I’m Running for the School Board!

Families for Sunder at Filing

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.

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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  1. D.D.

    Good morning,

    “I will be vigilant against the wasteful use of taxpayer resources,…”

    Specific examples, please.

    What is your opinion of the Khan method?

  2. D.D.

    Been married to two lawyers and not quite sure how lawyer experience helps you in this job, but I’d be glad to hear your reasons.
    Also just personally curious why you are no longer a lawyer, since so many my pals have also quit the profession!

  3. Ryan Kelly

    Very long letter which basically says the following:
    1) Watch for wastefulness, not hire lawyers and consultants.
    2) Work to develop public-private partnerships, specifically with UCD
    – no action, she seems to like the status quo
    3) Advocate for smaller class sizes and teacher training to implement Common Core.

    1. Davis Progressive

      “no action, she seems to like the status quo”

      having both read her other quotes and heard from others, this doesn’t seem like a fair assumption

      1. Ryan Kelly

        I carefully re-read the section above. There is a description of all of the different programs available. Apparently “diversity” means providing variety of schools and programs and doesn’t identify any problem or action regarding any of these programs. She encourages everyone to “respect and support” all of these programs.

        Again, support for the status quo. What am I assuming that is not fair?

  4. DavisBurns

    I am not proud of our full inclusion policy in the Davis schools. Every child with special needs should have a full range of educational settings available. Full inclusion is a way to minimize the cost and effectiveness of providing an education to a child with special needs. In some cases, full inclusion is the correct placement and works well, in MANY other cases it is a cost cutting imperative and the district personnel insist this placement is the most appropriate because the only other option is a warehousing program for kids who are emotional traumatized in Woodland.

    Davis likes to think it has the best of everything but, I my experience, it’s one of the worst places to get special needs identified much less remediated. Much less provide an acceptable learning environment.

    1. wdf1

      Can you be more specific about what is/was a problem with Davis’ full inclusion policy? I’ve known a few parents of kids with autism-spectrum issues that seemed to generally happy with how the Davis schools did. It wasn’t always a smooth ride, but they didn’t describe the schools as being deficient in this area.

  5. DavisBurns

    Well my youngest graduated from a private high school for kids on the spectrum in 2004 so I can’t say my complaints are of the current situation. In essence, whatever my kids needed was to be found in the full inclusion setting regardless of lack of progress. If it wasn’t found in full inclusion, they didn’t need it. They didn’t need speech therapy, they needed occupational therapy until the provider became more closely associated with the district and then they no longer need that service. They didn’t need specialized reading instruction for dyslexia even though they didn’t read at grade level–one never did but after 4th grade they no longer teach to read, they read to teach meaning by age ten the non reader is shit out of luck. Woodrow Wilson and Winston Churchill didn’t learn to read until they were ten ( and many many others) so those kids need specialized instruction and they need to be allowed to learn in non reading ways otherwise they just feel stupid. In full inclusion, that just isn’t possible. The list is long and traumatic. School was traumatic for them because their needs were not met and the districts primary way to deal with the difficult cases was to deny reality and social promotion until failure was overwhelming. Depression and suicidal thoughts ensued and then, happy day for the district, it became EMOTIONAL and a whole new category so they didn’t have to deal with the real problem: their failure to provide a free and equal opportunity for my children with above average intelligence to learn what other “normal” children were able to learn.

    My daughter has a serious heart condition and this may seem incredible in an era when exercise cures every thing, but not only can she not run like a healthy child, aerobic exercise is contra-indicated. You would think a school principal could explain this to the teachers–we certainly told them every F**king year, but they NEVER managed to refrain from encouraging or requiring her to participate in games like Relay races! If she had just been in a wheel chair maybe they could have gotten in right. I offered to have her wear a cap that said physically disabled, please don’t ask me to do that, but they weren’t amused. Actually, I was serious. She knew she couldn’t do those things and she couldn’t make them stop bullying her to do it. She would have loved to wear a hat she could point to when told to so something stupid.

    I got the same s*** with reading. How often should a teacher ask a dyslexic child to take a turn reading out loud for the class? The list is endless. But I can summarize. If it was a special need, they had a program that worked. If the evidence proved it was not working, they used positive thinking to insist it was in fact working. If they didn’t have a program that worked , my kids didn’t need it.

    My son basically dropped out of school in junior high. He is very intelligent but…he is not gainfully employed. The taxpayers are supporting him because he was too difficult to educated. My daughter went to a private school where they were able to refrain from making her participate in physical recreational exercise and also provided her with a fine education and she graduated first in her class. The district should have paid for her tuition because failure was the accepted norm in the Davis school system and success was the potential in an appropriate school setting. But it was not full inclusion.

    For some kids full inclusion is wonderful and it should be an option but it should never be the only option. Here is a dirty little special ed secret. The schools have a quota for how many kids are in special education. If their numbers go above 10% they have to explain why and they are pressured to only find 10%. Go to any school and ask their total enrollment, then ask how many kids are in special ed. If a district has a really good special ed program, the kids have smaller classrooms, they have one on one instruction in the areas where they struggle. When those kids begin to succeed, special Ed isn’t a stigma any more, it is tutoring, it is problem solving, it is an enriched educational environment and other parents take notice. They start to admit their mostly normal kid actually has some hidden learning problems and they want access to those programs that work and when the marginally needy kids start to get those services the local SELPA has to step in and make sure the percentages go back down to ten percent or they have to explain why and that’s not easy. Well, actually, learning disabilities are on a continuum and these kids actually benefit greatly from short term access to these special programs—but no that’s not allowed. We have a defining line. On one side you need services. On the other YOU DO NOT and we cannot afford …

    You get the picture. It is a messy nasty way to limit the money spent on kids. If they had the money follow the child instead of funding programs and shoe horning children into the programs they have, the child would be identified very early when remediation is the most effective. Remediation would meet the needs of the child, not fill the slots in the program. The child would not come to believe s/he is stupid as is guaranteed to happen now. Learning difference would not be a stigma, it would be a need to be met as soon as possible and as effectively as possible. And in the end it would cost us much less.

    1. Ryan Kelly

      I would like to see the candidate’s response to this and “being unhappy” is not sufficient. This type of experience happens much more than people realize or care to admit.

  6. MrsW

    I, too, would like to hear all of the candidates respond. Resources are limited, which means time is limited. Each Board member, administrator, teacher and counselor makes a million decisions each day on how to spend their time. What do they think is the best distribution of how they should spend their time and intellectual energy? Does it include addressing this…?

    “The child would not come to believe s/he is stupid as is guaranteed to happen now. Learning difference would not be a stigma, it would be a need to be met as soon as possible and as effectively as possible.”

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