Every week until the election, we will have a question for the DJUSD School Board Candidates. We have a word limit of roughly 350.
Please also see the Vanguard Candidate’s forum from Sunday, September 18.
Question 1: What do you consider the most serious or most pressing challenge faced by the school district and, if elected, how will you approach it?
The Davis Joint Unified School District, like all school districts in the state and the nation, is affected by the limited availability of teachers to fill open positions. This is driven by the retirement of the Baby Boom generation, and exacerbated by lay-offs during the Great Recession which discouraged new teachers from entering the profession.
We have put in place several strategies to keep the district competitive and able to attract and retain high quality educators. We have:
- Provided salary increases to all employees for the past two years, as funds became available. This was critical following long years of salary stagnation during the recession.
- Revised salary schedules to improve entry level compensation and added steps and columns for advancement by current employees.
- Initiated a partnership with the nonprofit California Education Coalition for Health Care Reform to work with our employee associations and administration to improve access and lower costs to high quality health care.
- Created a new action team within the strategic planning process to further study the issue and provide additional recommendations. A call for volunteers will be announced soon.
We’ll continue to explore creative ways to improve learning environments, so that DJUSD remains an exciting place to advance a teaching career. In particular, the district is focused on expanding differentiated instruction supported by new technologies and enhancing a culture of collaborative learning among educators.
Personally, I’d also like to explore the possibility of split positions which allow a teacher to teach in the classroom part of the day and serve as a teacher mentor/coach for the remainder. This approach is proven to provide senior teachers with the opportunity to master their craft and share their experience and wisdom with young teachers to accelerate their own development as educators. It’s a win-win for students and teachers.
The first challenge is the ability of the District to recruit and retain quality teachers and staff. This is particularly true for STEA2M (STEM + Arts and Agriculture as our local community expands on the STEM concept) subjects due to a nationwide shortage of trained STEM teachers. Take home pay lags many surrounding Districts due to lower salaries and higher health care costs. In addition, as I wrote in the Vanguard in 2014, the high cost of housing in Davis precludes many teachers from living in the community. The competitiveness problem is recognized by the District and is a priority area moving forward. Unfortunately, there is no influx of new monies on the horizon to increase salaries significantly. Although the District has provided modest salary increases over the last several years, other Districts have provided even greater increases. The State of California mandates health care plans for teachers so options for lower cost plans are limited. I would favor looking at the possibility of providing a modest year-end bonus if surpluses resulted due to conservative budgeting by the District.
School districts in areas with high housing and rental costs have explored ways in which more affordable housing can be made available to teachers and staff. We should do the same. I would also encourage the District to consider creative ways (e.g., day care on District property) that might help mitigate day care costs for teachers with young children. Although several PTAs provide money to teachers for classroom supplies, some teachers still cover some classroom expenses out of their own pockets. In my view, this is unacceptable.
In the longer term, California needs to increase its support of public education so that we can move from near the bottom of the 50 states in per pupil funding of K-12 to at least the median.
Another significant challenge is the ongoing effort to close the achievement (opportunity) gap. This was a question that was raised during the 2014 race and my response to the question then focused on early intervention as one of the most effective strategies (https://www.davisvanguard.org/2014/09/expanded-thoughts-on-narrowing-the-achievement-gap/). Helping parents learn how to provide a positive home learning environment for their pre-school children would pay dividends, along with access to quality preschool options, expanded after school learning opportunities, and summer enrichment programs.
Finally, we need to focus attention on what programs and facilities are needed now in order to prepare our students for the jobs of the future. We need to make sure that all students have access to critical math and science skills and we absolutely need to do a better job of providing career and technical education (CTE) programs for students not interested in pursuing a 4 year college degree. Many of our schools are poorly equipped to support cutting edge STEA2M programs. Recently, I was dismayed that a junior high school teacher was asking parents to provide distilled water for science classes at a junior high back-to-school night.
The most pressing challenge facing our district is the fact that Davis receives less state funding compared to surrounding school districts as a result of recent changes in law. Because DJUSD funding will not keep pace with surrounding districts, retaining our qualified teachers and recruiting new teachers will be increasingly difficult. Investing in our teachers and school employees promises an enormous return for our children. We must acknowledge that our resources are limited and not shy away from the hard work of determining our priorities for the future.
If reelected, I would approach this challenge by prioritizing the development of a plan focused on recruiting; supporting, evaluating, retaining, and advancing a team of highly qualified diverse and dedicated staff. This approach was specifically called for in the District’s strategic plan, a process that I have actively participated in since 2013. There are many components to successfully developing this plan. Teacher compensation is simply one area that needs improvement, in addition to up to date professional development, and continued efforts to reduce class sizes. Accomplishing these objectives takes a collaborative community. I am committed to engaging parents, teachers, and students in this effort.
I believe the AIM issue is one that the district needs to pay attention to and deal with as soon as possible. There is a complaint with the Office of Civil Rights regarding the method of admission into the program and that points to a major issue.
Those of us that have lived in Davis over 35 years would recall the Bake case regarding the admission to UC Davis Medical School. It became national news. Most certainly I would not want to see the Davis Joint Unified School District be known for discriminatory policies. The present attitude of the other candidates worries me. Let Susan Lovenburg and Alan Fernandes that were involved in the decision to decide on a 98 percentile of a test administered to the students defend their decision. I do not hear any different direction from Bob Poppenga but a minor adjustment.
I am running on a platform of Elect a Different Candidate and I am different on this. I believe that all programs should be offered and available to all students. The current policy needs to be done away with. I would like to see it replaced with a system where the parents are the ones who make the main decision for their children to be placed in this program, in consultation with the teachers. Students go through a systematic process of discovery of their abilities once they are provided an opportunity to try it. Let students try it over a period of time, let’s say six or nine months and see how they do. Those that show ability to stay the course and are happy in it can continue.
If elected I would advocate for policies that provide opportunities to anyone. Even taking a step like this may not be enough with unrepresented and disadvantaged or disabled students. It may be necessary to have a policy that invites students to be in a high achieving program. The parents working together with the teachers are the ones who can motivate and guide students to apply and to stay in such program. I believe in inclusiveness rather than dividing the students and polarizing the parents.