Learning Matters: Some ideas for the school board appointee to consider

Some friends have asked about my intentions for next April's election. As I've told them, I'm not seeking another term on the Board of Education. And I don't plan to submit my name for the interim appointment to the seat being vacated by my good friend Mary Boger, though I pondered the possibility when it was presented.

The thought of being "the honorable board member" on the dais again had some appeal — particularly the chance to weigh in on increases in student funding after all the years of cuts. But having donned a few new hats since my departure from the board — as liaison to our local school districts for the Verdugo Workforce Investment Board, education columnist, and grandmother, among others — I'm concerned the old hat wouldn't fit well.

I think it will be better for the board to bring in someone eager for a new level of engagement with school policies and governance, whether that person continues as an elected trustee or not.

Still, thinking about "what I'd do if" has given me some suggestions for whoever is considering the appointment. So here's my pitch.

In the elementary schools, I'd encourage thinking about the possibilities of effectively lowering class size without changing class-size ratios districtwide. Decreasing class size overall comes with enormous budgetary and facilities costs and did not produce all the benefits we hoped it would when it was enacted in 1996. But schools could create more opportunities for teachers to work with smaller groups of students for more individualized instruction.

In my not-too-wild-a-dream world, four credentialed music teachers for the primary grades could travel among our 20 elementary schools, complementing the efforts of our fine upper-grade instrumental music teachers.

But, whereas our instrumental teachers provide a pull-out program for a limited number of orchestra members, primary music teachers could reach all students with choral music classes scheduled by the school's principal and instructional leadership team to support core instruction.

If reading were a focus for second grade, for example, music could be offered for that grade during English language-arts time. The music teacher could take half the students from two or three classrooms at a time, leaving the classroom teachers with the other half. Then the groups would switch, so no student missed a language-arts lesson. And of course, the children would get all the academic and social-emotional benefits of music, too.

Done well, choral music instruction can incorporate elements of dance, drama and history, as well as the intrinsic elements of language and math. I know credentialed music teachers in the Los Angeles area, some of them trained in culturally rich and educationally sound music-education traditions, who might jump at the chance to work in Glendale. One of them just took a job in Arcadia.

My other long-term wish for our schools is in the area of college and career education for all, not college-prep for some and career-prep for others. The goal of both federal and state career pathway efforts, and of teachers locally and across the country who have embraced the Common Core, is to infuse academics with the know-how and problem-solving skills that come with workplace experience.

The goal of industry — and increasingly of educators — is to better the prospects of our students to compete in a global economy. After 100 years of separating academic from technical knowledge and "college bound" from "noncollege bound" students, it's time to recognize all students should be bound for success, through college and career.

Luckily for us, the Career Pathways grant from the California Department of Education will boost efforts to bridge college and career instruction and to forge real partnerships among educators and industry leaders.

Glendale and Burbank students with an interest in digital arts or advanced manufacturing — like all those students participating in robotics — will have the opportunity to gain experience in these growing sectors of our regional economy. They'll be prepared to move on to programs at Glendale Community College, California State University Northridge, and beyond, and they'll be better prepared to work in the world into which they'll graduate.

It should be a great time to serve on the Board of Education. I'll continue to support and prod the board's efforts from my posts away from the dais.


JOYLENE WAGNER is a former member of the Glendale Unified school board. You can email her at

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