“What We Heard”

Julie Sundstrom, Guest Writer/Teacher

Editor’s Note:

The following letter was addressed and sent to Amy Miller from Julie Sundstrom, a science teacher at Dublin High.  Per Ms. Sundstrom, Ms. Miller “sent a very thoughtful letter – clearly expressing her pain in making this decision because she knew it would disappoint us and she wanted us to know that she fully supported us but under financial pressure could not support fully funding it.”  Here, Ms. Sundstrom gives her response to the School Board on what this decision means.

March 1st, 2017

Dear Amy,

Thank you for your letter Amy.  I know that you feel very torn, and will continue to feel that way.  I know that you heard last night that the space issues at DHS can not be ignored.  I know that you are worried that you will regret your decision.  I do want to let you know that we are very thankful that at least a two story building will go up.  That will help.  But you are right that we left feeling very disappointed, and disheartened about the future of Dublin.  Mr. Cunningham pointed out the message you would be sending.  And for all the compromise, this is what the teachers and students heard:

We heard that all of our time spent sacrificing and not complaining was the wrong thing for us to do, because the Board makes decisions based on complaints.  I have been teaching here for 10 years now, and have seen the school population double in that time.  Working conditions have gradually worsened, but I have put my faith in the district to solve that problem.  I stood up to my department of teachers 2 years ago when we began the model of shared classrooms and rotating teachers, saying that we were lucky to be in a growing district and that the sacrifices were worth it.  I explained that there was a Facilities committee that would be figuring out the space problems in the long run. When I learned that this committee of professionals tasked with determining the best plan for our facilities was designing a 3 story Science and Engineering building, I thought, “Finally, they are planning for the growth that we know is coming.”  We were overjoyed.  Why would we think that we needed to advocate for the Board to follow the recommendations of the Facilities committee?  I can’t imagine how our Facilities team felt after all the time that they’ve spent doing their job…to have their hard work and professional opinions discounted by a vote swayed by a group of parents that know very little about the issue and approach it from a completely one-sided view.

I also heard the message that you think because we’ve been quietly suffering for a couple of years already with classes of 34, we can do it for another 5 years.  You actually did the math for shoving 34 students 7 periods a day into the second story of classrooms. Excuse me here if I lose a little diplomacy, but…  Really?????  When I attend PLTW trainings and conferences, teachers from other districts are horrified that we have 34 in a classroom.  Most PLTW classrooms are capped at 25, and 28 is thought to be a stretch.  This was supposed to be temporary until we built more classrooms.  I find it absolutely appalling that you think this is acceptable for students.  The difference in manageability between a classroom of 28 and 34 is tenfold.  I permit it in my freshman classes only because the alternative is disappointing 12 more kids (6 per period.) And the only reason it is doable for my classes is because these kids want so badly to be there and therefore behave when needed.  For almost any other science class, 34 is impossible, including for my lab-intensive junior Biomed class.  In fact, we have 90 sophomores ready to move into my junior class, but I can only take 64, so we are having to funnel even accepted Biomed kids away from Academy classes.

I also heard the message that measure H was not for DHS, unless there’s a couple million that it comes down to at the end.  Well, the way that bond was written, it seems black and white that it is wrong to make a decision based on the desire to not spend measure H money at DHS. Even President Rouse knew that some money should come from Measure H, though the attempt to take a token amount was transparent. Honestly, the 7-10 million in question would be a token amount of the 253 million.

I also heard that not only did my professional opinion not hold enough weight for you, neither did the professional opinions of Tim Sbranti, Maureen Byrne, and Bill Branca.  These three people know Dublin High School inside and out, and Tim knows the entire city of Dublin inside and out.  They have been through this growth process.  They have seen what happened to DHS when Pleasanton made the same decisions you are making. They have seen that despite all efforts, the district has continually under-built.  They know that as long as new building is still happening in Dublin, there can never be too many classrooms.  To not build a 3rd story for the relatively minimal cost difference does not make financial sense.  It will end up costing much more to add another building in the future.  There will not be an option to just build a 3rd story on top at that point.

