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November 6, 2018 — California General Election
School

Piedmont Unified School DistrictCandidate for Member, Board of Education

Photo of Amal Smith

Amal Smith

Incumbent
2,835 votes (26.5%)Winning
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My Top 3 Priorities

  • Build an educational program for all of our students that provides a strong academic base, intellectual curiosity and enthusiasm, academic rigor and student well being balance, and skills to meet goals and challenges.
  • Attract, retain, and develop excellent teachers and district leadership.
  • Provide fiscal stewardship that builds and sustains a K-12 program within our resource limits.

Experience

Experience

Profession:Incumbent and University Administrator
Associate Dean for Financial Affairs, UCSF School of Medicine (2017–current)
Vice President/Trustee, Piedmont Unified School Board — Elected position (2014–current)

Education

USC M.B.A. (1988)
UCLA B.A., Psychology (1983)

Community Activities

Treasurer, Member, Piedmont High School Parents Club (2011–2014)
Member, PUSD Budget Advisory Committee (2004–2014)
Member, Wellness Center Advisory Board (2011–2014)
President, Treasurer, Member, Piedmont Education Foundation (2006–2012)
President, Treasurer, Member, Beach Parents Organization (2001–2008)

Biography

We moved to Piedmont in 1998 and both our sons attended Piedmont schools K-12. We know that for each student there is a personal, individual definition of success, and that K-12 education is just the beginning of a life-long educational marathon.

I have 28 years of experience in higher education, currently as an Associate Dean for Financial Affairs at UCSF. Before that, I spent 17 years at the University of California, Office of the President in finance and operations, and 10 years at KPMG providing consulting services to non-profit organizations, primarily top-tier research universities. In general, my work experience includes budget and resource allocation; financial analysis, management, and reporting; strategic planning and change management; and compliance, controls, and accountability.

I have 18 years of volunteer experience serving Piedmont schools, partnering with parents, teachers, administrators, and community members to address district challenges: Elected trustee of the Piedmont School Board since 2014, currently as board vice president; president and treasurer for the Piedmont Education Foundation and Beach Parents Organization; treasurer for the Piedmont High Parents Club; member of the district Budget Advisory Committee, PHS Wellness Center Advisory Committee, PHS Boosters, and Piedmont Appreciating Diversity Committee; facilitator for the Piedmont Parents Network and Piedmont Educator Program; volunteer on parcel tax and bond measure campaigns; and multi-year classroom volunteer, room parent, and team parent.

My professional and volunteer experience means I bring the following to the district and the community:

  • Excellent knowledge of how things work in our district and the budget and financial contexts in which our schools operate;
  • A strong preference to be proactive, not reactive...anticipate and be prepared;
  • An ability to assess situations, deliberate, and make timely decisions while considering different viewpoints and perspectives;
  • An ability to work well with diverse constituencies and a desire to work with the governance team to act on behalf of the needs of all students;
  • A skill set that includes being well organized and the ability to set priorities to meet objectives;
  • A competent, methodical, thoughtful, and measured approach; and 
  • High expectations for myself and others.

Read more at AmalforSchoolBoard.com.

Who supports this candidate?

Organizations (1)

  • Association of Piedmont Teachers

Elected Officials (4)

  • Doug Ireland, Piedmont School Board Trustee
  • Tim Rood, Piedmont City Council Member
  • Teddy Gray King, Piedmont Vice Mayor
  • Robert McBain, Piedmont Mayor

Individuals (15)

  • Dean Barbieri, Former Piedmont Mayor
  • Michael Bruck, Former Piedmont Mayor
  • John Chiang, Former Piedmont Mayor
  • Betsy Andersen, Piedmont City Council
  • Steffi Mooers, Former Piedmont School Board Trustee
  • Sue Kawaichi, Former Piedmont School Board Trustee
  • Grier Graff, Former Piedmont School Board Trustee
  • Cathie Geddeis, Former Piedmont School Board Trustee
  • Ray Gadbois, Former Piedmont School Board Trustee
  • Kay Cheatam, Former Piedmont School Board Trustee
  • Ann Trutner, Former Piedmont School Board Trustee
  • Rick Raushenbush, Former Piedmont School Board Trustee
  • June Monach, Former Piedmont School Board Trustee
  • Sue Smegal, Former Piedmont School Board Trustee
  • Valerie Matzger, Former Piedmont Mayor

Questions & Answers

Questions from League of Women Voters of Piedmont (4)

The district has a history of hiring staff and teachers with personal connections to Piedmont and current district staff. How will you reassure city residents that new hires are the best choice for students and the school and that hiring is not unduly influenced by personal connections?
Answer from Amal Smith:

Hiring decisions for teachers and staff must be based on merit and fit: experience and talent; relevant skills; education; ability to partner, collaborate and communicate; and commitment to and capacity for learning and development. We must continue our hiring process that relies on interview panels to assess candidates and make recommendations, building panels with an appropriate mix of teachers, site principals and/or district leaders, classified staff, district support organization leaders, parents, community members, and students.

We must continue to cast a wide recruitment net, posting open positions within and outside our district. It is not unusual for teachers and staff currently in the district to notify colleagues in other locations of opportunities in Piedmont. Nor is it entirely unusual for some of these references to be spouses or other family members. We should not limit the ability to recruit excellent teachers and staff based on personal connections. That said, we should continue to rely on interview panels to assess the merit and fit of candidates, thorough vetting through reference and background checks, and establish reporting structures so that teachers and staff do not report to someone with whom they have a family/personal connection.

How could and would you increase transparency in district decision making?
Answer from Amal Smith:

 

Good district governance is a partnership among the board, superintendent, teachers/staff, parents, students, and community members. Our overarching goal is “kids first”. Stakeholders may have competing parochial interests; it is up to the board to hold a holistic perspective, fed by stakeholder participation to review issues and inform decisions. The district currently has myriad communications/feedback tools, using some mix the following:

  • School messaging systems
  • Email and texts
  • Social media, e.g., Twitter, Instagram
  • School site and district websites
  • Public board meetings, including broadcasts on K-COM and online
  • Issue-specific task forces, committees, and surveys, most of them public
  • District and board liaisons to parent club and support groups
  • Reports to the local press and online community/news sites

With all that, communications can feel random and haphazard, and there is lack of clarity around the process for providing feedback. These can be addressed by:

  • Reviewing communications tools and strategies with an eye towards clear, targeted, easy-to-reference communications, clarified direction, aligned messages, awareness of how stakeholders prefer to receive/give information, and plans for regular and crisis communications; and
  • Continuing to use committees and task forces with representatives from various stakeholder groups to provide input on critical issues, with clear mandates, roles, and responsibilities.

 

How could and would you continue or improve the recruitment and retention of excellent teachers?
Answer from Amal Smith:

The state does not provide adequate funding to give teachers/certificated staff a liveable wage. The school parcel tax and funds from district support groups are important supplements, providing ~40% of our almost $40 million operating budget. Without that support, our excellent schools would be decimated. Given these funding challenges, there are some limits on what we can do to improve recruitment and retention of our teachers. However, there are some strategies we can explore:

  • Compensation and Cost of Living: Compensation is negotiated with the union and there may be opportunities we can explore: changes to base salary, signing bonuses, health and welfare benefits, stipends for teachers in high demand subjects, changes to credit for years of service for transfers from other districts, placement on the salary schedule. Additionally, there may be options for services that help teachers find affordable housing in the Bay area.
  • Intangibles: Non-financial rewards can be important supplements to compensation and can include: participation in district and site strategic plans, as well as decisions that impact curriculum and classroom; agency and autonomy to perform the art of teaching; respect, recognition, and appreciation; leadership and professional development opportunities; and membership in a safe, engaged, inclusive teaching community.   
If elected, what would be your budgeting priorities? How can the school district prepare for increased pension liabilities? Can you identify areas in the budget where savings are possible?
Answer from Amal Smith:

My budget priorities are to deliver the broadest, most robust program possible for all of our students, K-12; teacher/staff recruitment, retention, development; maintaining class size ratios; ensuring proper maintenance of facilities that are not covered by our H1 bond.

Most everyone knows that CalSTRS and CalPERS are severely underfunded and are putting a strain on every district’s budget. Until recently, employees and employers paid modest amounts into their pensions. Now this liability has been pushed out and both are contributing significantly more to help catch up. We have made cuts away from the classroom, cutting back on “non-essential” services and contracts and books/supplies. In spite of prudent spending in all other areas, our escalating pension payments mean we are deficit spending which, of course, is not sustainable. Without additional funds from the state, we can explore possible new revenue sources—A voter-approved parcel tax to help offset pension costs? Endowed teacher positions? Strategies to increase student enrollment from outside the district?—and/or look at programmatic cuts that will change our current footprint: changes to class size, curriculum, athletics, counseling and library services. The board will face difficult decisions and will rely on the community to inform and prioritize.

Political Beliefs

Political Philosophy

School board trustees serve in a non-partisan capacity and so the focus is not on any one party ideology, but on what is best for our community. Community is a grounding force for me, a shared space and experience that is bound by responsibility, loyalty, and affection. It is where we gather to bring our ideas and our inspiration and where we can aspire to be our best selves. And so community is why I ran for school board in 2014 and why I’ve loved serving on the board these last four years. It has been my honor and my privilege. I am proud of the work the district and the board have done: the outreach to students, families, teachers, staff, and Piedmont citizens to provide creative and thoughtful support to our district. Serving on the school board means working with people who are dedicated, creative, engaged, and smart.

All that said, I know, too, that there is work that will always need to be done to address curriculum changes and needs; student and teacher engagement and morale; social-emotional wellness; equity and inclusion; student, teacher, staff safety; and facilities infrastructure. These are on-going issues that must be assessed and re-visited year after year because the landscape shifts all the time. I am committed to review and improvement, and can shape and contribute to these conversations to ensure agility and flexibility in how we think and how we work.

I am committed to:

  • Collaboration, cooperation, and open, honest, and constructive communication;
  • Innovation and creativity, and willingness and preference to re-think the status quo;
  • Seeking differing opinions to inform board decisions; and
  • Creating a positive, respectful environment.

Read more at AmalforSchoolBoard.com.

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