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Piedmont Unified School District Newsletter - Week 4 Update

August 28, 2023

Dear Piedmont USD Families,

Welcome to week 4! I am looking forward to seeing families at our MHS, PHS and Tri Schools' Back to School Nights later this week. Below you will find information on the following topics:

  • Pulse Check - Calendar
  • Student Board Members
  • August 23rd Board Meeting - APT Update from Dr. Marks
  • Early Literacy Work in PUSD
  • Future Communication Topics

In Partnership,

Jennifer Hawn, Ed.D.


Pulse Check - Calendar

Thanks to those of you who have already responded to the calendar survey, sent to parents, high school students, and 8th grade students. Please respond by Friday, September 1st, 3:00 p.m. An email with the survey was sent to parents on 8/23 at 3 p.m., and to students on 8/25 at 11 a.m. Thanks for your feedback!

New Student Board Members Start

We were joined by our new student Board members at our August 23rd Board meeting, and they have already distinguished themselves as knowledgeable professionals. Orla Cohen represents MHS and Siddharth Bhatia represents PHS. Both provided useful updates on the events at our schools, along with relevant questions related to presentations on special education services and a Title IX update. We are so excited to work with our students and amplify student voice, overall. Orla and Siddharth will serve first semester.

August 23rd Board Meeting - APT Update from Dr. Marks

Also important at the August 23rd Board meeting was Association of Piedmont Teachers (APT) Union President, Dr. Elise Marks’s presentation regarding our start to union negotiations next month. It’s useful to watch this presentation linked HERE (start at 1:05 - 9:05), in which Dr. Marks provides an overview of a partnership APT has formed with the East Bay Coalition for Student Success, a CTA group of East Bay unions who have joined together in agreement to negotiate according to a series of standards, linked HERE. PUSD is committed to providing our labor partners, including APT, with a competitive compensation package, and we are currently working with APT to analyze compensation and working conditions in other similar districts through a standards and criteria committee that includes APT members, District staff, and a Board liaison. We anticipate this information will help us all better understand how competitive we are compared to other districts.

I will close by sharing my profound respect for Dr. Marks, our APT members, and all of our PUSD staff. I look forward to collaborating on compensation that supports our staff alongside a balanced budget, and I look forward to providing useful information to our community in partnership with Dr. Marks.

Early Literacy Work in PUSD

Academic excellence is at the forefront of our work in Piedmont Unified School District. After years of what was called a balanced literacy program, the Board and staff made the important decision to implement a universal screening system and foundational reading program, both of which are grounded in the science of reading. Explicit phonics instruction, including a dyslexia screener, is now part of the Piedmont Unified School District, thanks in large part to our teachers and administrators who embraced this evidence-based instructional approach.

In May 2022, questions emerged from the Board and community following a number of articles and reports that identified the lack of results for programs that offered a “balanced literacy” approach, including curriculum programs used in PUSD. For context at the national level, reading instruction over the last thirty years has evolved from a “whole language” approach to a “balanced literacy” approach. The “whole language” approach in the 1980s and 1990s asserted that reading is a process that will occur naturally, the idea being that when children are exposed to language, they will learn to read through guessing at words. The “balanced literacy” approach modified this assertion with the addition of some phonics instruction, but offered little clarity on how this balance should be provided to early readers. Compounding the confusion, key textbook providers minimized phonics instruction, including the popular Lucy Calkins Units of Study for K-8, and Nancy Atwell’s text, In the Middle, used in upper elementary and middle school. Both authors developed reading programs that became popular choices for graduate teaching programs across the country. Indeed, I was trained in both programs in the 1990s, and was encouraged to implement the whole language approach as a classroom teacher in Beverly Hills. I would venture to say that most elementary reading teachers were well-versed in the work of Calkins and Atwell, led to believe that these programs were the gold standard in literacy instruction. And yet, my colleagues and I knew the value of phonics instruction and quietly continued to provide it to students, alongside other methods.

