimately familiar with the processes. I was a mentor teacher and BTSA Coordinator for new teachers in the district, and have helped teachers through these processes. I also served the Alameda Education Association Teacher’s Union, as Vice President and 5 years as a grievance chair. Knowing these processes has been helpful in evaluating whether the processes have been completed appropriately.

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?

I have been a principal in this school district for 10 years. The performance of principals and district administrators are evaluated by the Superintendent and the Assistant Superintendent based on the California Standards and the school district goals. The Superintendent or the Assistant Superintendent regularly meets with the principals to observe their work and provide support and feedback. Superintendent Vital is only superintendent in my entire career at this school district to do weekly classroom visits with the principals.

One of the criteria for the school board to determine if AUSD administration staff was effective is to review the goals and strategies of the Master Plan. The Plan was adopted in 2010, and the Board reviewed whether the goals and strategies have been accomplished. AUSD has met many of the goals and strategies this year. Centralized enrollment, a new strategy, was implemented during the summer. For the first time since the 2010-11 school year, our student enrollment increased. The new Maya Lin Magnet School (formerly Washington School) is almost at capacity. Providing a program of choices open to all students and families in the Master Plan resulted in the increase of student enrollment at Maya Lin. We now have a program called “Ten Steps to Success” that goes beyond API scores to focus on student achievement. We implemented District Office scorecards to improve service levels to our schools. These instruments are gauges for the AUSD administration staff effectiveness. The performance of the AUSD administrative staff is reviewed by the superintendent or her designee throughout the school year. Since the Master Plan is for five years, there are still some areas that have yet to be completed and the Board will continue to monitor to ensure that the benchmarks are completed at the appropriate times.

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?

It is important that Proposition 30 or Proposition 38 passes on Nov. 6th. If Proposition 30, which is initiated by our governor, does not pass, the trigger cuts will happen. The state budget was created
on the assumption that Proposition 30 will pass. If Proposition 30 does not pass on November 6th, the Alameda Unified School District will have a deficit of $3 Million in the 2013-14 school year and $6 Million
deficit in the 2014-15 school year. In addition, if Proposition 38 passes, even though Prop 38 would direct more money to school districts, that funding increase would be offset to an unknown extent by the fact that the trigger cuts will still happen at the state level.

Since AUSD receives a lower amount of funding than other schools who did not formerly have a military base in their District, it is important to continue to support Robles-Wong versus California Litigation as we have by working towards the filing of that case since 2007 and as we have since we filed the case in 2010. This important litigation alleges the State’s current system for funding public education is insufficient, irrational and unstable and that it violates children’s fundamental right to an education. We filed our appeal in that case in June and are looking forward to the case finally reaching the appeals courts in 2013.

On September 12th, I attended a Stand Up for Our Children Forum sponsored Sheila Jordan, the Alameda County Superintendent. Senator Loni Hancock was the keynote speaker. She said that it takes a two third vote by the legislature to raise revenue. I suggest that we use Social Media to force the politicians to adequately fund our schools. Social Media provides a platform for us to connect as a community, share information, and inspire others to stand with us.

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

One single educational program that I will continue to push to better AUSD is the Alameda Unified School District Math Initiative. This Math Initiative aims to develop and strengthen mathematics instruction district wide. It is a practitioner-based math professional development model that integrates coaching and intervention to improve math instruction in AUSD. An evaluation of this initiative was reported to the school board on March 8,2011.

For the past 4 years (2007-2010), AUSD has continued to be ahead of the State and County averages in math performance on the CSTs for grades 2 to 5. The 6th and 7th grades have also consistently performed ahead of the state and county on the Math CST’s. AUSD has accelerated, prepared and motivated 7th graders into Algebra 1 at a much higher rate than is achieved in the state and county.

In December, 2011 the California School Board Association honored AUSD’s Strategic and Intensive Mathematics Initiative (SIMI) with a Golden Bell Award in the Curriculum category. The Golden Bell Awards program promotes excellence in education by recognizing outstanding programs in school districts. It is important that the district sustains this outstanding program by building staff capacity in training more of our teachers to become coaches for their colleagues.

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

In 2009-10 AUSD saw its revenues reduced by $1,421 per student from $6367 to $4946. The 2010/11 proposed Governor’s budget shows no meaningful restoration of public education funding for years to come. The severity of the deficits, uneven enrollment and the need for more choice in this district led to the creation of the Master Plan. The district must do more with less, reducing its fixed costs while ensuring effective services, high quality programs and still have fiscal integrity. This plan relied on the community to lobby for and successfully pass a new replacement parcel tax. In the spring of 2009 the school broad voted 4 to 1 to commission the superintendent to develop of a blueprint for the district’s decision- making on finances, stifling programs and facilities over the next five school years. Eight community workshops were hosted by the board and superintendent, 29 smaller meetings by community facilitators, 30 school-site meetings and two community surveys as well as a teacher survey were held in creating this blueprint. Two scenarios were created. Plan A if the parcel tax passes, and Plan B if the voters rejected it.

