Schools

Los Altos School District Community Meeting April 22 – a sinking feeling

LASD April 22, 2015 Los Altos Youth Center. Community Focus Groups and Measure N bond spending
LASD April 22, 2015 Los Altos Youth Center. Community Focus Groups and Measure N bond spending
Written by lalahpolitico

 

The trustees and executive staff provided a tightly choreographed  “gamification” for what many attendees would have preferred be a traditional, plain old  “town hall” meeting with scheduled speakers followed by two-minute public comments at an open microphone. Instead what we got was a for-profit consulting company — Conteneo —  that specializes in “facilitating” small groups resolve contentious problems by using a rather silly metaphor:  “a speed boat which must propel itself forward to the destination/goal, overcoming  the dragging anchors which impede the boat’s progress.  Insert your favorite joke about seasickness, torpedoes or the Titantic… It gets worse. Some district staff interfered aggressively with attendees’ rights of speech, association and leafleting during the event. That’s no a joke.

 

Superintendent Jeff Baier at the mic.  Trustee Stand far left, Sangeeth Peruri who devised the gamification of the focus groups

Superintendent Jeff Baier at the mic.  Standing far left, LASD Board member Sangeeth Peruri, who devised the gamification of the focus groups

Peak attendance April 22 was estimated to be 80 to 100 persons across 10 to 12 tables, with 15 of the total being facilitators [5 consultants, augmented by 10 LASD teachers who took a Conteneo training).  Trustee Sangeeth Peruri organized the meeting as a “game,” a game which will continue online at Conteneo.com for up to 400 people, hand selected for “balance.” Peruri explained, “It’s not first come first served because you don’t want one school or entity overrepresented.  Plus we think we can afford only 400 online users.”  After Peruri, Board President Steve Taglio offered some remarks, then followed by Superintendent Jeff Baier who gave a brief rundown of all the “Facilities” events and committees since 2012, events which were intended to capture public input in addition to parental input.

 

LASD Board President, Steve Taglio, introduced Scenairo Three. This is the first time the District discussed the option of not buying land and locating BCS next to the existing Elementary. The obvious elementary is Covington with its almost 20 acres compared to all the others with 10 acres

LASD Board President, Steve Taglio, introduced Scenairo Three. This is the first time the District discussed the option of not buying land and locating BCS next to an existing  Elementary. The obvious elementary is Covington with its almost 20 acres compared to all the others with 10 acres. Facilities, building, blacktop are NOT shared, but are separate for each school. The land is divided. [Lalahpolitico: it is common for suburban school  districts in California to need to build a second or even a third separate school on a single campus it already owns. LASD is late to that trend.]

Taglio and Baier also set out the evening’s agenda timing: each table would evaluate 3 scenarios the district had pre-chosen to “solve” enrollment growth: 1) Acquire a new site and put BCS on it, 2) Do not acquire a new site, but rather build permanent facilities for BCS at Blach AND Egan where BCS is now  located, 3) Do not acquire a new site, but put BCS as a second school next to an “elementary”.

 

The Conteneo.com moderator introduces, and attempts to train the confused attendees about the game play.

The Conteneo.com moderator introduces and attempts to train the confused attendees about the game play.

GAMIFICATION = Suppression of Freedom of Speech

Conteneo and the District had pre-defined and pre-printed a set of PROPELLER cards, and ANCHOR cards for each of the 3 District selected scenarios, although attendees could add new cards.  These were the game pieces. Each of the 10-12 small groups had its own set of four speed boat posters where the “propeller” cards had been taped by Conteneo in time sequence order,  first to last step order,  above the speedboat.

 

Your speedboat game board/poster  has two kinds of cards.  Propellors or actions. Anchors or drawbacks to an action.

Your speedboat game board/poster has two kinds of cards. Propellors or actions. Anchors or drawbacks to an action.

Pin the Tail on The Donkey…

Thus, the object of the game was to arrange the “anchor “cards, aka the drawbacks under the pre-determined propeller cards.  The further down the poster “under the waterline” the attendees taped/pinned the anchor, the worse the drawback.  To summarize, attendees were being asked to rank the severity of pre-determined drawbacks.  However, attendees could add and pin more anchor/drawback cards.  Attendees could add post-its to comment on or elaborate on or critique another person’s card or post-it. One attendee said the game had a lot in common with that old classic “Pin The Tail On the Donkey.”

