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?
Question 2: In what ways would you seek to make the district more competitive for recruiting new teachers and how would you attempt to get more diversity in the teaching applicant pool?
I answered the “competitive” aspect of this question in some detail last week, so I refer Vanguard readers there for more information on progress and my priorities: here.
I believe a diverse teaching staff benefits all students. A 2015 report by the Albert Shanker Institute demonstrated a large diversity gap nationwide: 44.1% of students identified as minorities while only 17.3% of teachers did so. The circumstances are not vastly different in Davis. In 2014-15, 45.2% of students identified as minorities, up from 42.1% in 2010-11, and 20.5% of Davis teachers did so, up from 18.5% in 2010-11. (Source: Ed Data: http://www.ed-data.org/district/Yolo/Davis-Joint-Unified).
The study also found that a diverse teaching staff reduces stereotypes and helps prepare students for their real world experience. While we made some progress in recruiting Hispanic/Latino teachers – increasing their representation from 17.2% of teaching staff in 2010-11 to 19.3% in 2014-15 – there is more to do.
Hiring decisions should always be based on who is best qualified to teach our children, but the district can recruit candidates early and often from teacher education programs with diverse student populations. We can also continue our focus on supporting and promoting from within, particularly to administrative positions, to create a more welcoming, supportive environment for a diverse staff.
To address both competitiveness and diversity, I have an interest in working with the City to explore workforce housing initiatives which could lower living costs for our employees. Similar efforts are underway in communities throughout California.
In 2015, the School Board approved a study of possible concepts for redeveloping the District Office property at 5th and B St. The study, developed in collaboration with the City, was conducted by Portland State University and funded through a grant from the Sacramento Area Council of Governments (SACOG). The results of the study are expected this fall and will inform continued discussion with the City.
The District’s ability to recruit and retain good teachers was recognized as a top priority by three of the four Board candidates last week. The District is currently soliciting community members to serve on an Action Team to research and develop a plan for recruiting and retaining quality employees. As I stated last week, we need to explore ways that more affordable housing can be made available to teachers and staff. We would not be blazing a new path in this regard. Senate Bill 1413, waiting for Governor Brown’s signature, allows school districts to lease property owned by them for development of employee housing. Several California districts already provide housing or are intending to do so.
Developing cost effective day care options for DJUSD employees could also help attract and retain younger teachers. Ongoing discussions regarding eventual development of District offices north of Central Park should consider inclusion of a day care facility; perhaps such a facility could be made accessible to City employees as well. Exploring ways to lower the cost of health insurance is also warranted.
Increasing take home pay is only part of the solution. There are many intangibles that can influence recruitment and, especially, retention. Studies have shown that better teacher retention occurs at schools where teachers feel that they have a voice and where student behavioral issues are managed more effectively. For younger teachers, working with a mentor and having regular positive interactions with an administrator also lead to better retention rates. Availability of quality professional development (PD) opportunities is critical so that teachers feel that they are able to grow and learn the art and science of teaching. The effectiveness of our PD programs needs to be assessed on a regular basis. Finally, I’m always dismayed when I hear that a teacher has to solicit parents or PTAs for basic classroom supplies. It’s even worse when they have to spend their own money. Let’s come up with a solution to this problem. Finally, I believe that a yearly anonymous survey of teacher satisfaction would help the District improve working conditions and be proactive in identifying issues of concern.
It is very important for the District to recruit and retain a diverse workforce to reflect the diversity of our community. This is one way to help all students succeed. Again, no easy solutions are available given the lack of a diverse teacher pipeline throughout the country. In the short term, it might be possible to broaden recruiting efforts nationally and to target those teacher training programs with more diverse student populations. Perhaps there is a way to identify promising teaching candidates early in their training to make them aware of DJUSD well before they graduate. Longer term, we need to increase the number of minority students wanting to pursue a teaching career. If we could increase the numbers locally by working collaboratively with UCD, community colleges, and Yolo County, we would wind up with a more diverse pool of young teachers with many wanting to stay in the region and find teaching opportunities locally.