Measure A did pass and now we have implemented the stated goals in the blueprint. Some of the goals and strategies in the Master Plan have taken place. Accelerated learning through high quality instruction has taken place with the implementation of the Math Initiative as shown by the results of the CSTs Math Scores. Attractive school options were created with the approval of a magnet school, Maya Lin (formerly Washington School) and Innovation Programs at Earhart School and Bayfarm School. The enrollment in the district also increased this school year with the implementation of Centralized enrollment along with the introduction of the magnet school and the innovative programs. Maya Lin’s student enrollment is reaching its capacity.

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

My role as a school board member is to review and implement board policies. It is the role of the superintendent and her staff to implement these policies. As an elected official I have considered it my role to meet with the public regarding the development of the Master Plan, a process that started 4 years ago a public process that resulted in the Master Plan

I am always available to individuals and groups to listen to concerns. One of the reasons I continue to serve on several non-profit boards in Alameda is to keep a high profile to be accessible to community and business members. Another reason I serve on Boys and Girls Club, Alameda Family Services, the Alameda Multicultural Community Center, Alameda Community Fund and City Commission on Disabilities is to promote civic engagement and to give back to the community. In my role as a school board member, I have helped influence the partnership between the schools and many organizations. A grant with the SF Foundation will be providing money to begin conversations of how to use their organizational resources to work effectively without duplicating services. Other collaborations include providing space for the Boys and Girls club, the Alameda Multicultural Center and supporting efforts for dental screenings, asthma screenings and mental health services.

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

I have received contributions from individual contributions families, friends, parents and former students. Endorsements include: Former Judge William Bartilini, President School Board, Margie Sherratt, School Board Members, Ron Mooney, Mike McMahon, Former Alameda County Supervisor Alice Lai-Bitker, Alameda City Council Lena Tam, Alameda County Superintendent, Sheila Jordan, Nick Cabral, Yukio Yamawaki, Dr. Sharine Thernard, Gary Lim, Martin Fong,

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?

School Board
-Ron Mooney: Ron has been President and member of the AUSD school board for four years. He understands the complexity in making decisions for quality education and equity. He is a good consensus builder, a key in the board working together and making policy.


  1. I like, admire, and respect Niel Tam, and will be voting for him i November 6. You can see why in his answers above.

    Comment by Jon Spangler — September 19, 2012 @ 6:56 am

  2. thanks jon…i will vote against anybody you vote for
    you are a fool

    Comment by mom — September 19, 2012 @ 7:19 am

  3. mom, brilliant comment.

    Comment by John.P(L) — September 19, 2012 @ 8:34 am

  4. Tam’s answers are to the point and show a real understanding of the issues. They are a perfect example of why Niel Tam should be reelected to the School board in November.

    His work in our community is quiet and strong, something that is not noticed often enough.

    Comment by jkw — September 19, 2012 @ 8:54 am

  5. Finally — a refreshing dose of thoughtfulness, knowledge and sanity. Tam deserves to be reelected.

    Comment by Oh the Irony! — September 19, 2012 @ 9:20 am

  6. What’s with all the bold print and underlining (and misspellings and incorrect syntax)?

    Not to be picky, but the responses are, in my opinion, poorly constructed, overly wordy plus the guy was a hired gun for the union.

    Comment by Jack Richard — September 19, 2012 @ 9:24 am

  7. But the union has endorsed others, so Tam’s apparently not a union guy — unlike Kahn, Spencer and AEA-spouse Murphy.

    Comment by Oh the Irony! — September 19, 2012 @ 9:38 am

  8. Thanks for creating the questionnaire and posting the responses of the candidates in these less publicized races. This is a wonderful voter service for your readers. I also agree that Tam’s responses show a very solid understanding of the school district’s functions and engaging the community through partnering with non-profit boards. (Is Kahn related to Kenny the Clown?)

    Comment by BarbaraK — September 19, 2012 @ 10:03 am

  9. Other than light formatting issues, I kept everyone’s statements — including emphasis marks — as is.

    Comment by Lauren Do — September 19, 2012 @ 10:08 am

  10. my dad is wonderful, thanks jon for your comments! 4 more yrs! he is why the community is what it is, and I am a product of my father

    Comment by peace — September 19, 2012 @ 12:01 pm

  11. My Father is a union guy, he supports unions, he is very open minded, he holds by his personal convictions, hears out everybody, he is so humble, he sees the good in everybody, even while i walk with my dad places, people who used to be in his classroom or went to school, when he was a teacher, principal, vice principal calls his name out, that meant something, that meant he made a difference in one way or another, and a deep impact and connection, speaks for those with no voice, speaks for communities with no voice

    Comment by peace — September 19, 2012 @ 12:04 pm

  12. That’s fine and dandy for a Dad, peace, but we’re not voting for a nice Dad, what we’re voting for (or at least I am) is a fiscally conservative penny pinching skeptic who will not interpret the populous as a bottomless pit of taxpayer money free for the taking. What this city/county/state/fed does not need is more public employee union insiders running and ruining private citizens’ finances so they can get reelected by those who they finance.

