by Madhavi Sunder
Davis schools are lucky enough to educate the children of both PhDs and migrant workers. This last week, I filed papers to run for a seat on the Davis School Board, to work for all the diverse children in this district.
I was proud to file for a seat on the five-person school board with several members of my campaign team by my side. Nichole Arnold, Emily Bengle, Brandon Bridges, Andrea Chandrasekher, Rik Keller, Shama Mesiwala, and members of the next generation joined me as we made our campaign official.Our campaign committee, Families for Madhavi Sunder for School Board 2014, consists of a diverse array of families representing different aspects of the Davis community. We are teachers, parents, and grandparents. We are children learning to be the change you want to see in a democracy. We are grassroots, we are growing, and we want you to join us. My co-campaign managers Sarah Heringer and Malia McCarthy, and my treasurer, Grace Salvagno, are mothers who have long been active in the schools. Team member and Davis photographer Rik Keller, an active father of children in the Davis schools, lent his talent to help us chronicle the moment.
On November 4 there will be four open seats on the Davis School Board. This is the most important table in our community, where we determine opportunities for 8500 children – our nation’s future. Public school is the engine that makes our country the land of opportunity. Public school gives every child, regardless of background, an opportunity to explore, learn, and reach her full potential. It allows children of first generation immigrants, or non-English speakers to build a foundation that allows them to go on to college—even to become the president of the United States. We must ensure that the Davis Joint Unified School District maintains its leading position in advancing the education of all our town’s children.
In the weeks to come, I will share many, specific ideas on some of the most important issues facing our schools: from preparing our schools and teachers for the Common Core, to early literacy programs to close the achievement gap, to technology in the classroom, to the importance of arts education in our public schools. I will be reaching out to experts on issues from children and mental health to the directors of the new Davis Code Camps to learn from and share the tremendous human resources in our special town. I am taking a “Schools Tour,” visiting each of the 20 school sites in our district to learn first-hand about our successes and challenges. (You can follow my Schools Tour on our website, www.sunderforschools.org and on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/sunderforschoolboard.)
Here I want to discuss three big challenges the next school board will face, and how I plan to meet them.
1. Resources. 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. Fiscal responsibility is a hallmark of my campaign. I will be vigilant against the wasteful use of taxpayer resources, and insist that resources be concentrated in the classroom, directly benefiting students, not on hiring consultants and lawyers. I will work tirelessly to develop public-private partnerships for our schools to benefit all children. I will seek to develop new partnerships with the world-renowned university in our backyard.
2. Diversity. Our schools should reflect and celebrate our diversity. A diversity of student needs calls for a diversity of programs so that every student in our district can thrive. One size does not fit all. Our new two-way bilingual immersion program at Montgomery Elementary allows non-native speakers to learn English while native speakers learn Spanish. Two-way bilingual immersion allows Spanish speakers to learn to read in their first language, giving confidence to English language learners and helping instill in them a love of reading. The program integrates students from diverse backgrounds and fosters learning from one another. Two-way bilingual immersion also encourages engagement from English and Spanish speaking parents, a vital component for student success.
Additional DJUSD programs cater to diverse needs and offer a dazzling array of options, from Montessori elementary education at Birch Lane, to Spanish immersion at Chavez, and farm-based learning at Fairfield Elementary. The project-based learning programs at Da Vinci Jr. High School and Da Vinci High School offer smaller learning communities for students. We are proud of our full inclusion program for special education children. The AIM program and the Davis School for Independent Studies (DSIS) help our district support all children. King High School has been named a model continuation program in the state, with state evaluators concluding that “King is a symbol of excellence” for the “magic” that take place in its classrooms: “excellent teaching, miracle-working and students who know they are personally cared for.” Indeed, this year a handful of our Davis schools – including both special programs and neighborhood programs – have been honored as California “Distinguished Schools” for their innovative approaches to public education.
While we have many programs, however, we must not lose our identity as one district with a single-minded goal: that each child should learn and thrive. We must nurture a culture that believes that “If there’s a child in our district who is thriving in any one of our programs, that makes me happy, even if it’s not my child.” And we must each be worried when any one of our children is struggling, even if it’s not our child. Both our neighborhood programs and our special programs must be excellent, supported, and respected.
3. Change. We are at a critical moment of change for K-12 public education in the state and the nation. We are moving away from more than a decade of No Child Left Behind and adopting a new Common Core program, which emphasizes critical thinking skills. I advocate smaller class sizes and quality teacher training to ensure our teachers have the optimal environments and tools they need to successfully meet the diverse needs of every child in our district.
Drawing on my passion for public education and my experience as an educator, a lawyer, a mother, and a social justice advocate, I will work tirelessly on behalf of all the children in this town. Davis children, from all the varied families in this town, deserve nothing less.
Madhavi Sunder has been a Professor of Law at UC Davis since 1999 and is a candidate for a 4-year seat on the Davis School Board in November 2014. To learn more about her campaign please visit www.sunderforschools.org.