Today at 4 pm, the school board will meet to decide who they will appoint to the vacant board position that was created on March 6 when Nancy Peterson suddenly resigned, amidst the troubles surrounding the volleyball controversy.
The format will be to talk to each candidate one at a time, like a job interview.
Because of the short turnaround time, each candidate agreed to answer three questions that the Vanguard posed.
Question 1: What would you change about the district’s complaint and investigation process to help the district avoid the types of problems that presented themselves with regards to the volleyball controversy?
The current board has talked about reviewing the district investigation and complaint policies after recent events. The district is also in the process right now of revising athletics policies.
The district must answer complaints filed by students, parents and employees. I would suggest that the formal complaint policy be examined for what types of actions trigger what responses to ensure better process transparency.
If the district and its legal counsel feel there is a liability aspect to a complaint or the district is being sued or threatened with a lawsuit, it protects the district to engage legal counsel on the matter. However, there should be a policy regarding at what point the board is informed of legal spending.
In a situation where there is not a legal issue, policy should dictate what steps are taken next. We must examine our current policy for best practices. I would encourage a system where decisions about difficult complaints are made by a cabinet panel to engage a number of perspectives. Certainly many complaints are more straightforward in nature and can be handled in house by the person responsible for that area.
People who are the subjects of complaints should be informed of all the accusations against them and be given ample time in the investigation to address all the charges.
With regard to investigations, I know that personnel policies, privacy concerns and employment law may dictate how an investigation is conducted. Investigations can be complex – some employees are “at will,” some are represented by unions, and some personnel policies are bound by privacy concerns. The district could begin its policy review by looking to other institutions for best investigation practices as guidance for improving its own system. UC Davis does personnel investigations – let us use this local resource and ask how such investigations are conducted on campus. We should also review other districts’ complaint and investigation policies for comparison.
I am familiar with the complaint and investigation process of the district and I do believe it needs improvement. First, I am concerned that the primary focus of the process presupposes an adversarial relationship as opposed to conflict resolution. Second, I believe the use of outside contractors must be free from internal conflicts in the employment relationships between legal counsel and investigators used.
Therefore, I would first search for best practices from other school districts regarding the use of conflict resolution and perhaps restorative justice. Next, I would review all outside contracts to ensure no conflicts exist that might otherwise encourage disputes to continue.
Finally, it is important to note that school board members are trustees of the district, which means that they have a fiduciary duty to make decisions and take actions that are in the best interest of all children within the district. The best way to ensure that controversies over the complaints and investigations process regarding board members be avoided is to require all trustees to understand the role of a fiduciary.
The district has spent literally hundreds of thousands of dollars investigating complaints. There is no reason that a complaint about an improper coaching choice (not involving issues of personal safety), for example, should require the attention of a lawyer costing tens of thousands of dollars, and a report of some 70+ pages. We cannot let that happen again.
There were two major problems with the district’s complaint and investigation process that have become clear recently. One was the system for identifying a conflict of interest. Another was the system for handling the complaint, which included an outside lawyer often being called in. One possibility in the event of a conflict of interest within our district would be to turn to personnel in another district to investigate the complaint. This service would be free, upon an understanding that we would provide a staff person to the sister district in a similar circumstance in the future. Alternatively, we could turn to parents and coaches from another school within our district. The district must be able to handle complaints without resorting to an outside lawyer. Indeed, issues involving coaching choices are hardly ones within most lawyers’ domain of expertise.
Question 2: What steps or ideas do you have for measurably addressing the needs of disadvantaged children in the school district?
Small and large steps can be taken to address the needs of disadvantaged students in our district.
A small step that the district could make is to ensure that free-and-reduced lunch applications are easily accessible to all qualifying families. I have personally been asked by parents at school registrations about these forms. Let us remember that putting forms on a website may not be the answer as computers may not be available in the homes of qualifying families. I would like to see a standardized method of distribution of this information to ensure that eligible students are getting lunch so they can get good nutrition at school.
With financial stress, other issues may surface, such as homelessness, family instability and/or depression. The district has noted a surge of students in need of crisis counseling, and we must achieve a better counselor-to-student ratio to meet this need.
English learners (regardless of family income status) can also be disadvantaged because of an English-only learning environment. With over 40 languages represented in our district, we should allocate more resources to help English-learner students.
