Last night over 100 people attended the first DJUSD School Board Candidates forum at the Davis Community Church in an event co-hosted by the Davis Vanguard and Davis Media Access. The candidates answered five questions that were submitted by the candidates themselves and another eight from the audience.
Due to the length of the candidates forum, this page will be updated sporadically with additional answers.
Each candidate was asked to give a two-minute opening comment that addressed the following questions.
- What attributes are necessary to be a successful School Board Trustee in Davis?
- How will your past service to Davis schools inform and prepare you for serving as a school board trustee?
- What qualities do you believe you have that are different from the other candidates that will serve you well if you were you elected?
By draw of numbers, it was determined that Barbara Archer would answer the first question and the responses would progress in alphabetical order down the line to Madhavi Sunder and then to Tom Adams to finish the opening comments.
Barbara Archer: “I’ve worked in our schools for the last ten years, I was PTA president at Willet Elementary and I served on the school site council. As PTA president you are responsible for a budget, you answer parent concerns, you work with site staff on projects to help student success. On site council you help manage a budget and you discuss school climate issues.” She said that “this is very relevant experience for the school board.” She also co-chaired in 2012, the parcel tax campaign where she learned about the DJUSD budget. She has closely followed the budget since attending board meetings and participating on the parcel tax oversight subcommittee. “I think how our budget is managed and prioritized is the most critical issue we face in the next few years.” She stated that she is a strategic thinker who values honesty and transparency, “which I think are essential qualities in a board member.” She said she is also responsive, in PR one always responds to a journalist after doing one’s research and she would treat constituents in a similar way.
Alan Fernandes: “I am currently on the board and serve as your trustee. The attributes that I have leading up to my ultimate appointment on the board are that I have a deep commitment and extensive volunteer efforts not only in our schools but also in the larger community. I came to this community initially for education as a student at UC Davis and I have remained here for the purposes of education in raising my own family. I have been over 20 years, and have committed myself to public service in serving our community be it on school site council, a member of the strategic plan committee for the district as well as other activities not related exclusively to the schools but other parts of our community.” He said that a good school board member is one with a broad vision of all of the different communities within our community.
Jose Granda: “I have been a teacher for 32 years. I’m a professor at California State University in Sacramento. I’ve lived in Davis for 36 years, from the very beginning I’ve served this district as a parent-teacher volunteer. Our family’s one of the first families that founded the Spanish immersion at Birch Lane.” He said he was part of the first task force that put computers into the classroom. He said he wants to become the “three T’s candidate.” The first “T” is technology. “I want to make sure the Davis schools become the most technologically advanced in the United States.” The second “T” is taxpayers, “I am a candidate I believe that the taxpayers can trust because I have also opposed the parcel tax when they are not needed… When you have four measures in 18 months, you have to say no at some point.” The last “T” is teaching, “I want to support the teachers, I am one of them, I am with you.”
Mike Nolan: He explained that twenty years ago, he and his wife decided that he would stay home and raise his kids, “So I became the homemaker. That gave me the opportunity to get really involved in my kids schooling in the Davis school system.” He is a public law attorney by profession. He became involved in the Superintendent’s parent advisory committee for five years before becoming PTA president and serving on the school site council. He said that in the process of doing that he became very aware of the schools and served under the last four superintendents. “It gave me a broad experience in our school system,” he said. “I found that the most important thing was to listen to be. I believe as a board member it’s the most important thing a board member can do is to listen to everybody.” He said in Davis, we are consensus community because every four or five years we have to go as a board before the community to ask for needed taxes to keep our high achieving schools.
Bob Poppenga: Spoke about his experience as a parent of two girls – one a native speaker in the AIM program and the other an English-language learner who came to them at age 10. “So I’ve seen two very diverse programs and how the district manages those programs,” he said. He said he also participated on the professional development action team as part of the strategic planning process. “I was actually shocked that here in Davis there was no program to train our teachers and help keep them trained,” he said. “I’ve also brought educators to the community to look at best practices and best evidence.” He said he’s been a university educator for 25 years, “I’ve been very student focused. As a school board member I’d keep that focus.” He added, “I’m a life-long learner, I think this is very important because the educational literature changes dramatically.”
