School Board VP Optimistic About New School Year

madhavi-sunderBy Madhavi Sunder

The kids, teachers and staff are back in session in the Davis Joint Unified School District excited for a year of learning and growth. I feel optimistic that the coming year will bring more opportunities for all of our district children to reach their potential and find individual pathways for success.

Things are already looking very different than they were a year ago when I was campaigning for a seat on the Davis school board. Last year, California was ranked dead last in the country for per-pupil spending, with an average of $8341 per student — $3,000 less than the national average of $11,864.

Even here in Davis, where our citizens generously pay parcel taxes to support our schools, our district was still coming in just around the dismally low state average in per-pupil spending because more state money goes to districts with higher populations of low-income students.

(Our neighboring districts of West Sacramento and Woodland, for example, which are 70 percent and 72 percent low-income, receive on average more money per student than we do in our district, which is 27 percent low-income.)

The good news for everyone is that this year the state put significantly higher sums toward K-12 education, allowing our school district to reduce class sizes and pay for much-needed laptops, bringing our Davis ratio down to one laptop per three children.

Without a doubt, the improved financial situation had an immediate effect on the ability of our new school board to make other important changes as well.

* We have begun paying for deferred maintenance across all our school campuses.

* Last spring, our board approved an increase in school nurses that brought our ratios from 2,700 students per school nurse the year before to 1,900 students per school nurse — still not great, but definitely getting better.

* We approved district funding for a half-time school counselor at every elementary school, moving away from an inequitable and fiscally unstable system of relying on PTA funding for fundamental mental health services in the schools.

Our board’s investment in nursing and counseling prioritizes spending on the front lines and reflects our board’s commitment to the social and emotional well-being of our kids. We recognize that children must be ready to learn — physically and emotionally — before real growth can begin.

We also realize that if we want to do the best for our kids, we need to effectively partner with leaders and experts around us. We started our district’s first-ever county/school district committee composed of two county supervisors and two school board members in order to leverage Yolo County’s mental health and health services for children and families in need.

This year, we will be partnering to formalize our “Coordinated School Health” effort, which reflects the best practices recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for serving children and families in need. Our counselors are training to offer trauma-informed counseling — studies show that childhood trauma at home is a significant impediment to academic achievement.

Partnering with community member and retired UC Davis Chief of Police Calvin Handy, the board initiated a comprehensive review of school safety on our elementary and secondary school sites.

Partnering with the world-renowned research university in our back yard, we have tapped UCD experts to help us build a world-class program in STEAM in our schools: science, technology, engineering, arts/agriculture and mathematics.

An advisory committee composed of UCD and DJUSD experts in these fields will begin planning together so that our schools can best prepare our diverse student body for the jobs and lifestyles of the future, which surely will involve biology, engineering, coding, robotics, state-of-the-art agriculture, food and nutrition services, design and communication skills, and, most importantly, the critical thinking and empathy skills our kids will need not only to be great innovators but to be effective global citizens.

We are expanding our support for and offerings in Career Technical Education, investigating how we can build culinary arts and food service programs in conjunction with the designing of a beautiful new All Students Center (formerly known as the multipurpose room) at Davis High School.

One of our first acts as a board last winter was to establish by a vote of 5-0 a committee to consider how to move our secondary schools toward a bell schedule that would start school later, about 8:30 a.m., making our schedules consistent with the urgent recommendations of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Overwhelming scientific evidence shows that teens are sleep-deprived in epidemic proportions, and that school schedules that begin before 8:30 a.m. are a critical contributor to the problem. Our first bell at the high school rings at 7:45 a.m.!

Sleep deprivation is linked to poorer academic performance, obesity, depression and driving accidents. Our school board has studied the science and this fall will be working with the superintendent and his staff to help share these studies and the benefits of a later start for secondary schools with the community.

We hope you will engage in these conversations. I believe all of us share the same goal: to create a schedule that best meets the academic, social and emotional needs of our children.

This is just a sampling of some of the exciting work our school board has done and will continue to prioritize this year. I take this opportunity to thank the people of Davis, from parents and teachers to citizen partners, who give selflessly to help provide excellent and diverse opportunities for our children.

I look forward to hearing from you and to continuing to partner with you this coming year.

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. Napoleon Pig IV

      I agree. This is an encouraging summary. Maybe that additional parcel tax will be money well-spent after all, despite certain other deficiencies in the District and on the Board.

        1. Napoleon Pig IV

          You are right. It’s clearer to refer to it as a “renewal.”

          Although, in some ways, “additional” is not bad in that the State doesn’t deliver what it promises in exchange for its very high tax rate, so we have to supplement their under-delivery with “additional” taxes.

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