How DJUSD Can Create Community Partnerships

Poppenga-2by Bob Poppenga

As a veterinarian, I have watched my profession move toward a health concept called “One Health”. The idea behind “One Health” is that it is impossible to separate human health, animal health, and environmental health and that it is only through holistic, interdisciplinary collaboration and communication among multiple disciplines that solutions to complex health problems can be found.   “One Health” promotes cooperation between physicians, veterinarians, and other scientific health and environmental professionals and recognizes that leadership and management skills unique to each profession contribute to the well-being of all species.

As a School Board candidate, I would be a strong advocate for strengthening and expanding communication and collaboration among the wealth of human, organizational, and institutional resources in our community to improve our K-12 public education programs.   We need to adopt a “One Education” mindset that recognizes the complexity of the challenges facing our schools. There is an imperative to approach solutions to problems as vexing as closing the achievement gap, creating positive school climates, individualizing learning to the needs of each student, and using technology in classrooms effectively in a collaborative and multi-disciplinary way.   A “One Education” approach also embraces the idea that the “whole” of a community is greater than the sum of its individual parts; maybe a better term would be “One Community”.

We have a world class university (9th best public university in the U.S. according to the U.S. News and World Report 2015 college rankings) at our doorstep, incredibly engaged and concerned parents who contribute so much individually and through organizations such as the Davis Bridge Program, the Phoenix Coalition, Explorit Science Center, the Blue and White Foundation, the Davis Schools Orchestral Music Association, the Davis Arts Foundation, and the Davis Schools Foundation, among others (my apologies for excluding other worthy programs), an active Davis Chamber of Commerce, and a City Council which is open to new collaborative ideas. When my family and I moved to Davis ten years ago, we heard some folks say that it was important to separate the University and the community (“town vs. gown”) as though there was a fear that working collaboratively was somehow a “win-lose” proposition.   The “town vs. gown” paradigm is antiquated and should be discarded in favor of a “win-win” mindset.

It is easy to suggest strengthening and expanding communication and collaboration among diverse entities without offering any specific ideas.   The following are a few suggestions to get a conversation started, fully realizing that some might be doable and some not. I certainly don’t purport to have all of the answers and I’m sure that there are many other great ideas that could be put forward. Also, it is probable that there are existing partnerships at various levels about which I am unaware.  Here goes:

