BCS resumes in-person classes for middle school

December 9, 2020 — Bullis Charter School resumed in-person classes for middle schoolers last week, with students across all grade levels now back on campus at least part time.

The school has brought students back in groups by grade level, with sixth- through eighth-graders resuming in-person classes Dec. 2. Families have had the choice of whether to send their kids back or stay fully remote, with roughly two-thirds opting to stick with online learning. Those figures are roughly the same across grade levels, Superintendent Maureen Israel said.

Rising COVID-19 case counts throughout the county have led to renewed restrictions on many sectors, but schools that were open before Santa Clara County moved into the state’s highest risk tier last month have been allowed to continue operating in person. Because BCS had already begun to bring back grade-level groups, it is allowed to continue.

The middle schoolers who opted into in-person learning are coming back on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, while continuing to learn from home the remaining three days. Students are each assigned to a single stable group they remain with throughout the school day.

Many classes are being conducted in person, including specialist subjects such as PE and drama. However, math and foreign language classes are remaining remote, because there are too many different levels that students are split among to be able to maintain stable groups, Israel said.

Students in younger grades had already resumed in-person classes earlier this fall, with fourth- and fifth-graders in a similar part-time model, while kindergarten through third grade students are back five days a week.

Teachers and administrators are working to ensure that students who opted to stay fully remote are at the same place in the curriculum as those who are back in person.

“The aim is to keep all students at the same pace, at the same level, active in the same curriculum,” Israel said.

Thus far, BCS hasn’t seen any students test positive for COVID-19. One staff member recently displayed possible symptoms, but tested negative for the virus. Administrators are closely watching as cases rise throughout the county, Israel said.

If the governor or health officials were to order schools closed, Israel said she believes BCS would be able to use the experience it gained before it reopened to pivot back to fully online learning.

“If we had to go back 100% remote, I feel really confident with the skills of our staff … that they’d be able to make that adjustment very quickly,” she said.

Read the article in the Los Altos Town Crier

Bullis Charter School Names Maureen Israel New Superintendent

The Bullis Charter School (BCS) Board of Directors announced that Maureen Israel will be the new Superintendent of BCS, beginning with our 2020-2021 school year.

“We’re excited to welcome Maureen Israel as our new Superintendent and a visionary leader for our BCS community,” said BCS Board Chair Joe Hurd.  “BCS families, teachers, and Board members all came together to find an innovator who knows how to transform schools and learning. Maureen will guide us in building on our strong foundations, and setting the course for our future.” 

“BCS is an incredible school in the center of a community that is known around the world for exploring and breaking barriers,” said Ms. Israel.  “I’m drawn by the energy of BCS parents and teachers, and I know we will continue to challenge ourselves, and inspire our students and our school to reach even greater heights.”

Israel has deep and meaningful experience as a teacher, principal, innovator and school director, including more than a dozen years with YES Prep Public Schools in Houston.  She holds a Master’s in International Education Policy from the Harvard University Graduate School of Education, and a Bachelor’s Degree from the University of Notre Dame. 

The BCS Board of Directors approved Israel by a unanimous 9-0 vote.  She was the first choice after the Board reviewed dozens of candidates during an extensive process that involved the BCS Search Committee, parent volunteers from the Bullis Booster Club and the BCS Foundation, and many BCS parents and teachers.  

Based in Los Altos, Bullis Charter School is a public school founded in 2003, with a charter authorized by the Santa Clara County Office of Education. BCS offers a collaborative, experiential learning environment that emphasizes individual student growth, educational innovation, and a global perspective. BCS has earned numerous awards and has been recognized as a California Distinguished School, a National Blue Ribbon School, and a California Gold Ribbon School.

YES Prep Public Schools is a network of public charter schools in Houston, Texas, founded in 1995 as Project YES (Youth Engaged in Service.) YES Prep Public Schools exists to increase the number of low-income Houstonians who graduate from a four-year college prepared to compete in the global marketplace and committed to improving disadvantaged communities.

BCS students use design thinking to solve real-world challenges

Bullis Charter School students Naomi Ichiriu, from left, Noah Kaufman, Caleb Chen and Andy Nilson collaboratively developed a hydroponics system under the guidance of teacher Mick Coleman to grow plants without soil.