Chuck Rairdan: He said, “Among the attributes that make an effective board member a collaborative work style, and the ability to consider many diverse perspectives and to bring that together in at least a cohesive solution and approach to solving whatever issues are before the board.” He said, he has worked for twenty years on public works projects as part of a team member, he said, “I’m a strong proponent of transparent and open proceedings, I think that’s one of the best ways to advance a particular idea, whatever the issues are, to at least give it a full and just hearing.” He added, “As someone whose not an educator but who values education, I think I would bring a different set of views to the board.” He said he was the first member of his extended family to earn a college degree which “gives me insights that I think would at least complement other points of view on the board.” He added, “I served on the strategic planning committee, I think that’s an excellent example of what you see when you get a group of people from diverse walks of life come together and work together and figure out what the future course is going to be.”
Madhavi Sunder: “I am running for the Davis School Board because public schools are the engine of opportunity in our democracy. I, myself am a benefit of public schools. My parents immigrated to the United States with nothing. Public schools prepared me to attend Harvard College and then later Stanford Law School.” She now teaches law at a public law schools, “Where many of my students are the first in their families to go to college.” She said that her scholarship has “always focused on expanding opportunities for all” – from gay rights to women’s rights. She said her record of service to the Davis schools preceded her children being of school age. “In 2005, I led the campaign to name Korematsu Elementary after the civil rights hero.” “Today Fred Korematsu’s quote ‘if you have the feeling that something is wrong, don’t be afraid to speak up,’ empowers kids in that school to stand up against bullying.” She participated last year in the district’s strategic planning process focusing on how to support the whole child – supporting small class rooms as a key to meeting children’s needs. She stated that she believes we can provide a world class education to our students “even in an era of limited public support.” This means, she said, “we must spend our money wisely.” Third, she said, “We must be resourceful.”
Tom Adams: “As a Davis School Board member, I would bring together a number of qualities that I think are needed.” First he said, “I’m a known consensus builder. It’s starts with listening, clearly defining the issues, looking at all sides of the issues, emphasizing the we and not the me of the issue and making sure everyone contributes.” He cited his experience on site council for two schools and well as working on the master plan for Spanish immersion. As well as the assessment subcommittee of the Strategic Planning Committee. “I have deep knowledge of education policy, I’ve been involved in education for 22 years.” He added, “I also wish to bring a positive attitude to Davis, in terms of recognizing the great things that Davis teachers do while recognizing the need for change and improvement.” “I also seek a balance of education for all students – I believe in all services to all students such as counseling, the arts, humanity, science, career and technical education.” He cited 22 years involving curriculum and instruction.
Question 1: What is your philosophy of education and how will it shape your decisions on the school board? Are there issues where you have disagreed with the administration in the last 2 years, if so, what are they?
Alan Fernandes: “My philosophy on education, particularly as a trustee of a public institution is access and truly making sure that all 8600 students of our district are served to the best of our ability from the child on free and reduced lunch to the high achieving student to everyone in between. So access is first and foremost,” he said. “Within our district achieving excellence within our student population and driving every student to their highest potential.” He said he has disagreed with the district, “I think what you’ll find from me is that I am a good listener, I’m a consensus builder, we do have challenges in our district and it’s really important that we shouldn’t shy away from disagreement with our administrators but we should look to build consensus with our students in mind.”
Jose Granda: “My philosophy is teaching, because I’m a teacher, my first and foremost responsibility is to make sure that everybody learns. While not everybody is an A student, we need to care for those that need help and that is the mission as I see in myself in my own classes. As a trustee we need to support them, to train them, to give them everything they need, to be the best teachers they can be.” He said this touches on two of the “T’s” one is technology to give teachers the best tools and the other one is the support and the training for them to do so.” “Do I disagree with the board? Yes. Particularly on the fiscal irresponsibility of the board.” He cited the 3.4% increase of the salaries of administrators and the four parcel tax measures. “I think that is basically abuse of the taxpayers,” he said.