 

Your gameboard is a speedboat riding on a water line. Propellors/action cards are pinned across the boat. Anchors/ drawback cards and placed under the water and a line is drawn to the propellor card  which the anchor impedes.

Your gameboard is a speedboat riding on a water line. Propellors/action cards are pinned across the boat. Anchors/ drawback cards and pinned under the water and a line is drawn to the propellor card which the anchor card impedes.

The agenda shows that 30 minutes was supposed to be available for a 4th “anything goes” scenario exercise wherein each table could promote a new, original scenario.  However, after jumping through the 3 tightly scripted hoops set up by Conteneo and the District, only 10 -15 minutes were left for ACTUAL PUBLIC INPUT, but in the form of post it notes or cards of course.

No long form arguments permitted here! No open mics to have your 2 minute say here.  In fact you weren’t allowed to talk to anybody who was not at your table!

 

Example of one table working on their free form Scenario Four

Example of one table working on their free form Scenario Four

TABLE ASSIGNMENTS = Suppression of Freedom of Assembly and Association

When I arrived at the the lobby of Los Altos Youth Center at 6:20 pm, District staff handed me a blank name tag with a table number written on it.  I was told the table assignment was random and I would be with these table mates all evening. But why does the District always to choose to break up a large assembly with these “divide and conquer,” focus group type meeting formats?  Because it fears the “contagion of ideas”?

Not only was there no opportunity to use the mic and speak to the whole assembly, attendees were “not allowed to speak” one-to-one to any fellow attendee who was not at their table!  When there were lulls in the “important and significant work” of talking with table mates and the taping of cards and the scribbling of post-its, at least two people tried to chat with an acquaintance NOTt at their table and had a dust-up with “enforcers.”

A member of the LASD Citizen’s Oversight Committee. “Frustrated with the meeting process, I decided to leave my group and was talking to a LAH Council Member  (he was also unimpressed with the process).  That is when Trustee Logan came up to us and ordered us to go back to our respective groups. Not only did she not want to listen to my input, she threatened to call the police if I did not go back to my group or leave! Since then I have apologized to my LAH colleague for involving him in this awkward interaction with Ms. Logan.”

The  Los Altos Hills City Council member involved in the above. “The facilitator at my table was unable to manage, and one unruly table member was scuttling the entire exercise. I don’t know if that continued, but I was dreading wasting another hour. I took Tammy Logan’ s suggestion and went to the lobby – and then just kept going out the door.”

David Roode, EachStudentCounts.org. “At one point when I looked for a friend early in the meeting process, during a sort of a lull, where I had just walked away from my table back toward the middle of the room, Randy Kenyon came up to me and requested that I not leave my table.  Later on when I was in the group at the wall poster for our table, Tammy Logan came up to me and asked if I was participating. I had been at the center of the group for a while and I stepped back a bit before she came up.  That was odd, and I told her I had put some ideas up on the chart for this round already. I felt LASD was carefully managing the people they thought might provide input contrary to what the staff plan is.

Lalahpolitico, I also used a “lull” to leave my group, grab my camera and walk to the back of the room to take photos of the scene.  I got some stern looks from staff and I thought I was about to be approached and be asked to NOT take photos of the scene. It didn’t happen. Thankfully I didn’t try to speak to anyone when I left my table to look at other groups posters…which is apparently when ”the whip comes down.”

Lalahpolitico left her table and took this photo during a lull between Scenarios.

Lalahpolitico left her table and took this photo. City officials who attended included Jan Pepper (LA), Jean Mordo (LA). Courtney Corrigan  (LAH),  John Radford (LAH), John Harpootlian (LAH).

 

DISAPPEARED LEAFLETS – Suppression of Freedom of the Volunteer Citizen Press

Three different people took the time and trouble to write and print lots of copies of leaflets. Copies were put on most tables at the beginning of the meeting, but soon disappeared when attendees stood up and congregated with their groups in front the speedboat posters affixed to the walls. While we weren’t looking here’s what went missing:

1) An illustrated site plan for building a second school on the Covington campus, leaving Rosita Park intact

2) An essay that reminds that Enrollment Growth is mainly in NEC, offer a recap of scenarios, and advocates for sharing Covington and for NEC to have a neighborhood school,  and a conversion of junior highs to middle school grade configuration (6,7,8)

3) A FMPC minority report by a group of FMPC members spearheaded by Facilities Master Plan Committee member Jill Jene.

