School Boards in Action: 5 Questions with Peter Noymer, Los Gatos Union SD

Peter Noymer, board president, Los Gatos Union School District in Santa Clara County

What are some promising practices taking place in your district?

The Los Gatos Union School District is fortunate to have several newer initiatives. We have been able to bring our student–counselor ratio closer to the national average thanks to a recurring grant from a local hospital and bump in our parcel tax — mental health is an especially important focus area coming out of the pandemic. We have pivoted pretty quickly on literacy since the “Sold a Story” podcast came out, and it’s been great to see the rapid buy-in for planning and implementation.

We’re also in the early days of using a data management system that is showing promise in its ability to clearly highlight successes and provide early warnings where interventions are needed. Wrapping around all that, we have been holding regular board study sessions, roughly three to four per year, to dive into these topics with the district leadership team to make sure that new programs are designed to meet the needs of our community. In addition, our district put in place a three-year salary agreement with our teacher’s union, when one-year agreements had been the norm, and that has helped set a solid foundation for success in all of our efforts. Our goal with the agreement was to better align salaries with comparable school districts, and having a multi-year agreement helps with teacher morale and supports our staff’s significant efforts in literacy, STEAM and project-based learning.

What are some ways the district is sharing positive news and/or support with families and the community?

LGUSD makes use of social media and weekly newsletters similar to many other districts. We also produce and send out videos periodically, roughly once per month, and we are finding that those have much higher rates for opening and viewing than the other modes of communication. The videos are relatively short, typically 3-5 minutes max, but appear to be impactful for sharing news with families.

What’s your why? What inspired you to become a school board member?

That goes way back — my elementary school principal was also a neighbor growing up. He was a huge influence on me and a fantastic role model with an incredible “can do” approach that directly benefitted me when I was a kid. Fast forward a few decades and there were some activities in our district that drew me in as a community volunteer, and I found myself consulting my former principal for advice so that I could figure out how to adapt his approach for my efforts. That was the stepping stone to board service for me.

What is one thing you’d most like to accomplish during your time as a trustee and why?

Our current superintendent joined in 2018, and he spent most of his first year developing a five-year strategic plan. That was the origin of some of the initiatives mentioned in the “promising practices” response. Despite some delays with the pandemic, we are one to two years away from full implementation of that strategic plan, so shepherding that through to completion and possibly working on a refresh for the next five years are key objectives. Similarly, we recently started a facilities master planning exercise to look at proper utilization and modernization of facilities, and seeing that through is also a key objective.

What do you like to do in your free time?

Spending time outdoors and getting exercise is important to me, so I’m often swimming, biking, hiking, running or even doing yoga at some point each day (as in the photo, on a hike with my wife during a trip to Santa Barbara). I’m also big fan of word games — I used to do the New York Times crossword puzzle a lot as a teenager, and now that it’s available online, doing the NYT crossword is an evening ritual. My daughter and I work together on the NYT Spelling Bee game every day, and I participate in a friendly Wordle competition with a handful of high school and college friends. Cooking is another pastime — nothing fancy, but I enjoy tinkering and experimenting with meal and dessert recipes until they come out the way that I like. My wife and three kids are always happy when I declare that a batch of something still needs improvement, because that means I’ll be making it again soon.

Responses have been edited for clarity and length.