The first step toward recruiting new teachers is understanding what kind of district we are as compared to other school districts in our region and effectively communicating the vision and culture of our district to potential recruits. Our board has done much in the way of re-focusing efforts around the well-being of every child. This identity, vision, and culture of our district must be communicated to aspiring teachers so that when they decide to make the DJUSD their home, they will be successful in that placement. The second step to more competitively recruiting teachers is understanding what motivates people to enter the teaching profession and to align their career goals to our district’s benefit offerings. While these things may appear obvious, they are vital to maintaining our outstanding teaching corps.
Investing in our teachers promises an enormous return for our children. Our resources are limited but we must support Measure H while seeking alternative funding sources. Teacher compensation is one area that needs improvement, in addition to up to date professional development opportunities, and continued efforts to reduce class sizes. These and other efforts will make our district more competitive for recruiting new teachers.
Achieving diversity among the teaching applicant pool is a challenge not only felt in Davis, but indeed is a national concern. Within the last year the White House, in partnership with leading educational institutions, like Stanford and others, have committed resources to help improve the overall makeup of the teaching profession. Like teacher recruitment, the first step is understanding the nature of the issue in Davis and expressing that a diverse teaching population is a high priority. Diversity among our teachers has been determined to be an effective component of closing the achievement gap, but it also has been linked to improving overall educational outcomes for all students. In addition to ethnic diversity, we must look at gender, overall teaching experience and other factors that would enable our teaching corps to be a well rounded talent pool from which our students will learn. After establishing that a diverse teaching corps is a high priority of the district, I would look to organizations like the Stanford Center for Opportunity Policy in Education, the work of the White House, and the recent efforts underway in New York to learn about the most effective strategies they have identified to achieve a diverse teaching population.
Recruiting new teachers and increasing diversity requires the collective engagement from our current DJUSD teachers, as they are best situated to make policy recommendations regarding these issues to the Board. I am proud to be endorsed by the Davis Teachers and School Employees.
I have been involved in many recruiting committees for teaching positions at our university and I know what needs to be done to attract qualified candidates. If elected, I will use my skills towards this end. The College of Education at the California State University, Sacramento, a couple of buildings from my office, is the main source of new teachers for the Sacramento area. I am currently participating in an effort by our university to recruit students in Engineering and Science to become teachers. This is the first step, to have qualified teachers available. Recently, I received a letter from another professor colleague, the Chair of the Teaching Credentials in the College of Education asking me to participate in the recruiting of students in the College of Engineering to transfer to the College of Education to become STEM teachers (see below details of this effort). Most certainly diversity is one of my strengths as I am close to Hispanic and other unrepresented groups of students and I am helping in that effort.
Regarding making the district more competitive for recruiting new teachers, it is not just money. I have a major difference with the current School Board Policies. They are hiring teachers with soft money, which means with money from the Parcel Taxes. This is counterproductive to the solution of the issue this question addresses but it is also unethical. How do they expect to attract new teachers who by default all of us in this profession look forward to a long term career with tenure and benefits, when the current School Board offers them a position that in two or four years the voters may reject. Yet the School Board turns around and black mails the voters threatening them to fire some teachers if they do not vote for the Parcel Taxes. Measure H that will be voted in this election is a typical case of this. There is something is very wrong with this practice and with obligating teachers to be their campaign workers for the measure.
Teachers deserve better, they need to be treated with the respect that our profession deserves, and they need to be given a competitive salary and the path to tenure and promotion. The solution is not the parcel tax money but funding their positions with solid budget funds from the $77 million dollars the School District receives from our income taxes, property taxes (not parcel taxes), and from Proposition 30 instead of from the $3 million or $6 million that Measures C and E produce. They must stop using the soft money of the parcel taxes for this purpose. These are not the answer to attracting new teachers, in fact if I were one of them I would never take a position in this district if I knew that in four years the Board may not have the money to sustain my position. We need to manage the resources of the taxpayers wisely, hire teachers with solid funding from the main budget, and keep in mind who we must serve, the education of our students and being responsible to the taxpayers.