As seventh-graders at Bullis Charter School, we recently completed a three-week Engineering & Design Intersession (EDI) to solve real-world problems.

Our group chose to solve a problem presented by Bullis Charter School MakerSpace teacher Mick Coleman, which was to develop a hydroponics system to grow plants in a space-efficient manner in his classroom.

Our EDI group decided to design and physically construct a table that would grow plants without soil. The process was long and difficult, but our final product came out well and fit Mr. Coleman’s needs.

DEFINING THE PROBLEM

Using the engineering design process, we first interviewed Mr. Coleman to gain his perspective and needs in order for our group to design a solution. Mr. Coleman wanted a vertical table that water could flow through, that he could hang lights on and one where he wouldn’t have to bend down to reach.

IDEATING & PROTOTYPING

We changed our design multiple times to fit Mr. Coleman’s requirements. This step in our EDI project made us more empathetic to Mr. Coleman’s wants in the hydroponics system.

Our group created a prototype of a tall, vertical table with a frame and a top, so lights could hang from the wooden top by a clip. The prototyping process was very useful in getting our ideas out; however, we would have liked more time to make a more detailed rapid prototype. Because we were continually revising and changing our ideas, the prototype we made was nothing like our finished project.

TESTING

During the testing phase of the project, we tried out different ideas in the form of a physical model and also created 3-D models using the computer program SketchUp. We used these to troubleshoot and redesign, based on what we learned.

In addition, we interviewed Mr. Coleman periodically to keep him updated on our progress and project in general. He gave us feedback, which we used to modify our project and ensure that our project suited his needs.

REFLECTION

One of the most valuable things we learned was the importance of ideating. Throughout the design process, we used ideating and iterating on our ideas to improve our design. We also used ideating to solve problems our group encountered. For example, when our project was too tall for the door, we took apart the frame and made it detachable, ultimately making it easier for our user as well.

Another valuable thing we learned was how to cooperate. One of the many challenges our group had was learning how to work well together. We resolved this by figuring out our individual skills and created roles for everybody based on their strengths.

Bullis Charter School’s HydroGrow team members Caleb Chen, Naomi Ichiriu, Noah Kaufman and Andy Nilson co-authored this column.

Bullis Charter student speaks at conference on climate change

Bullis Charter School eighth-grader Keshav Shah attends the Cities and Climate Change Science Conference in Canada with teacher Michelle Sanfilippo in early March.

Bullis Charter School eighth-grader Keshav Shah and a group of fellow student representatives received a standing ovation for the paper they presented at the Cities and Climate Change Science Conference, held March 5-7 in Edmonton, Alberta.

Sponsored by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the conference was designed to assess academic and practice-based knowledge related to cities and climate change.

At the conference, Keshav met with 14 other student representatives from Ghana, Kenya, India, China, Slovenia, Brazil, Colombia, Canada, Mexico, the United Kingdom, Indonesia and Peru. He was the only student representing the U.S.

Keshav and approximately 30 of his Bullis Charter School classmates have participated in the school’s #Decarbonize: Decolonize club since last summer. The purpose of the club is to connect youth around the world to conduct research and develop policy recommendations and action on climate change.

Bullis Charter School sixth-grade teacher Michelle Sanfilippo traveled with Keshav to Edmonton for the conference.

The student delegation secured a two-hour presentation slot at the conference, where Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson and Alberta Lt. Gov. Lois Mitchell sat in the front row.

Keshav and his peers discussed how poor, indigenous populations must be included in the climate change conversation. They advocated for incorporating climate change curriculum in all subjects worldwide and suggested project-based learning as a tool to achieve their goal. The projects would have real-life applications and would connect students with their local communities.

The students said school facilities should align with what students are learning in class about climate change by integrating solar panels, green walls and eco-friendly materials. They also emphasized the importance of social media, noting its ubiquitous power to connect youth and spread their ideas about climate change.

After their presentation, the students participated with scientists, politicians and city architects in a roundtable discussion.

Iveson was so impressed with the voices of the youth that in his closing ceremony speech, he shared their paper with the entire conference.

Keshav said the highlight of his trip to Edmonton was working with students from all over the world.

“This experience inspired me to continue working to combat climate change,” he said. “I know of the different ways climate change is affecting people across the globe. I can use this information to continue my interactions with this issue. I will be presenting my white paper at other conferences as well.”

