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SUHSD Board Refrains From Vote on Detracking, Advocates for Freshman Electives

6 mins read

On Wednesday, the Sequoia Union High School District (SUHSD) Board of Trustees avoided taking a clear stance on detracking. Instead, they voted on setting two board directions: the Board passed a motion stating that they wanted to continue offering AP classes and also directed the superintendent to look into electives for freshmen. The crowd had eagerly anticipated a final vote on detracking, but that never happened, leading to anger and loud outbursts from the audience.

The much-anticipated meeting continued discussion surrounding detracking after a seven-hour study session on September 20th. Members of the public flowed into the halls and outside. Supporters of Students First, a group advocating against detracking, wore red to the meeting. 

Many expected the Board to make a clear policy supporting or reversing the detracking efforts in district schools. In an interview after the meeting, Trustee Amy Koo said, “From this point on, the Board is aligned on this track*. My takeaway is that we are content with the current classes. Even if we wanted to add classes, that would be an 18-month process so we are going to focus on providing the right support and let the Strategic Plan process finish.” The Strategic Plan is a document compiled by the District in order to identify goals to work towards; the District is close to finishing their plan.

Trustees Shawneece Stevenson and Carrie Du Bois expressed their disapproval with the format of discussion. Typically, specific action items are put on the Board agenda in advance of the meeting. During Board discussions, relevant members of the staff are present and can help explain the feasibility of Board ideas. At the September 20th study session meeting, Director of Program Evaluation & Research Dr. Diana Wilmot, Associate Superintendent of Educational Services Bonnie Hansen, and principals from all district schools were present and answered questions from trustees. 

In an interview hours before the meeting, Du Bois was surprised to learn that detracking was not just a discussion item but also an “action item.” She was expecting only to discuss detracking since no specific measures were on the agenda. It appears Board President Richard Ginn expected that the Board would be prepared to vote on policy after the study session. Ginn amended the agenda three days before the meeting.

During the meeting, after expressing her disapproval with how specific the motions were and that she did not have time to talk with district staff, Du Bois remained quiet, eventually saying, “You guys can keep going, but I am going to stop. I am going to disengage.

Person who shouted at the Board after they limited public comment.

After giving individual updates on recent meetings and visits to school sites, the Board decided to limit public comment to ten speakers for one minute each, eliciting loud reactions from members of the crowd as at least 33 people had been prepared to speak. One person wearing red shouted, “This is ridiculous. We all should get to speak.”

M-A Teacher Susie Choe reading a statement for her student.

Of the ten randomly chosen public comments, six were in favor of detracking and 3 were against (one seemed to not take a position). Two of the comments in favor of detracking were by teachers reading for their students. Former AS English I teacher and current English intensive teacher Susie Choe read for her student, Jocelyn, and current Multicultural Literature and Voice (MCLV) Lara Gill read for her student, Ashley. 

Once the Board moved into discussing course offerings, Trustee Sathvik Nori agreed to follow whatever the Board decides. Koo and Du Bois expressed a desire for a unanimous board decision. 

The first motion presented was Ginn’s proposal to reaffirm the District’s commitment to AP classes and establish a core set of AP classes. Ginn sought the motion to dispel fears of the removal of AP classes. 

Du Bois argued for a more deliberate process of putting action items on the Board agenda before a vote in order to give time for reflection and discussion with community stakeholders. She said, “I can’t believe we are feeling the need to rush this.” Although some trustees expressed frustration about Ginn’s specific motion, all seemed to agree that AP and IB classes should be retained. 

Ginn and Superintendent Crystal Leach proposed a motion that the Board will “not reduce the number of current AP/IB offerings.” When Du Bois requested time to collect staff and public input, the crowd, which had been murmuring requests for the Board to hurry up, became rowdy. One person shouted, “You have the feedback. Come on, just move on.” The motion was eventually passed. 

The next topic Ginn raised was course offerings after 9th grade. Student Trustee Jacob Yuryev questioned whether it was fair to have such a significant jump from no AS classes to many options for advanced classes. The remaining crowd erupted into claps and cheers, despite a frustrated Ginn requesting multiple times that they remain silent.

