Madhavi Sunder’s Address to DJUSD Board

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Madhavi Sunder delivers her prepared remarks on Monday at the DJUSD School Board appointment special meeting.

by Madhavi Sunder

(Editor’s note: the following was addressed to the school board Monday night as her formal remarks during the interview process and sent to the Vanguard subsequently).

There will be four open seats on the school board on the November 4 ballot. I and a number of colleagues will be campaigning for a seat at this table, which I believe is the most important in our city because your job is to see that each of our 8500 children in our district has access to the basic right of a free and appropriate education, which in Davis we also promise will be excellent.

I want to talk to you today about why I think I would be the best appointee among the three worthy finalists to begin the crucial work of a Trustee today, six months before the November election.

First, I believe I would offer the best complement to the current Board among the three finalists—I fill a crucial missing element. Second, I am someone you can rely on to take all that I would learn from you and from serving the community over the next seven months, to use for the full benefit of students, the schools and our community if I am elected in November.

Let’s begin with the perspective and experience I offer. I will bring to the current Board the missing perspective of an educator and teacher, who understands the pressures, fears, and academic and financial challenges of our teachers. We have lacked anyone on the Board in recent years who also works at UC Davis. I would be a strong liaison to the world-renowned university in our backyard, with which I believe we can find more productive ways to partner to obtain financial and human resources that would benefit all of our students.

My commitments are first and foremost those of a teacher to students, and those of a public educator who believes in the promise of public schools in our democracy.

We are in the most challenging period for public education our state has ever seen. California has gone from first to worst in the country in terms of resources spent per child and academic outcomes for each child. In Davis, our citizens have picked up the pieces with parcel taxes, fundraisers, and volunteerism. Our teachers and administrators have done more with less, with pure grit.

I am excited by the challenge of preserving an excellent public school system in this political climate. In most places anyone would be crazy to enter this fray, but I am inspired to get involved because I know that Davis is a place where we have the human resources and the community values to successfully meet even the biggest challenges of our time – from the persistent achievement gap to the problem of securing financial resources to support opportunities for students.

Let me talk for a minute about the achievement gap, a challenge I have spoken with nearly every principal I have met with on my tour of the 20 schools in our district. I am heartened by the good work our district is doing in promoting parent engagement and educational programs that directly meet the needs of our most challenged students, including English language learners and economically disadvantaged students. Our district begins with the premise that all kids, and especially those who struggle, must feel welcome, supported, and connected.

Transitional kindergarten plays an important role so that struggling students are not already behind when they start Kindergarten because other children had access to high quality preschool and they did not. Davis was a pioneer in public preschool, opening the district supported DPNS in 1950. DPNS is run as part of our district’s Adult Education program; we knew long ago that educating parents to support and engage in their children’s learning was crucial to supporting children themselves. Today, progressive preschools in Tulsa, Oklahoma are focusing on the same and more, teaching parents professional skills so they may get better and higher paying jobs. Again, these schools recognize that supporting parents means supporting students. So how can Davis be a place where we do more to address the challenge of the achievement gap? I think we in Davis can again lead the way in a new wave of thinking about and implementing public preschool, and we have leaders in the field like Amy Duffy and Ross and Janet Thompson within our town with whom we can partner.

Another key area is early literacy. We need to ensure that 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 EL children and helps instill in them a love of reading.

I would like our district to have a community book that we read and discuss together. This would ignite passion for reading, encourage parents to read to their young children, and expose students through literature to gain insights into students different from themselves. I envision this as a shared experience for kids and families across the multiple school sites.

In short, I have a lot of ideas and a deep passion for educational programs as the engine of opportunity. I also have the energy and ability to make good on many of these ideas. Thank you, and Happy Cinco de Mayo.

About The Author

Disclaimer: the views expressed by guest writers are strictly those of the author and may not reflect the views of the Vanguard, its editor, or its editorial board.

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20 Comments

  1. Ryan Kelly

    I wonder if she really understands what her duties would be if she is elected – the nuts and bolts of doing the work of a Trustee. Her statement that she needs to learn the job is absolutely correct. She can’t will the achievement gap away. The Trustees need to supervise the Superintendent better. We don’t elect Trustees to be the friend of the District employees. We need a manager.

    I suggest that she attend every meeting and read every packet and delve into the budget. I urge her to look at the statistics – the achievement gap, the drop out rate and which kids are dropping out, how long it takes English earners to be classified as fluent, suspensions and expulsions.

    1. Davis Progressive

      she seems like a very intelligent lady, i’m sure she knows exactly what her duties would be.

      “I suggest that she attend every meeting and read every packet and delve into the budget.”

      seems like arrogant presumption on your part.