  • One factor in the persistence of a student achievement gap is a lack of summer enrichment programs for at-risk children (there are many other contributing factors as well). Children from more affluent families can take advantage of many summer activities that enhance learning while those from low SES families have limited opportunities. UCD has a number of diverse summer programs/classes ranging from theater to robotics available to our students.   Impediments to low SES student participation include program costs and transportation issues.   I would advocate for finding ways to break down barriers to participation in those programs by at risk children.
  • UCD has approximately 25,000 undergraduate students, 4,000 graduate students, and 3,000 professional students. At a School Board meeting several months ago, it was mentioned that the exemplary Davis Bridge Program had a waiting list since there was a shortage of volunteers. As it turns out, the shortage was most likely due not to a lack of volunteers but to not reaching out to the broader University student population. Incoming freshmen students are often looking for ways to connect to their new community and I believe that a coordinated outreach to that group of students would identify a sufficient number of committed volunteers. Recruiting a freshman has the added potential of retaining the student for the their full tenure at the University and ensuring an experienced pool of mentors for a four year period.
  • Lets explore the idea of trying to bring together expertise in specific disciplines such as chemistry, mathematics, or animal science from K-12 (most likely secondary teachers vs. primary teachers), higher education, and non-profits such as Explorit to enhance K-12 programs.   For example, one suggestion I heard from an individual was to see if there might be ways to link university departments or schools (e.g., chemistry, animal science, veterinary medicine) with secondary school teachers who teach in those respective disciplines.   These could be formal or informal links, but the idea would be to create disciplinary “learning communities” that would foster exchange of ideas and encourage teaching innovation.   Such links could also provide an opportunity to tap in to a rich resource of retired faculty who might be inclined to provide additional help in the classroom on a part time basis or for extracurricular academic activities.
  • The university offers a wide array of help to faculty to improve their teaching. Just recently, the Summer Institute on Teaching and Technology offered a full day of talks about effective use of technology in the classroom. These approaches are applicable to any classroom. Many of the topics would be of interest to K-12 teachers and a valuable part of a comprehensive professional growth system.   It might be productive to see how K-12 teachers could be allowed access to such resources on a regular and sustainable basis.
  • School climate issues are an ongoing concern and there is a definite lack of adequate counseling resources throughout the District. The addition of more counselors should be a priority, but adding more counselors is unlikely to provide the breadth and depth of services that some children and their families need.   Although resources to deal with mental health or addiction problems are limited at every level, it is important to provide a comprehensive approach to addressing some of those issues. It is particularly important to try to identify and address problems as early as possible, which means that school involvement is critical. As a School Board Trustee I would like to explore how social services provided by the city or county can be “wrapped around” existing school programs to provide a more integrated and timely approach to needed services.
  • The District has had a difficult time finding nurses to adequately staff the district. Apparently, the most significant hurdle is that the District can’t afford to pay nurses a competitive salary. Perhaps one solution would be to try to find partnerships to help share the cost of a nurse’s salary. While this means that a nurse might only spend part of their time at school sites, part-time nurses would certainly be preferable to having no nurse available at all.
  • I believe that there are significant opportunities to work cooperatively with the City of Davis to seek ways to share facilities in order to minimize costs. There are mutual problems with regard to aging structures that require costly maintenance.   Every effort should be made to seek ways whereby the District and the City can work together to improve the physical infrastructure of our community to our collective benefit.
  • Cooperation among multiple institutions and organizations often improves the chances for grants to be funded since granting agencies like to see multi-agency or multi-disciplinary collaborations. It is more likely that we could attract large grants for a variety of programs by working together than by working separately.

As I mentioned, the above are just a few suggestions worth investigating. There are likely to be many more.   Some good ideas never come to fruition, but any ideas that might collectively benefit our children and community deserve our consideration.   Perhaps we need to adopt a “One Community” approach to our schools and adopt a “win-win” attitude to solving problems.

Bob Poppenga is a candidate for the Davis Joint Unified School Board.  This essay was originally written in response to a question: “During the candidates forum, it was mentioned the need for the district to seek partnerships with UC Davis, non-profits, and the corporate sector to bring in opportunities and resources to the district – how do you envision that looking and what would you specifically do to seek these opportunities?”

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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. Frankly

    I very much like this.

    My guess is that the many entrenched education employees and their union bosses will not.

    There is an imperative to approach solutions to problems as vexing as closing the achievement gap, creating positive school climates, individualizing learning to the needs of each student, and using technology in classrooms effectively in a collaborative and multi-disciplinary way.

    Do these two things and many of the other problems are solved.

  2. Anon

    Excellent ideas. I particularly like the notion of partnering more with UCD and having UCD students mentor struggling K-12 students. UCD students are ready and willing to do “drop-in” tutoring that meshes with their exam and study schedules. I cannot believe that something couldn’t be worked out.

  3. sodnod

    I really like this common sense approach with solutions that can benefit both the DJUSD and UCD students – and the more I hear from Mr. Poppenga, the more I like his fresh and logical approach to things. He seems like someone who will make decisions based on objective evidence (not anecdotes, who yells the loudest, or who has the best political connections). I think he will be a strong but independent Board member.

    Without trying to denigrate the time the candidates have dedicated to volunteering in our schools, it is nice to hear about something other than how many site councils, PTA offices, committees, etc. people have served on. Some of the candidates seem to speak very smoothly but deliver very little substance in terms of their plans and views. I like these pieces written by the candidates and hope to see more.

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