Stevenson expressed concern over increased student stress rates, referencing increased 504 plans and psychiatric holds of minors in the area. Nori, a sophomore at Stanford University, brought up that students need to be prepared to handle stress in and after college. Koo agreed with Nori and advocated for increasing “student agency” to pace themselves. 

Yuryev referenced students taking AP classes outside of school. He said, “By not offering those advanced honors courses past 9th grade, who are we really hurting? Because I know of kids who pay hundreds of dollars to take advanced courses privately.” 

Trustee Carrie Du Bois

Du Bois, after remaining quiet for some time, said, “I’m just not comfortable with this. I just feel like we’re running amok. I don’t understand why we’re doing this,” referring to how she was unaware of the motions before the meeting and was unable to ask staff questions about the topics. 

Koo attempted to shift the topic back to detracking, asking, “Are we staying the course or are we making changes?” Ginn tried to propose a motion to guide sites to offer two additional options for chemistry and physics including AP classes. Du Bois countered,“Why can’t you just wait for the strategic plan?”

After further discussion, Ginn called for the board to at least take some action. 

Koo advocated for a broader motion to give direction to staff about continual improvement of classes. She went on to seek a formal course improvement process. 

Stevenson urged for a motion instructing the Board to take up the issue after the Strategic Plan is released. She addressed Yuryev’s concern that discussion would not pick up again by agreeing to put it on the calendar for two to three months after the Strategic Plan is released.

The crowd exclaimed indignantly at Ginn’s statement that it would take three academic years for new courses to be implemented. 

The Board concluded their discussion about advanced classes after ninth grade with some consensus of keeping already detracked courses. Nori moved to having staff “regularly evaluate the classes that were presented at the September 20th study session” and then voted against the motion. It passed 3-2 with Ginn joining Nori to vote against it. 

After a short break, the Board moved discussion to “the ninth grade experience.” 

Nori focused on more initiatives to increase socio-economically disadvantaged students’ enrollment in advanced classes beyond freshman year. 

Ginn proposed changing the current policy regarding freshman taking PE in order to allow freshmen to take electives, hoping that doing so would help improve school engagement. Nori proposed asking the superintendent and staff to propose methods of adding electives to freshman year. 

Koo brought up the additional stress of freshmen taking seven periods. Nori and Ginn asked what the possible electives for freshman year are. All five trustees voted to ask the superintendent to discuss and present to the Board possibilities for freshman-year electives.  

Koo directed discussion to provide more of an “on-ramp” in the second semester of Multicultural Literature and Voice to prepare them for advanced classes. Koo also brought up a need to intervene when students are becoming disengaged. 

The Board moved to discussion regarding math pathways, which concluded with Ginn recommending that Nori and Koo research math pathways and then report back to the District. 

Nori, Ginn, and Yuryev agreed that freshman English course offerings should be standardized across sites, but all did not want to remove AS English I for Carlmont students. One audience member angrily shouted, “So we all move to Carlmont?”

Overall, the Board moved in a different direction than many anticipated. Stevenson and Du Bois were frustrated that motions were not written ahead of time. Stevenson concluded, “It was very difficult because I didn’t know what we were voting on. I need time to consider my vote: this meeting has been very painful for me.” She advocated for future meetings to be clearer about what is being voted on. 

*Editor’s note: this article was amended to clarify that Trustee Amy Koo said, “From this point on, the Board is aligned on this track,” instead of “From this point on, the Board is aligned on detracking.”

Arden Margulis is a junior and in his second year of journalism at the M-A Chronicle. During his first year, Arden wrote a two-part series on Paper Tutoring, which won First Place News Story from Santa Clara University. Arden is currently a finalist for Writer of the Year from the National Scholastic Press Association. His favorite topics to write about are government spending, education policy, along with investigative pieces. Arden writes the M-A Chronicle's weekly newsletter Bear Tracks and is currently managing Public Records Act requests to three school districts and two public agencies.

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