I also heard what the next votes will be about.  Once you have started making decisions to not spend money at DHS, I fear that it will be easier to continue along that path, and no academic or extracurricular program at DHS will be safe.  I know that the release period sections for Academy teachers will come under scrutiny. I sincerely hope you heard how much these Academy programs are valued by students and parents.  It would be far easier to just offer classes, and not give the Academy experience, but students would lose all of those college and career readiness experiences that the Academy coordinators have worked so hard to build – the guest speakers, the field trips, the team of teachers and counselor working together to constantly make the program better, the mentor program, the HOSA and robotics clubs, the coordination with ROP and the Tri-Valley, the partnerships with industry, the dedication to attend the regular conferences and TEC meetings, to welcoming visitors and sorting through massive amounts of Academy-related email, and especially to creating that small family within a school where students can not fall through the cracks.  We also spend large amounts of time on the recruitment, application, interview, and orientation process.  This year I will have to miss several days of school just to interview the 168 applicants.  Not to mention the amount of hours we have contributed in the last several days and will continue to contribute in order to advocate for our school and programs. All of these extras take significant time outside of the classroom to develop and maintain. I often feel (and my family agrees) that I have two full-time jobs, because I do teach 4 periods a day and have all the prep that goes along with that in addition to the heavy load of Academy work. It would be SO much easier to teach 5 classes. After all of the great work that Bryce Custodio, Tim McCarty, and Steve Hanke did to create and support the STEM magnet that we have become, and all of the sacrifices that we as teachers have made for these students, it would be such a shame to see these programs crumble. That is when you would truly see people transferring out of district and housing prices falling.

I also heard that you feel you could make a better decision if you knew more about the second high school. Let’s be realistic about the new high school. If we can’t support growing a Biomed or Engineering program here with 2500 students on 40 acres of land, there is no way that those programs can exist at the new high school.  Some classes can be offered, but if parents want a comprehensive high school, those programs will always be limited by the need to maintain teachers of the other electives.  So students that want the STEM experience that DHS has to offer will have to come here.  I have no doubt in my mind that those same parents that spoke out so vocally to deny this building will be the ones who want their kids in those programs. And the profound irony will be that they will either be turned away due to space constraints at DHS, or if they are lucky to get in, they will be driving across town anyway. So I agree that you do need to know more about that second high school before you make this decision, as there is definitely a big disconnect between what people think they will get and what is realistic.

Finally, I heard you say that you wish you had the hindsight now – and yet you heard that hindsight offered to you from all people who are truly positioned to have it – teachers, facilities personnel, administrators, long-time residents, and the ex-mayor.  You said that the complaints from these parents are not what swayed you, but yet this was presented to us as a done deal up until 2 weeks ago.  We did not think we would have to fight for this.  And we certainly were not given sufficient time to make our valuable opinions heard.  You owe us more than 2 minutes. It is shocking to be treated this way. And yes, we are beyond disappointed, and beyond disillusioned with the leadership you have shown.  It was incredibly clear that you had already made your decision when you walked in last night.  You said multiple times that in your previous facilities meeting you had found Option F to be the compromise you were looking for.  So we really didn’t get 2 minutes.  We got a show… pretend to listen, cut people off at 2 minutes, have the discussion revealing that you have already committed to not spending measure H at DHS, and then vote against all input from actual informed professionals.

It is the request of your district high school Science team that you continue this discussion but this time include those most affected by it.  We promise to no longer suffer silently.  In fact, here are a few of our daily/hourly complaints that came up just in the first hour of my day today, but that we don’t usually take the time to acknowledge because we are too busy teaching and preparing curriculum or labs:

  1. I had to type this letter in a Word document because the wifi in the Science office was not working, and one of the 2 hardwired computers that is in this room does not have a power source.  Since another teacher was using the 1 hardwired computer with a power source, I had to work offline and then finally tonight upload it.
  2. I opened a letter left for me by my sub yesterday (we were on NGSS pull-out) that stated how confused she got trying to figure out what rooms I teach in.  “You must hate it,” she said, exact words.
  3. If we want heat in the Science office, we have to email the Energy official for the district to please turn up our heat because there is no working thermostat in the room.  Because we don’t like to complain, we sit in this cold office in the winter wearing our down winter coats or covered in a blanket.  And in the hot weather, we plug in tiny fans that do nothing for the air circulation in the room.

I realize that this took you more than two minutes to read, but please know it is only a fraction of what I have to say. And clearly, the time it took me to write this took away from time I would have given my students and family today, which is not what any of us want. So it is very important to be sure all of your fellow board members have read it. We need to know that our voices will not be ignored.


Julie Sundstrom