At a recent district meeting for the Local Control Area Plan, I listened to a presentation about the district’s English Language Learner program, which is doing a phenomenal job. I would like to research how we can put more resources (including parent volunteers) toward interpretation services for district meetings and school meetings and translation services for district communications so that all students and families have equal access to district opportunities and information.
After touring the Family Resource Center at Marguerite Montgomery last year, I was encouraged to see how this center has helped with parent engagement with student learning, especially for parents who speak only Spanish. Having a staff person fluent in Spanish at the resource was a key component of its success. Other schools may benefit from a family resource room or center.
Special education is another area where a student may be disadvantaged. I’d like to analyze how the district IEP process works and how communications with parents and students are handled to address classroom learning related to IEP issues and associated accommodations.
I would emulate some of the strategies currently employed by other districts regarding foster youth to help address the needs of disadvantaged children. Specifically, I would encourage the development of procedures for creating awareness for all district staff regarding the identification of, and available services for, disadvantaged children. Collaboration with county agencies such as social services and other appropriate agencies to help coordinate services for the district’s disadvantaged children is important. Once these steps are taken, I believe it is necessary to monitor the educational progress of these children and provide reports to the Superintendent and the School Board based on indicators identified in the district’s Local Control and Accountability Plan.
The district should consider identifying a liaison between the teacher and family or guardian of disadvantaged children at each school site. The liaison should assess whether sufficient resources are provided to these children to enable their growth and success. The Superintendent should regularly monitor the caseload of the persons appointed as a liaison, to determine whether adequate time and resources are available to meet the needs of disadvantaged children. Upon monitoring the caseload, the Superintendent shall report to the Board on the progress made by disadvantaged children in our district.
For any child to succeed in our schools, she needs to feel welcome, supported, and connected. This is particularly a challenge for our English language learners and children from low-income families, who may feel alienated at school from their first years, because they start out feeling behind children who attended pre-school. Transitional Kindergarten programs are thus an important place to start. Davis started a public pre-school, DPNS, in 1950. Davis can again be a place where we lead on the issue of universal public preschool, one of the most important keys to closing the achievement gap. Extended learning opportunities, such as the Bridge afterschool homework program at Montgomery or summer school programs, are other key means for keeping kids learning.
Parental involvement is another key; parents and the schools must work together as a village to support each child’s growth. At Montgomery Elementary, parents are partnering with the UC Davis linguistics department to offer free English and Spanish language classes for parents in the mornings. Such programs bring parents, including non-Native speaking families, onto campus and into the school community. The Family Resource Center at Montgomery also brings non-native speaking parents onto campus. Educators need to communicate with parents about student successes and challenges, so parents can reinforce at home what the teachers are doing during the day. The new two-way bilingual immersion program at Montgomery allows non-English speaking parents to volunteer and help in the classroom, increasing their connectedness and feeling of being able to contribute to their own child’s and other children’s education.
We need to focus on support for early literacy. We need to ensure that all children are strong readers by the time they finish third grade; from thereon, they will be reading to learn, not learning to read. At Chavez, the PTA has supported push-in reading aides to make sure each child becomes an accomplished reader by third grade. Two-way bilingual immersion, which allows Spanish speakers to learn to read in their first language, gives confidence to children and helps instill a love of reading.
Offering a diversity of programs is also key to keeping all students, including struggling students, engaged. As Delaine Eastin, former Superintendent for Public Instruction in California says, “For some children, the key is art, for others science, for some it is physical education, and for others it is reading and language arts. There are children who love math, while others want to make music. A well-balanced school and a well-balance curriculum” are the key to all children succeeding.
All families must feel welcome and supported, and that starts with the front office staff, and extends to the teachers and principals being kind and welcoming. I hear from families that the key difference every time is feeling that the child’s paraeducators, counselors, and teachers care about the child learning and succeeding. Small class sizes are crucial to helping teachers meet each individual child’s needs. At Holmes Junior High and other schools, there are special after school programs to keep children engaged in the community – and to see how that engagement can translate into improved academic achievement.
We must have high expectations for all. We must never condone the “soft bigotry of low expectations.” This requires training for counselors, teachers and other staff about issues of implicit bias.
Showing the real-world relevance of academic work is key to keeping all students, including struggling students, more engaged in school. Finally, partnerships with businesses and foundations are also important, helping kids have access to computers not just at school, but also at home.
Question 3: As a school board member how would you prioritize the implementation of the district’s recently completed strategic plan?