Mike Nolan: “The state constitution since 1849 has given the legislature the power to create schools, but the words they use are common schools. My philosophy is yeah I believe in common schools, when they use that word, the common in the sense of the community. When they use that word, everyone in this school district should be able to go to a public school and achieve their full capabilities and have the full range of services offered to them.” He said with our resources, we have the opportunity to really offer our kids a top notched education. He stated that his disagreement with the school board is that in the aftermath of the resignation of a board member, “the board adopted a conflict of interest policy, which I believe is inadequate – totally inadequate. I believe what we need in this district for the school board to have credibility is a tighter and more explicit conflict of interest code that would make sure that the board operates on a fair, open, and focused manner.”
Bob Poppenga: He said over the last few decades, “our public schools system have been asked to do more and more and often with less resources. So that makes educating all our kids a real challenge.” He said a philosophy of education “has to be student centered.” He said, “I think it’s very important to engage students in the classroom.” A number of studies he said show that high school students disengage from the process. Part of that is to insure that we have excellent teachers in the classroom that are adequately supported. “All our students benefit from high expectations,” he added. “Public education is not a zero-sum game, I think we have to find ways to provide opportunities for every child.”
Chuck Rairdan: “My philosophy of education is really about providing the full range of options available to the different styles of learning and aptitudes that are within the student population. I think that’s important so that each of them are able to develop to their full potential and that they can rely on their own particular interests and aptitudes and development throughout their whole student career here in Davis.” He said he’s interested in inquiry-based learning. He saw that as a key to lifelong learning. In terms of issues with the administration, he said, “better and more active communication before the fact. I have seen improvements along these lines, but I think in recent history there have been several instances where it was more about damage control and the community not knowing what was going on until things were apparently already decided.”
Madhavi Sunder: “My philosophy of education is support all children. Our public schools make each one of us our brother and sisters’ keepers. If we see a child thriving in any one of our schools that makes us happy, even if it’s not your child. And if we see a child suffering in any of our schools, then that concerns me, even if it’s not my child.” She said in terms of disagreement with the administration, “I definitely think that the problem with the volleyball episode last year went far beyond the fact that we didn’t have a conflict of interest policy. We spent $22,000 and countless personnel hours investigating a complaint involving a board member’s child. This really could have been handled and should have been handled differently.” She suggested several ways to avoid having to spend this money and noted that we spent over one-quarter million in four years on 11 investigations – “That’s not going to happen on my watch.” She said, she intends to spend money “on things that count and that means nurses, counselors, and teachers.”
Tom Adams: “My philosophy of education comes down the universal design for learning,” he said explaining the need to sign every class knowing that we have all kids there at the beginning. “In this sense, we have to be open to a variety of students. The other things that we have to do is have common standards for all students and common expectations.” He said he wants to ensure that those that graduate from Davis schools “have the knowledge and skills we expect.” “We also have to have a variety of programs, and that’s what Davis offers.” He noted that while many of our students are college ready, “we also have to have a lot that are career ready.” In terms of disagreeing with the board, “I think it comes down to the fact that the board had to make some hard decisions during tough budget times.” He wants to see class size reduction, regular counselors, regular school nurses.
Barbara Archer: “My philosophy of education goes to enrichment for all and open access to all programs,” she said. She noted that while we have a great music program, that the forms may not be in Spanish and there may not be a Spanish translator at those meetings “so families that speak another language other than English can learn about this benefit for their child. Open access is really important for me.” She said “we can be a model district in so many areas. We’re known for good test scores, but I would rather us be known for a model district closing the achievement gap.” “I have disagreed with a variety of expenditures made in the last two years. I would seek much more oversight in terms of what we spend money on. WE ask an awful lot of our community and we need to be transparent and fiscally responsible with our finances.”
Question 2: If you are elected, what is your top priority and what is your plan to accomplish that priority
Jose Granda: He said, “That goes to teaching with high technology and support of the teachers. Those would be highest priority. I would not put priority in raising the salaries of the administrators at the expense of the teachers. I think that the time has come where all the investment in the past that have (brought) them pay raises, pensions and all that needs to go to the children and the students, investment in technology for them.” To achieve this, he said, “We need to re-think the priorities” and all of us need to be engaged in that goal. “If we need external funding, I am all for that.” He is for having a department charged specifically with obtaining grants.