Members of Bullis robotics team invent Greymobile to save water

by Gabriel Ancajas, BCS 6th grader and member of the Yomibots robotics team

Yomibots team members present their invention, the Greymobile, a bike that delivers recycled water to lawns. Pictured are, from left, Chase Omura, Nikash Gupta, Alex Zaretzki, Gabriel Ancajas and Sean Herby.

Water is a big part of our life; we use 80-100 gallons per day. Think of it as 28,800-36,000 gallons per year. Bottom line is, we use a lot of water. Not to mention that we have had way below average rainfall at the end of 2017 and in the beginning of 2018.

Conserving this precious resource is paramount. Luckily, the Yomibots – a FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) Lego League robotics team – has been working on ways to save it by using greywater.

What is greywater? Greywater is partially contaminated water, in between clean water and blackwater. Blackwater is completely contaminated water that should not be reused for anything, usually coming from the toilet. Clean water is from your tap or refrigerator that can be used for drinking and anything else.

Greywater is still contaminated, not good enough for drinking but still usable for watering trees, plants and lawns. It can usually be obtained from washing machines and bathtubs (depending on the type of soap or detergent used). Greywater systems can be installed to redirect your water into your lawn or plants.

I spoke with Margaret Suozzo, co-founder of GreenTown Los Altos, and she said the reason this is an effective savings is that 50-75 percent of the water we use, which comes from the Sierra Nevada range, is just dumped straight onto our lawns.

So now you may be wondering what we plan on doing with greywater as a team. Well, Chase, a member of the Yomibots, has an elderly neighbor named Marilyn who is in her 90s. She lives by herself, so she doesn’t produce as much greywater as Chase’s family of four. To help Marilyn, Chase and the rest of our team invented the Greymobile – greywater on wheels. This invention enables Chase to transport his family’s greywater to Marilyn’s lawn.

How does the Greymobile work? Basically, it is a bike with a large compartment with wheels that has a cooler inside. The cooler stores the greywater, which would come from a washing machine or bathtub, and has a nozzle to dispense it onto a lawn area. All Chase needs to do is ride the Greymobile over to Marilyn’s lawn, take the cover off the nozzle and ride it around her lawn while it dispenses the water. The Greymobile is a fun, fast and easy way to water your and your neighbor’s lawns.

We may think that water is a small part of our life, but in reality it’s bigger than you could ever imagine. That is why we need to find innovative ways – like the Greymobile – to conserve this valuable resource.

So “water” you going to do to save water?

Bullis Charter students hit a high note

Bullis Charter School students sing at the Winter Choral Concert at First United Methodist Church in Palo Alto.

Bullis Charter School students in grades K-8 and across five different choir ensembles performed at various concerts and festivals over the holiday season.

The fourth- and fifth-grade advanced choir, Sonore, performed John Williams’ “Somewhere in My Memory” at the downtown Los Altos Holiday Tree Lighting ceremony Dec. 1. The following week, 270 students from the school’s elective choirs sang at the Winter Choral Concert at  First United Methodist Church in Palo Alto. In addition to Sonore, Treble Voices (first- through third-graders), G Clef (fourth- and fifth-graders), Cambiata (sixth- through eighth-graders) and Melodia (the sixth- through eighth-grade advanced choir) performed a variety of winter choral music with the theme “What Sweeter Music.”

Students in grades K-8 also joined teachers and parents in a holiday sing-along. Choir director David Belles said students have the opportunity to have a real choir experience throughout their entire time at the Bullis Charter School, studying high-quality choral repertoire, receiving authentic vocal instruction and participating in many different types of choral performances.

“Participating successfully in these activities, some of which may be outside their comfort zone, allows our students to stretch themselves in new and unique ways that might otherwise remain outside their experience,” he said.

BCS fourth-graders chat with Chelsea Clinton

Bullis Charter School fourth-grader Aidan Free introduces Chelsea Clinton to classmates.

Fourth-graders at Bullis Charter School had the opportunity to Skype with author, activist and former first daughter Chelsea Clinton Nov. 16.

Fourth-grader Aidan Free was looking for ways to support victims of hurricanes Harvey and Irma, so he gave a speech about fundraising at a school assembly and researched disaster relief with his family. Through the Red Cross Disaster Relief Fund, they discovered that Clinton was willing to donate a 30-minute Skype call and a personalized copy of her book She Persisted to the winning bidder.

Aidan committed all of his saved allowance, and when the winning bid exceeded that, his parents donated the difference.

He invited his classmates to participate in the Skype session, and fourth-grade teachers Jeri Chi and Emily Drake seized the opportunity to prepare their students.

“We read Chelsea’s book ‘She Persisted,’ and discussed the positive impact these women had on equal rights,” Chi said. “We also did some research about the Clinton Foundation. We wanted the call to focus on Chelsea’s work as an activist, as well as to empower our students and for them to see the work Chelsea has done to make a positive impact on the world.”

Students prepared 12 questions on a variety of topics, which led to a discussion with Clinton about her work in global health, her life as a teenager in the White House, whether she plans to run for office and her proudest achievement – motherhood.

When asked what kids can do to fix the problems in the world, Clinton advised them to think deeply about what they care about and to start small. She concluded by telling the students that they each had the power to make a difference, adding, “We have to keep going. It’s just too important.”

A training ground for new teachers

Study finds big potential in local charter school’s residency program

 
by Kevin Forestieri – Staff Writer, Mountain View Voice

Jacklyn Kaiser, an associate teacher, helps a student with a reading assignment at Bullis Charter School. The school’s associate teacher program aims to improve teacher training and retention by offering new educators a supportive co-teaching program for their first year in the classroom.

When it comes to teaching, there are no training wheels. Newly certified teachers fresh out of school often go through a trial by fire, learning to manage a classroom of 30 or more kids, communicate with parents and line up a state-standardized curriculum spanning a 10-month school year.

The steep learning curve is blamed for a whole host of ills, from high teacher turnover rates to acting as a deterrent to entering the profession, leading some schools to create programs to help nascent teachers get a handle on their first year in the field. But a new study released last month found that California schools could take it one step further, allowing new teachers an entire year-long “residency” alongside experienced staff, learning the ropes.

The study, released last month by the Bank Street College of Education, took a close look at Bullis Charter School’s Associate Teacher program, which provides already-certified teachers with a full year of experience co-teaching in a classroom — sort of like a teacher aide with much greater responsibilities. The study found that the residency was not only effective at giving teachers the hands-on experience sorely missing from most teacher credential programs, it was entirely possible to replicate in schools and districts without breaking the bank.

Financial feasibility tends to be the biggest problem, said Brigid Fallon, a program analyst for Bank Street College. She said there are countless examples of residency-style programs for teacher undergraduates and certificated teachers out there, but the trouble is schools and districts rarely bake it into the annual budget as a years-long commitment. Most of them are funded as pilot programs or through short-term grants, and they simply disappear once the cash runs out.

“They are really successful, quality programs, and when those grant dollars die, they don’t know how to continue to support the model,” she said.

The study focusing on Bullis Charter School — part of a larger body of work dubbed the “Sustainable Funding Project” — uses the charter school’s Associate Teacher as a sort of proof of concept, that schools can pull off a long-term teacher training bridge that can act as both a pipeline for teacher hiring as well as a staffing boost in the classroom, meaning more one-on-one student support and lessons better tailored for diverse classrooms.

Sara Fernandez, a fifth-grade teacher at Bullis, called her year as an associate teacher an “amazing” opportunity full of direct teaching experience and immediate feedback from teachers across all three fifth-grade classrooms. There’s a whole different world of teaching that you aren’t prepared for when you come out of a teacher training program, she said.

“A lot of the time you throw in a teacher and it’s either sink or swim,” she said. “I didn’t realize how much it would help me until I was in it.”

After going through the Associate Teacher program, Fernandez said she directly transitioned to a homeroom teacher job at Bullis with great ease because she was already acclimatized to the school’s culture, families and classroom norms. Knowing which teachers to go for advice and the “ins and outs” of each school system has its own learning curve as well, she said, so she was able to direct 100 percent of her attention on students and teaching.

Jessica Morgan, an eighth-grade teacher at Bullis Charter School, says the associate teacher program effectively bridged the gap between getting her teaching credentials and joining the workforce.