Lalahpolitico:  The District could have at least allowed citizens to place their leaflets on a table in the LACY lobby.  That would be very similar to what the League of Women Voters allows at its event.

 

The agenda allotted 25 minutes for the Build Your Own Scenario, but at my group remaining time was more like 10 - 15 minutes.

The agenda allotted 25 minutes for the Build Your Own Scenario activity, but at my group the remaining time till the closing remarks was more like 10 – 15 minutes. Rather than collaborate to create one single scenario, most groups just devolved to “parallel play” of pinning  lots of scenarios and their drawbacks (and sometimes advantages) on their poster.

District Staff  -Too Much Time with Kids – Too Little with Adults?

So was this designed as a meeting for Los Altos-Mountain View adults or instead as a large classroom exercise for kids who need everything to be packaged as game to pay attention?  Was this a meeting for Los Altos-Mountain View adults who know when to listen and when it is their turn to talk or was it designed instead for a classroom full of kids who must be kept on task with strong “classroom management skills.?” Lalahpolitico:  I can understand when the District decides to treat its parents and the PTA like little kids [You live with kids, you become somewhat kid-like] , but I bristle when the District treats its volunteer committee members and the public-at-large like kids!  

The gamification is totally inappropriate for our community-at-large for a physical  community meeting.  What a turn off for most of the childless, empty nesters and seniors. Trying to engage people online is fine, but use something that simulates aspects of a real town hall, not a game.  For example, Peak Democracy has a product called Town Hall and has been in business for about ten years.

It is a shame that the plans for a real Town Hall announced in early March by John Swan and the Town Crier and originally scheduled for April 4  were abruptly abandoned when the District responded to the “threat” of real, balanced information about Measure N spending planning, with its own Community Meeting.  This gamification was on balance a disappointment as a “live” meatspace experience. Lalahpolitico will wait for the Contenco “quantification” and “minutes” of the meeting, based on the 40 or 50 posters the attendees put comments on to judge the success of the event in producing intelligible input for the board.

There was only one week of notice for this April 22 meeting.   Maybe kids can drop everything at the last moment, but lots of adults in this community have busy lives.  Their was no clear advance warning that this would be a focus group approach and not a community assembly; people were just plain confused by the game. The online version of this Conteneo game is supposed to allow a “selected” some of those who could not attend April 22 some kind of voice.  Will Doug Smith be online? How about Mark Goines? Please at least verify and publish each person’s school attendance area and city of residence.  A participant “profile” should be mandatory.  The District’s conteneo.com online “forum” is expected to go live mid to late May.

Another example of a group working on its Scenario 4 poster. This group collected several, not one scenario.

Another example of a group working on its Scenario 4 poster. This group collected several, not one scenario.

 

CONCLUSION

Lalahpolitico: The negative: It is hard to imagine anything less transparent than these arrangements and this Conteneo process for the April 22 Los Altos School District Community Meeting. I get a sinking feeling when I realize that us taxpayers are paying for this. The positive:  At least at this meeting the District finally explicitly acknowledged the previously suppressed Option 3, an option which has several variants.  3) Do not acquire land, build a second school for BCS next to an Elementary. [I hear many people recommend the Covington Elementary, because with Rosita Park left intact,  it is almost 20 acres, while the other k-6 schools are only 10 acres.] However, because of the the way the Conteneo game was set up, the consultant and staff have overstated the anchors/drawbacks/obstacles to Option 3.  And by design, the advantages of Option 3  or any other option are not discussed  at all in the game.  For me the key advantages of Option 3 are it leaves a lot more money for improving existing schools AND  doesn’t require that any existing District school community move or have its attendance area redrawn AND means BCS won’t take up litigation again. It can meet BCS’s stated program needs.

Of course there are other scenarios that don’t pay for land, but…seem to have way more drawbacks.

 

A third example of a group and its Scenario Four speedboat poster.  This group offered just two contrasting scenarios.

A third example of a group and its Scenario Four speedboat poster. This group offered just two contrasting scenarios.

 

About the author

lalahpolitico

Norma Schroder is an economics & market researcher by trade and ardent independent journalist, photographer and videographer by avocation. Enthralled by the growth of the tech industry over the decades, she only became fascinated with business of local politics only in the past couple of years.

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