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Meet Albert Lee – Green Elementary School Site Council Member and Difference Maker

March 30, 2015
Difference Maker Albert Lee

Difference Maker Albert Lee

In our continuing series highlighting Dublin Unified School District adult volunteers, OneDublin.org reached out to Green Elementary School Principal Joe Romagna. He quickly offered up Mr. Albert Lee as a worthy individual to profile. Albert is a true transplant to California. He was born in Texas, lived in Pittsburgh and for a period of time in CT before coming to the Bay Area in 2008. Along the way, he attained an undergraduate degree from Caltech and an M.S. from University of California Berkeley. While Albert, his wife Jina and three children reside in Dublin, Mr. Lee operates a tutoring service in the Lamorinda area.

His clients are generally middle and high school students so he meets with them Sunday through Thursday between 3:00 – 10:30 PM. He provides this large window as some of the older students participate in sports and other activities. In addition to ACT and SAT preparation, Albert has subject matter expertise in the areas of physics, mathematics and chemistry. He notes that it is difficult to succeed in this industry without a solid foundation in math skills.

As a parent, he takes great pride in the fact that his children often look forward to the rigor offered in school. He is the father of three children from the ages of eight to two. His current role at Green is to run the School Site Council (SSC). His profession has provided Albert with a unique perspective to help all students gain the best possible outcomes. Further, he can appreciate the concept of differentiation of curriculum – balanced against what is probable in a classroom setting. While the optimal setting would represent 1-1 teaching, one must consider the wide range of skills – even with three students. We found Mr. Lee’s outlook on education and life to be fascinating. OneDublin.org recently sat down with Albert and it was a wonderful opportunity to understand his academic philosophy balanced with what he considered the value of volunteering.

OneDublin.org: Please describe how your involvement/volunteerism at Green has enhanced your overall experience at Green.

Albert Lee: “Even coming from a background in education, I discovered there were many things that parents experience as they participate in a school community.  There are a lot of moving parts and a lot of different interests at work in any school environment, and things that I took for granted were not trivial.  I think my role as a parent volunteer is to assist the teachers and staff.  After just my first experience volunteering in kindergarten centers, my respect for the teachers and their ability to control a class for four hours, as opposed to my 30 minutes with a small fraction of the class, was immense.

“My key lessons were to understand the wide range of students in any classroom and the demands on teacher time.  I don’t think school work is always perfectly suited to every student, but I attribute that to the requirements placed upon teachers.  In an ideal world, school would be perfectly differentiated so that every student is being challenged.  But, in reality, asking teachers to develop individual or differentiated lesson plans for a small group of students is challenging.  But, I have found that my children’s teachers are open to enrichment, but I try to make it as easy as possible for them to implement.  I don’t ask the teachers to develop the material because I realize it takes a lot of their own time, and the times are at the teachers’ discretion.  I think that being able to work with a small group while the teacher works with the rest of the class benefits everyone.  This has been the most valuable experience for me; I get to see the best of my kids, struggling with problems that are supposed to be too hard for them, but working to overcome them and I also get time in the classroom to see the amazing dynamics and the skill that the teachers have of engaging with students.

“These experiences have encouraged me to get involved with the larger school community, so this year I have joined the School Site Council and am organizing Math Kangaroo at John Green.  Through Site Council, I’ve been a more active participant in larger school issues and with Math Kangaroo, we were able to hold a great event that enriches and challenges students, giving them a chance to see math in a different context.

Green Principal Joe Romagna“One of the best aspects of the experience is the insight I’ve gained into the community.  From Principal Romagna to the teachers and the staff, I’ve been able to gain more of a personal connection to them than I would have as an observer.  I respect the work that the teachers and staff do, and I’ve gotten good feedback from them on the work that I do.  I feel much more positive about the school after seeing how much activity there really is.  There is truth to the saying that you get out what you put into it.”

OneDublin.org: You mentioned that some of the parent population has been unaware of the Site Council’s existence/activities.  In your own words, please describe what the SSC does.

Lee: “For two years, I actually didn’t even know there was a SSC at John Green.  I never saw it mentioned anywhere, and when they asked for parent volunteers, it really appealed to me that it is composed of 5 parents and 5 staff members.  The issues we focus on are the overall site plan, learning outcomes, learning environment including safety, and character education.

We encourage all parents to attend our meetings, and each month, we’ve had an educational series presented by a member of the community.  The series has included information about the Special Day Class at John Green, OARS data and assessments, theSPSA (site plan) drafting process, and the work of the District Optimization Committee.