      1. Michelle Millet

        she seems like a very intelligent lady, i’m sure she knows exactly what her duties would be.

        I agree. I think she can probably figure it out;-).

        I suggest that she attend every meeting and read every packet and delve into the budget.

        Something I know she doing is visiting every school site and actively engaging with PTA’s and other school organizations.

        1. Davis Progressive

          it seems like she’s taking the right approach. we’ll see if she ends up someone i can support later, but so far i’m intrigued.

    2. Davis Progressive

      one thing to keep in mind, you’re not going to win an appointment by bashing the school district. know what i do about madhavi, i htink your concerns are very much misplaced.

      1. Ryan Kelly

        We all know that you support her. Your argument that she is carefully crafting her statement in an effort to win an appointment is curious. My concerns about her ability to manage the district are not misplaced. She is an academic and an attorney with no management experience.

        Again, we need a manager who will work to manage the district, not someone who is trying to be a friend of the employees. Her campaign is a little strange – an arts and crafts event for kids at the library and a coffee to meet with teachers. I expect she and others think that people will vote for her because they like her. She may be smart and likable, but I don’t want someone who needs to learn on the job how to manage a budget for an organization with many different groups lobbying for their particular interest. If this is an arrogant presumption, it is only because I haven’t hear or read anything that tells me differently coming from her.

        1. Michelle Millet

          Her campaign is a little strange – an arts and crafts event for kids at the library and a coffee to meet with teachers.

          As I mentioned above she is also reaching out to parents. Why is it strange that that a school board candidate is actively trying to engage with the people her decisions would effect?

        2. Michelle Millet

          I expect she and others think that people will vote for her because they like her.

          Or maybe she is giving people the opportunity to get to know her?

        3. Davis Progressive

          i don’t know whether i support her or not. what i don’t like to see is people automatically eliminated from consideration.

          “with no management experience. ”

          that’s probably most people who applied and will run.

        4. vanguardfan

          “No management experience”?!
          I happen to know that her husband has been on the other side of the planet for two weeks, while she has been taking care of two school-aged children with busy schedules, maintaining a full-time academic job, and running a school board campaign. Sorry to tell you, Mr. Kelly, but she has “management experience.”

  2. Ryan Kelly

    Michelle – this is not a popularity contest.

    The Nancy Peterson fiasco should have raised the bar on who people vote for to serve on the Board. No more merely “likable” Trustees. Eventually, they will vote contrary to what some people want and the trashing will start (what’s happening to Sheila Allen right now) or they carefully vote to avoid this. I personally want more information about how they view the world and a lot more substance on how they manage the conflicts of interest that will absolutely present themselves.

    Why are not others challenging this particular candidate? All I’ve heard is that she is smart and “can figure it out” and she is friendly and nice. Would you hire her to manage a large organization with a complex budget and competing interest based on only these attributes?

    1. Davis Progressive

      i see it more as her own educational process, going around and meeting people, getting their perspectives. i just don’t understand why you have written off this particular candidate. i don’t think anyone’s suggesting we not scrutinize her between now and november.

    2. Michelle Millet

      Michelle – this is not a popularity contest.

      I never suggested it was. I’m not understanding why you have a problem with candidates meeting and talking to people.

    1. DavisAnon

      Ryan Kelly,

      Have you met with her? When I spoke with her, I thought she would be an outstanding addition to the Board – someone who will do her own research and not just rely on hearsay, someone who is open and approachable but who will not tolerate incompetence and waste, and someone who will support teachers in their everyday work but is not afraid to tackle difficult or controversial subjects. I like that she builds bridges to people of differing backgrounds – English Learners, academics, teachers, students, high and low SES, special ed – and finds ways for them to work together in a positive way. She would definitely bring a new and refreshing perspective to the Board – and most of all is truly in this race for students and teachers, not a political career, not to support a special interest, and certainly isn’t approaching this half-heartedly.

      Obviously everyone makes their own decision on who they’ll vote for, and I think it’s great that this forum exists for people to share their various thoughts, but I would encourage you to spend some time speaking with her before drawing your own (in my opinion inaccurate) conclusions about her. I look forward to learning more about some of the other candidates, too, in the coming months as there are many seats opening up this year.

    1. Davis Progressive

      because there hasn’t been decades of extra programs, money, or classes. there has been lipservice and in the past eight years there hasn’t really even been that.

  3. Davis Progressive

    what i find most interesting is that there has been a lot of talk about getting fresh voices on the board and yet for the most part we select based on who has participated in the most site councils, pta boards, and other activities. if we want change, we have to find people outside of those circles.

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