School Board Letters, Part 1

As the 21-22 school year started, I saw a couple of things that could improve our high school. In addition to adding the honorary addendum to a high school diploma of the California Seal of Civic Engagement, renovating the Community Service and Senior Project graduation requirements seeming like the right thing to do. I sent the following three letters on the same day in late September…

Capstone Project Proposal

Pescadero High School has had a Senior Project graduation requirement since before I started working here in 2007. As a 12th grade English teacher, I sponsored the Senior Project for a couple of years before handing it off to Jennifer Freeman, who did a great job for many years. Recently, and due to the challenges of Covid, the Senior Project is not what it was – and maybe it is time for a change? Thus, I’m proposing we reform the practice, revitalize the requirement, and re-envision the student outcomes.

The Senior Project was an opportunity for students to showcase their best work, but often, much good work had already been done earlier in their high school career. Further, for students who pursue Concurrent Enrollment as seniors, such a project can be hard to juggle with their new college classes. Here’s an alternative to what we have been doing…

  1. A comprehensive portfolio of academic work
    1. Thanks to Google Drive, students can archive all their academic work easily. Eventually, that work can be curated as they present the best examples of their work in high school.
    2. Examples from various subjects at each grade level. Eventually, this work, these portfolio items, could represent longitudinal interdisciplinary class projects? Service Learning projects?
  2. A project begins in 10th grade, concludes in 11th grade.
    1. Rather than starting a big project as seniors, students should start sooner. Rather than pursuing some random albeit interesting topic, they could research topics or careers that would benefit them after graduation.
    2. The Capstone project could be a customized theme or individualized academic focus that students explore as they move through subjects and grade levels. By concluding at the end of their junior year, they are free to do Concurrent Enrollment.
    3. Of course, students could choose to continue their Capstone project as seniors, not do Concurrent, and maximize their high school experience here at Pescadero.
  3. A paper is posted on a dedicated website, or the district’s.
    1. Just like before, students are responsible for writing a comprehensive and substantive research paper. Such a posting documents their work, but allows others, besides the teacher, to make some comments. Crowd sourced grading?
    2. In the past, 20 pages and 10 sources were the requirements. These can be open to modifications, upgrades, or changes in several ways. “Bibliography,” really?
  4. A presentation is posted on a dedicated website, or the district’s.
    1. Just like before, students are responsible for presenting their Capstone project to the public. While we could continue the tradition of live performances, students could also make their own videos, slideshows, or other presentations to post publicly.
    2. In the past, a 20 minute presentation (usually a narrated or explicated slideshow) was required. Even if that format continues, students can post their presentations for others to learn from.
  5. A “Q&A” or “dissertation defense”?
    1. What about the audience reading the paper or viewing the presentation ahead of time, then having a Q&A, Socratic Seminar, or TED talk exchange in which the student demonstrates their acquired knowledge in real time, in a dynamic discussion?

Perhaps the process could even begin in Middle School where students learn the importance of research and building their own knowledge base? Perhaps the process could be part of the Advisory program, or an aspect of college & career planning? Perhaps there could be interdisciplinary threads running through diverse subjects woven into the fabric of each student’s personal education?

Ultimately, the Senior Project has been a formidable graduation requirement, and a new Capstone project still could be that, and/or a “Curriculum Vitae” of a student’s high school experience. In any case, I encourage the board to revisit this topic and consider a new, more relevant, but equally meaningful milestone for our Pescadero High School graduates. 

Respectfully submitted, Randall Vail, 9/22/21

Service Learning Proposal

Due to the Covid-19 pandemic and quarantine, the Community Service graduation requirement of 100 hours was reduced to 75 hours. This amount is still much more than the HMBHS graduation requirement and is always a challenge to meet in our small town. 

Further, quantifying community service in hours has been rather antiquated, having been replaced by the notion of “Service Learning.” Please check these links to learn more about Service Learning.