“At our last meeting, I got the chance to present the results of our parent survey.  One of the issues that I’ve had an issue with at Green is the sense that parts of the community exist in “bubbles” where they get to hear a lot of feedback from their friends, but maybe not a lot of outside views.  I wanted to get a larger view of the community, and we asked about happiness, and their experiences with different aspects.  We also gave the opportunity to provide open ended responses about the learning environment and programs.  We had very positive feedback… 95% of the responses said that their children were happy at John Green.  One of the more interesting results was that there was a distinct split when we asked if homework should be more difficult.  For every person who strongly agreed that homework should be more difficult, there was one who strongly disagreed; for every person who agreed, there was one who disagreed.  My realization is that we don’t often realize this spectrum, and some of the things we ask of teachers is only from one perspective.”

OneDublin.org: Many parents/guardians have returned to the workforce which may negate an opportunity to assist at the school during the day.  Please share your thoughts on how they may still contribute their time to the school site.

Lee: “I think there a number of barriers that keep parents from participating in school events or organizations, and I am thankful to have the flexibility and background to participate.  I think there’s nothing that sends a stronger message of how important a parent considers education than the sacrifices that help provide a solid foundation.  From what I have seen, if you really want to make a contribution, then you can make it work.  If you are not willing to contribute, then you probably don’t have a lot of ground to stand on if you have something to complain about.

“I’m not one who believes there should be 100% participation when it comes to parent volunteers in the classroom.  But, I do think parents have an obligation to familiarize themselves with the school and the opportunities it provides.  If classroom time is not appealing, you could always donate more money to the PFC, work on evening/weekend events, go to PFC and/or SSC meetings, work on communications.  Some teachers will even outsource projects that parents can put together in the evenings.  There was a call for the District Optimization Committee that only meets in the evenings.  I would love to have some community organizing so that important issues are brought to the neighborhoods in a balanced fashion.

“Aside from that wish list, I do think that all parents should take the time to look at communications from the teachers and the schools.  It’s frustrating to the staff if something has been explained over and over again is continually ignored.  I’d also like to dispel the myth that parent volunteerism is strictly the realm of stay-at-home parents.  I know programmers, investment bankers, doctors, and project managers who all find a way to make time to be present in the classroom, even if it’s just once every few months.  There’s hundreds of vacation hours that are left unused every year.  For Math Kangaroo, I shift my schedule so that I am available, and as someone who gets paid hourly, I don’t get to take vacation time and get paid for it.

“For example, we’ve made it a point to talk about traffic safety every month, and yet, every morning, there are people double parking, crossing illegally, and every once in a while, there’s someone who decides to show off their aggressive driving skills.  I think the things that are asked of parents on this level are minor and if we really had 100% participation on these things, it would really make the experience better.”

OneDublin.org: Your family has clearly made a positive difference at Green Elementary.  What message would you like to convey to others that may be hesitant or perhaps do not know other parents or staff members?

Lee: “I think there is nothing wrong with being a bit selfish in your volunteerism.  I specifically do math enrichment and school site council because those are the things that I felt are the most important.  From that perspective, I feel like I’ve succeeded, as they both enjoy and do well in math and they can see the importance of participating in a community.  I’ve never volunteered for certain programs because I know I would not enjoy them.  There is a large range of ways to participate in the community, and I am certain that everyone could find something worth their time.

“There are a finite number of years that children get truly excited to see their parents on school campus.  We might as well enjoy them a bit more.”

OneDublin.org: Anything else that you would like to add?

Lee: “The most interesting thing about elementary school is how the children are so happy and enjoy learning.  It’s a stark contrast to the attitudes we see as they reach the teenage years.  It’s one of my strongest impressions of having children in kindergarten, and I think it reaches all aspects of life in a school.  If there are ways to make the people at the school happier, starting with the teachers, but reaching the administration, staff, and parents, then we owe it to ourselves to pursue them.

“This is a time when many new things are being tried in education, and I would encourage parents to follow education blogs to find out some cutting edge ideas.  Many of the teachers already implement some of them, but if we educate ourselves and are willing to take some chances, our schools and our children will benefit.”

So, yet another parent has chimed in with his unique perspective on how and why adults should contribute time and efforts to their respective schools. Granted, Albert approaches this subject as someone who routinely works with middle and high school students. Yet, he is also recognizing how quickly the years are passing by – and the opportunity to make a significant at one’s school site. OneDublin.org would like to thank Albert Lee for sharing his impressions and we hope that this has shed greater light upon the activities of School Site Councils.

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