Current research on the science of reading has ultimately debunked the idea that reading is a natural process that will simply happen through exposure to print. Explicit phonics instruction is essential for early readers, and is even more critical for students identified with Dyslexia, who require a more systematic approach to reading.

Now we know more, and we must therefore do better for our students. We acknowledge that PUSD shows outstanding test scores in English Language Arts, from elementary through high school. Our State CAASPP scores in English Language Arts are consistently in the top 10 in the State. And when students reach their senior year, Advanced Placement English students consistently pass the AP test, with 100% of the class passing the test in 2023, and the majority passing at the highest levels with a 4 or 5. However, our elementary teachers agreed that a more robust phonics program was needed at the primary grades in order to ensure reading proficiency for all students, particularly those with reading deficits.

Following Board presentations in September 2022, teachers began piloting assessment systems, and later selected the DIBELS 8th Edition in February 2023 as the most effective universal screening tool for grades K-3, alongside use of the Scholastic Reading Inventory (SRI) in grades 4 and 5. By June 2023, the Board also approved the curriculum adoption of From Phonics to Reading, an evidenced-based reading program for grades K-3, with exploration of additional reading curricula in the works for grades 4 and 5. The lift was Herculean and the pace was remarkable. However, our teachers and administrators made it all happen in less than a year.

An additional benefit of the DIBELS tool is information for parents about the subcomponents of reading skills, giving parents clear information about how to help their child in reading. Overall, DIBELS provides essential information to the team of educators, specialists, and parents about a child’s progress across multiple grades with tangible data. These important changes in the PUSD early literacy program reflect an adherence to the scientific research on reading rather than educational trends. A special thanks to our teachers, administrators, Board, and our community who provided key input on the need for an evidenced-based literacy program, far ahead of the State’s recent 2025 mandate for a dyslexia screener to be implemented in all California public schools.

Moving forward, the work for PUSD is careful implementation of our new evidenced-based reading and assessment program, using a two-tiered teacher-training approach. Tier I includes publisher’s training on our new phonic-based curriculum throughout this next year. Tier II includes training from UC Berkeley’s California Reading and Literacy Project (CRLP) in two focus areas: 1. the Science of Reading and Foundational Skills Assessments, and 2. Data Analysis, Instruction, and Intervention. Our two-tiered approach has already begun and will continue throughout this school year. In addition to teacher training, we are phasing out our previous curriculum for K-3 and replacing it with a phonics-based curriculum, including the addition of decodable readers. We are also exploring supplemental materials in grades 4 and 5 to grow and strengthen our program around word study.

We have accomplished a great deal in one short year in rebuilding our early literacy program, and we are excited for the work ahead. Piedmont Unified School District has outstanding educators, and our students will be well-served now and in the future with our new evidenced-based early literacy program.

Future Communication Topics

Future topics include an update on our school calendar survey results and information on our budget. If you have topics you are particularly interested in, please reach out to me at jhawn@piedmont.k12.ca.us.

PUSD News & Notes

Witter Field Renovation Project Updates - For updates on the Witter Field Renovation Project, please go to our Facilities page on our PUSD website. The 8/25 update is available now.

Community Pool Construction Update - Safety measures around the Community Pool Project construction site on Magnolia Ave. across from PHS/MHS are currently in effect. Visit the City of Piedmont's website for details.

Work for PUSD - PUSD is seeking candidates for a variety of positions. Visit the District's Edjoin page for a complete list of jobs available and to apply online.

Substitutes Needed - Support students while earning up to $200/day. PUSD seeking substitute teachers for the 2023-24 school year. Visit the District's EdJoin page for more information and to apply.

Follow PUSD on Social Media - The District Facebook (@piedmontunified), Twitter (@piedmontunified), Instagram (@piedmontusd) and Threads (@piedmontusd@threads) pages are active.