I would like to propose a substantive change to our Community Service Learning graduation requirement by disaggregating the hours into three components as follows…

  1. School Service – 10 hours per year
    1. This involves helping with sports and club activities, lunch service, bulletin announcements, recycling, campus clean ups, and other work in support of our school.
  2. Class Projects – 1 per year
    1. This would be a project in an academic subject or elective class in which students show their learning about something that helps our school, community, or world. (Credit plus a grade.)
  3. Community Service – 20 hours by January of graduation year
    1. This could be optional, but honors and perpetuates the system we have had in the past. Organizations in town still need help from our students and here’s the opportunity. 

As indicated previously, students can also work toward achieving the  California State Seal of Civic Engagement as an honorary addendum to their high school diploma. 

Additionally, some quantitative designation can be administered to identify the student most deserving of our on-going Community Service scholarship. 

Respectfully submitted, Randall Vail, 9/22/21

Civic Engagement Award Proposal

The California State Seal of Civic Engagement is an honorary addendum to a high school diploma that students can earn through various activities. Read about it here

I propose that we offer this opportunity to all the students who meet the following criteria (please edit as needed)…

  1. 100 hours of community service (or a “Service Learning” equivalent).
    1. Including 20 hours of service with one or more government agencies, work in a political campaign, or other documented civic engagement.
  2. A written report (or Capstone Project) on a service activity documenting their civic engagement or work with a particular government agency, or for a political campaign.
  3. Documented leadership in one or more clubs on campus, student government, or other student leadership activities.
  4. 3.0 GPA (or merit-worthy SAT/ACT scores) or a satisfactory score on a Government, Civics, or Naturalization test.
  5. Some other replacement criteria to use in lieu of the above…?

Students who achieve these criteria will have the California State Seal of Civic Engagement affixed to their diploma or will receive the appropriate certificate. Ideally, it will become a prized resume item for our graduates.

Respectfully submitted, Randall Vail, 9/22/21

Unfortunately, none of those letters has been acted upon, but they may still be? Not long afterwards, I sent the following – just to the Superintendent and the Principal. The latter went off, responded & cc’d the school board in a hysterical rant, and has subsequently so far avoided my grievance by writing a formal apology (also cc’d to the board). The toxic work environment persists, but fortunately my advice below was taken and Economics is now official, paired with Government. Maybe next time, we will start a campus-based business to make Econ. more relevant, fun, and heuristically remunerative.


Before sending this to the LHPUSD board of education (or elsewhere), I’d like to give you the opportunity to respond. I had thought I would see Economics appear in Schoolwise, but unfortunately it has not (although next semester’s World & US History and Art classes are there)? The students are questioning the validity of the assignments I’m giving in Economics which makes for more than the usual challenges.

Financial Education

It is a common practice among high schools in California, and across the United States, to teach Economics alongside Government. Even though there is already an Economics course on our official course list, I wrote an online version using internet resources, “Applied Economics,” which was approved by the UC High School Articulation Unit and added to our course list. (Please peruse.)

Last year, I made a Google Classroom for Economics to teach along with Civics (Am. Govt.), but was never able to use it because the class was not offered in spite of my requests. This year, I am using it, teaching Economics alongside Government, but the course still does not appear in Schoolwise. I have been told that this was to happen, but we are well over a month into the year, and it has not.

While Economics may be considered a “G” elective, other schools require it for graduation because it teaches some of the most important life lessons a student can learn in school: how to manage money. In fact, “financial literacy” was promoted last year as a theme, but was it ever put into practice? Talk about equity? What do you own (that a bank does not)? Your knowledge.

Not only am I advocating for Economics to be a graduation requirement for all our students, I share the goal of Next Generation Personal Finance to make financial education mandatory. In fact, Jose Perez and I attended a NGPF workshop at Stanford a couple of years ago (and I believe NGPF founder, Tim Ranzetta, may have a home nearby?). Empowering students with knowledge about money is the best thing we can do to promote equality in the long run.

I’m pleased to learn that the idea of a school-based business may be a possibility, but it will need significant administrative support. And, if you agree that Economics is valid, important, and will go on the students’ transcripts, I hope you will honor my suggestion to have it run alongside my Government class. Eventually, I hope US History can be part of that equation for all 11th graders in a year-long course. Thank you for your consideration.

Respectfully submitted, Randall Vail, 9/28/21

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