Bullis teacher Jessica Morgan kicked off her tenure at the school nine years ago, serving a shorter six-month stint as an associate teacher before jumping into a full-time position. She said each grade level shares an associate teacher, and she has made it a priority to use those valuable two hours of bonus staffing as strategically as possible. Often times that meant breaking math lessons out into several groups, making sure students are understanding the material and not falling behind.

“We tag-team on supporting the kids in ways that really meet them where they’re at as individual students,” she said.

Back when she was an associate teacher, Morgan said the program was a little more experimental and looked different from one classroom to the next — the Associate Teacher program is more formally structured and has a designated “mentor” teacher — but she nevertheless found it an effective bridge between getting her credentials and joining the workforce as a classroom teacher.

“I will always tell everyone that, no matter how confident I felt leaving the credential program, I did not have the skills yet that I gained through our Associate Teacher program,” she said.

The downside to residency programs is that it can be pretty expensive, and often times its the aspiring teachers who are stuck carrying the burden. A 2016 study from the Sustainable Funding Project found that residency programs pay little to nothing, forcing the training teachers to seek out loans, extra jobs or rely on friends and relatives for support. The financial disincentives make residency programs a hard sell, making it difficult to justify and otherwise useful experience before full-time teaching.

But the study argues that there’s really no excuse — schools in California have the financial means to pay teacher residents if they so choose. Researchers created two hypothetical schools, one with students from high-income families like Bullis as well as a majority low-income school, and crunched the numbers using California’s Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF) to see if it would be financially feasible to support one teacher resident per grade level at a school. The results found that in both cases, 1 percent or less of discretionary funding would need to be committed to the program.

Those modest figures may not pan out here in the Bay Area, however, because the study assumes teacher residents are paid an annual stipend of $15,000, roughly on par with annual income of employees making federal minimum wage. Fallon said the stipend represents a “midpoint” based on existing programs across the country, which range from no pay at all to just under a starting teacher salary, and that local schools and districts need to tailor their compensation based on the area’s cost of living. In the case of Bullis Charter School, associate teachers make anywhere from $36,750 to $47,300.

The study contends that having extra support staff through teacher residents can help to reduce costs elsewhere in the budget, making residency programs more feasible. Three-fourths of teacher absences are filled by associate teachers at Bullis, minimizing costs for substitute teachers, and the teacher residents often fill the role normally carried out by instructional aides in the classroom, meaning fewer classified staffers are needed in day-to-day classroom operations.

The other benefit is that teacher residents are far more likely to stay at the school once they get hired as full-time teachers, driving down teacher turnover and reducing the costs of hiring new staff each year. The costs of separation, recruitment, training and professional development can cost districts $18,000 or more per resignation, according to estimates from the Learning Policy Institute. The Mountain View Whisman School District, for example, has seen an annual exodus of more than 50 teachers in recent years, putting costs near an estimated $1 million.

“These are dollars that can be saved in better preparation upfront,” Fallon said.

The hope, Fallon said, is that the Sustainable Funding Project will get more schools and school districts to seriously consider investing in residencies — whether it’s modeled on Bullis or not — and that public schools in California have the means to support an in-house teacher training program.

“The hesitancy you most commonly see is the question of feasibility and affordability, and we think the money is available to move us in the right direction,” she said.

BCS middle school hosts Back to School Night

Bullis Charter School parents participate in hands-on activities at Back to School Night.

Bullis Charter School parents who attended the middle school Back to School Night Sept. 5 participated in a new format designed to engage them as partners in their students’ learning.

Teachers Ted Grinewich-Yonashiro, Alli Kustin and Liem Tran-Zwijsen worked through the summer to reimagine the event, which provided a hands-on learning experience for parents. According to Grinewich-Yonashiro, their goals were “to give the parents an opportunity to experience some of the unique activities that their children engage in on a typical day at BCS, develop a way to make the information presented at Back to School Night available to parents throughout the year and make sure the night highlighted what is special about the BCS middle school.”

Teachers created grade-specific videos of the information typically presented at Back to School Night and provided viewing access prior to the evening. Viewing them in advance enabled parents to experience through direct participation the learning opportunities available to their children.

Parents were given a question – “How might we create something that will help our children stay organized?” – and worked in small groups to identify problems that challenge middle school students, such as time management, prioritization of assignments and physical organization of materials.