The facets of the strategic plan are varied. I served on the Technology Infrastructure and Facilities action team, so I am well versed in how that plan dovetails with facilities needs as presented recently to the board by facilities director Mike Adell and how it meshes with the DJUSD Technology Advisory Committee plan. Maintenance projects and providing innovative learning spaces were key concerns of our group.
Other action teams’ goals will blend into the Local Control Area Plan that is required under the new Local Control Funding Formula. Professional development goals set by that associated action team will be key as the district rolls out Common Core – getting teachers the training they need is critical.
Assessing students and focusing on student goals and the development of the whole child (Strategies 3 and 4 of the plan) are also critical areas – maybe the most critical. Evaluating how our students are progressing and learning and fostering student goals is the main job of a district. Increasing school connectedness and providing good communications to stakeholders is another important part of strategy 4.
This is an exciting time for DJUSD. The strategic action teams set worthy priorities and goals. We are fortunate to have this process to focus the district as we head into a time of change and new possibilities.
As a school board member I would make the successful implementation of the Strategic Plan a priority. Specifically, I would focus on ensuring that we annually assess the progress of the plan to ensure that we are accountable to the broad cross section of the community that comprised the 26 member Strategic Planning Committee.
As a member of the Strategic Planning Committee, there was much discussion about the prioritization of the Strategic Plan. Specifically, the Committee discussed the need for a coherent and cohesive plan to fully achieve the goals set out in the mission statement.
Accordingly, the Committee drafted strategic objectives, strategies, and parameters to ensure that the implementation of the Strategic Plan would be focused. The strategies formed by the Committee were intended to be specific actions needed to achieve the goals outlined in the mission statement. From there, Action Teams were assembled to work on further defining a yearly work plan. The Action Teams recommended back to the Strategic Planning Committee an action plan for each of the four strategies.
In the first year of the Strategic Plan the work of the district should be focused on the “development” of the four strategies, whereas in subsequent years the “implementation and assessment” of those strategies shall occur. Therefore, the priority of the Strategic Plan should be centered on the “development” of: (1) a professional development system; (2) a plan for physical space and technology infrastructure; (3) a district wide assessment system aligned with the Common Core and designed to improve instruction and close the Achievement Gap; and (4) a system that enables each student to set and pursue academic, social and personal goals. Of these four development priorities, an assessment system that considers the Achievement Gap should be the first priority because of its consistency with the new state requirement to establish a Local Control Accountability Plan pursuant to the Local Control Funding Formula.
The new strategic plan states four priorities for our schools between 2014-2019: (1) professional development for teachers, (2) facilities and technologies necessary to support learning, (3) assessment systems to measure student growth according to new common core state standards and to measure progress in closing the achievement gap, and (4) supporting the “whole child” by enabling each child to set academic, social, and personal goals. These happen to be the four cornerstones of an excellent education: teacher preparedness and opportunities, technologically enabling environments, assessment tools to ensure each child is progressing and learning to her or his full potential, and focusing on the whole child by providing a broad range of opportunities to tap and develop diverse talents. I believe all of these are necessary and must be supported for our schools and students to succeed.
Investing in teachers is the key to success for all students. We need an effective professional development program so teachers feel prepared and excited for the new common core. Teacher opportunities for growth affect morale and retention. (Young teachers, especially, may leave our district if other districts offer better learning opportunities for them.) We need to hear from teachers about what training programs they find most helpful.
Our district is working hard to equip all of our schools with the technology we need for students to do Common Core testing beginning this spring. But this should be a floor, not a ceiling. Our schools should have access to state of the art technology, from 3D printers to outdoor STEM labs. We need to have portable electronic devices available for disadvantaged students so that they can continue their learning at home. The district should partner with private corporations, UC Davis, and foundations to bring new opportunities to all students, including socio-economically disadvantaged students. The Bechtel grant to develop a K-3 STEM curriculum at Montgomery Elementary is a wonderful example of the kinds of opportunities partnerships between the district and UC Davis can bring. At the same time, the schools have a responsibility to convey to the public how student learning is enhanced by expensive technologies. How do WiFi, the computer or the iPad improve the lesson and deepen understanding?
Small class sizes or “small learning communities” like DaVinci help teachers know and challenge each child, and to meet diverse needs. Small class sizes reduce stress on teachers; parent-teacher conferences could then focus on the individual talents and needs of a child, not just where the child stands in relation to particular benchmarks.