    Comment by Jack Richard — September 19, 2012 @ 12:24 pm

  13. There is a vast different between someone who supports the unions and someone who is a union insider. Mr Tam has proven to support the hard working teachers of our district but not to the point of being blind to all other issues. He balances the needs of our students against the fiscal restrictions facing our community. Personally, those are among the things I’m looking for in a school board member.

    Comment by Anne DeBardeleben — September 19, 2012 @ 1:03 pm

  14. Thank you for those words Mrs. DeBadeleben. I think that people and citizens of this community need to respect all sides just as Niel Tam does, and it wont take away the words that I have written. Niel Tam is highly respected in this community, and will, the important and inspiring thing is…He genuine and authentically cares.

    Comment by peace — September 19, 2012 @ 1:22 pm

  15. 13 What do you call a union insider?

    “I also served the Alameda Education Association Teacher’s Union, as Vice President and 5 years as a grievance chair.”

    Another strike against him. That’s all we need, the courts to tell us that the state constitution requires us to pay whatever the union wants.

    “…it is important to continue to support Robles-Wong versus California Litigation…”

    Comment by Jack Richard — September 19, 2012 @ 5:44 pm

  16. I think “union insider” would indicate someone that the union is highly in favor of sitting on the School Board. Given the recent endorsements by the teacher’s union, despite Niel Tam’s many years involved in union activities, they don’t see him as furthering this particular union’s goals.

    And Robles-Wong asks for equity in how per student attendance dollars are distributed to individual school districts, right now the amount that individual schools districts receives vary greatly and there really is no rationale on why there is such disparity.

    Comment by Lauren Do — September 20, 2012 @ 8:53 am

  17. #17 — Slight correction: The plaintiffs in the Robles-Wong lawsuit haven’t yet asked for any specific remedies for education funding in our state. We’re just asking that the courts order the legislature to re-work a funding system that in many ways is irrational, insufficient, and unstable.

    Comment by Susan Davis — September 20, 2012 @ 9:36 am

  18. 16. An insider is an insider regardless of how effective he was.

    Why should school finances meet some smart guy’s idea of rational equity across the state? Each school district is different and each community is different. Next you’ll want each student leveled to meet the smart guy’s common denominator.

    17. Never fear, if the courts order a re-work it will most definitely be, “…in many ways is irrational, insufficient, and unstable.”

    Comment by Jack Richard — September 20, 2012 @ 9:56 am

  19. I’d say Mr. Tam is off to a bad start citing the low pay of principals and administrators in Alameda, which is not a popular topic with voters these days. I’m not inclined to vote for any of the board members who were on deck when Vital got her “adjustment” in compensation or when the AUSD offices were moved, but I’m trying not to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Of course, Tam has a firm grasp of the issues, he’s been on the board. What he doesn’t seem to get is that the voters have not forgotten about the board’s recent missteps and are really pissed off. His comments show a lack of sensitivity to that. Also, what good is a review of expenditures after the fact? “Hey! We did X, Y, and Z.” Then the review shows they maybe, shouldn’t have done X, Y, or Z. Big deal–we’re still not getting our money back. I doubt this is the sort of transparency we’re all after. Regarding Jack’s comments in #6, I guess a command of the written word is not required of AUSD administrators. I’ll never forget reading the Otis School Literacy Policy and picking out all the errors in grammar and syntax. It sealed the deal on sending my kid to private school.) And, of course, all one has to do is look at who’s backing a candidate and decide if these are the people whose opinions you trust. Guess I will not be voting for Mr. Tam.

    Comment by Denise Shelton — September 20, 2012 @ 7:49 pm

  20. Niel Tam has done a lot for the school district, a lot of misinformation is going on out there, which is unfortunate, and there is a lot of “mean spiritedness” and divisiveness, we need a board that will heal strained relationships, not continue to divide

    Comment by peace — September 22, 2012 @ 5:11 pm

  21. Please let me know if anybody wants lawn signs we have already successfully delivered them to about 38 households, and counting! 4 more years!

    Comment by peace — September 22, 2012 @ 5:23 pm

  22. It is time to get the AUSD administration stools off the BOE.
    I will not vote for TAM

    Comment by schoolwatch — September 24, 2012 @ 11:30 pm

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