Parents then brainstormed solutions by creating a 3-D prototype of a device that will help meet the organizational needs of middle schoolers. According to Bullis officials, each group rose to the challenge, designing solutions such as a task tracker with a built-in reward system, an organizational calendar that reminds students what to pack each day (PE clothes, sports gear, books, etc.) and an app that prioritizes students’ to-do lists based on due dates, time available and weight of grade.

Charter school board OKs housing allowance for teachers

Extra pay for cost of living scales up with each year of teaching

 
by Kevin Forestieri – Staff Writer, Mountain View Voice

Calling it much-needed relief for teachers struggling with the high cost of living in the Bay Area, Bullis Charter School’s board of directors agreed to give its 50 or so teachers a big pay boost.

The board approved two initiatives at its June 5 board meeting that aim to help offset the explosive increase in housing costs over the last 10 years, something that’s forced teachers to make longer commutes or leave the area entirely. The first is a $1,000 annual stipend that increases by an additional $1,000 each year, and the second is a pay increase — referred to as a “housing allowance” — that’s rolled directly into teacher salaries and is calculated as a percentage of the teacher’s base salary. The housing allowance automatically increases by 0.5 percent of the salary each year.

Bullis Charter School, like many school districts on the Peninsula, is searching for ways to hire and retain its teaching staff at a time when the high cost of housing and long commutes are pushing teachers out of the state or out of the profession altogether. Wanny Hersey, the school’s superintendent, said it wasn’t too long ago that teachers were able to live fairly close to Bullis, and could afford either a rental unit or a small house within a short drive of its two locations in Los Altos.

But now teachers are paying more and living further away, with some Bullis teachers traveling in from places like Walnut Creek, Santa Cruz and Watsonville each day, Hersey said. It’s reached a point where three of the school’s teachers are leaving Bullis and moving out of the state.

“It’s sad to lose excellent teachers,” Hersey said. “They leave not because they don’t want to work at Bullis, but they simply can’t afford to live here.”

Starting salaries at Bullis range from about $53,000 all the way to $118,000 for elementary school teachers, with a slightly higher pay scale for its middle school staff. Unlike contracts brokered between school districts and teachers unions — which include a rigid “step and column” formula for salaries based on tenure and education level — Bullis teachers are paid based on a performance-based model. The school reviews teachers’ salaries each year based on their “expertise and growth in areas such as pedagogical expertise, data analysis, project-based learning instruction, leadership, and global education integration,” according to a press release by the school.

The salary increases will be partially paid for by money from Measure GG, a $223 parcel tax that Los Altos School District voters passed in November last year, Hersey said. The parcel tax was meant to replace the $193 Measure E parcel tax, but the $30 hike was added so that Bullis Charter School could share in the proceeds. The measure is expected to generate about $300,000 in revenue for the charter school.

Bullis board chair John Phelps told the Voice in an email that while the high cost of living was a big factor in approving the pay bump, he said the charter school’s teachers also deserve to be rewarded for their top-tier performance.

“BCS teachers are true professionals who are at the cutting edge of their craft,” Phelps wrote. “We feel that should be rewarded and encouraged, and this is one way for us to recognize and honor the hard work that our teachers do every day.”

On top of housing costs, school are competing for a shrinking pool of teachers. Reports from Stanford University’s Learning Policy Institute last year shows that there was a national shortage of about 64,000 teachers in 2015, and by 2020 there will be an estimated 300,000 teachers needed to fill all the available positions. At the same time, fewer people are entering teacher training programs, and there’s a shrinking number of incoming college students who show an interest in teaching as a profession.

In order to attract and keep teachers in an increasingly competitive market, school districts are finding ways to sweeten the deal, including better health benefits and big salary increases. Last year, the Mountain View Whisman School District agreed to an 8 percent pay raise for its entire teaching staff. Late last year, the Santa Clara Unified School District agreed to a 9.5 percent salary increase for its more than 800 teachers.

Data from the California Department of Education shows the average salary paid out to elementary school teachers in Santa Clara County in the 2015-16 school year was $80,461 which is considered “very low income” for a family of four. Unified school district teachers didn’t fare much better, with the average salary amounting to $82,720.