Mike Nolan: “My top priority is to listen to our community and to listen to everybody, not only the people that are the supporters of our schools but even the critics… in order to form a consensus to support out schools.” He wanted to work with the board members here “to make a consensus so that we have credibility to go before the voters and ask for the public support for our schools.” He added, “The point of listening is to be able to advise the superintendent and the administration about what public opinion wants and what we’re concerned about. I think that’s really an important aspect of a board member.” He said that he wants to be sure that no board member goes off and tries to manage things on their own. Under the bylaws, he stated, “A board member has no individual authority except as authorized by the vote.”
Bob Poppenga: “Restoring trust in the school board and the business that they conduct is important,” he said. “I would like to see a community like Davis has a process where as a community we can get together and discuss some controversial and divisive issues.” He noted that we see some of these cropping up all of a sudden without much community input. By way of example, the consolidation of the high school with the ninth grade and “there was no process there to engage the community and get their feedback.” He added that we will be losing most of our teachers in the next five years and we have replaced 90 teachers this year. He added that there are partnerships in the community and “so many resources that we are not tapping into.”
Chuck Rairdan: He said his priority is to “align the district to be a leader in 21st Century education.” While he indicated a lot of different things would go into that, “some of the main components would be making some serious headway on opposing the achievement gap. I think the recent development of the LCAP and a lot of the features of that plan is going to make some significant strides in that direction. I think also having the full range and open access to all the different types of educational components and options within the district is going to be key to broadening those choices.”
Tom Adams: “My priority is building those board meetings and make sure they’re an example of civic virtue. I want to start every board meeting with at least a five minute presentation by students. We have to remember that we’re there for students.” He said, “I also want to take the position of Public Information Officer and turn it into an ombudsman. The fact of the matter is that everyone knows how great our schools are, but really the way we’re going to make our schools better is by restoring trust. Instead of having someone telling everybody how great we are, maybe we need someone who can actually help parents find out and get the resources that they need.”
Barbara Archer: “My issue is budget priorities. Ten years ago a student entering kindergarten had 22 kids in her class, last year she had 32 kids in her class. This year we’ve been able to reduce class size at primary grades to 25. We still can do better and we still have 40 kids jamming into a classroom at the high school – so class size is still a big priority to me.” She is also concerned with the counselor ratio which from grade 7 to grade 12 is 350 students to one counselor. At elementary, they’re paid for “by soft money at PTA. We need to have a sustainable means where parents can see counselors when they need to, they’re not funded by soft money.” She said that we need training for the technology, “we can get all the ipads in the world, but if we don’t have training on how to configure them and how to deal with technology obsolescence, then it doesn’t work to have that technology at hand – so we need proper training.”
Alan Fernandes: “Those are all great top priorities but you can’t do any of those priorities without one thing and as the board member who was appointed as the result of the resignation, I’m committed to restoring trust.” How do you do that, he asked, “You do that by being transparent, open with your decision process, inclusive, and telling the community the facts.” Here are the facts: “80 percent of our funding generally comes from the state, the decisions up until the local control funding formula have been dictated by the state. The state is not investing in public education any longer – we are 50th out of 50 states in per pupil spending.” He said, “I’m not counting on that going up. Therefore we need to really tap into our community and ask the community what kind of schools we want for our future.”
Question 3: DJUSD has been questioned about the legality of the lottery used to determine classroom placement for the AIM/GATE program. What is your position vis-à-vis AIM/GATE?
Question 4: How would you, as a Trustee, ensure openness and transparency in School Board deliberations and decisions?
Question 5: Given the fact that Proposition 30 passed in 2012, and Measures A, C and E cumulatively are in effect until the end of 2016, do you think a new parcel tax measure should be placed in front of the voters at any time in the next 4 years?
Go to: https://www.davisvanguard.org/2014/09/should-the-school-district-allow-the-parcel-taxes-to-expire/
Here is the video: