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.