Newly Elected Board Members Talk About the Challenges of Education at Chamber Luncheon

City Pickett answers as question as Joe DiNunzio(left) and Tom Adams (right) listen

On Wednesday at the monthly Chamber luncheon, the three newly elected school members spoke about the school district and educational issues.  Tom Adams was re-elected on November 6 with Cindy Pickett and Joe DiNunzio being new board members who will be sworn in later this month.

Joe DiNunzio explained that the three of them just attended a meeting of the California School Boards Association annual.  He said, “Schools board, in general, are responsible at the fiscal level to make that the taxpayer money is being spent well, they are responsible at an administrative level for hiring and providing counsel to the superintendent, they’re also responsible for setting guidelines when it comes to curriculum and operating procedures.”

“What’s really important about school board is that we are all elected,” he said.  “So we serve at the pleasure of the electorate.  Our opportunity is to be the voice of the community in the school district.”

Cindy Pickett added that “the reason we have so many school board, is it really is local governance.  Not every district is going to have the same priorities and visions, that’s why mandates at the state level are rare and it’s really up to the communities to shape what it is that they want.”

She said she saw her role as a listening who goes out into the community and sees what the different needs are.

Ms. Pickett explained that better education was “aligning those aspects of what we want to see as a community in students, and bringing the resources to that.”

Tom Adams called the school board, “the last moral checkpoint for your kids education.  If things aren’t working well, we’re the last stop where things can happen.”

As a district he said, “We want to build our policy from the student out.  It’s not build around our concerns as adults or what we imagine to be the future.  But actually going back to our students and making sure that we’re addressing their needs.”

Joe DiNunzio said that at the moment we have two groups of students in this district.  “We have students that are doing very well,” he said.  “And students that are not doing as well.”

He referred to the achievement gap as the “opportunity gap” and said, “We as a community have to do better.”  Those who live in families with college educated members or above, “they tend to do very well in our schools.”  Those who live in families with high school education or below, “you tend to do less well.”

The district has focused on this for a long time, but we have to continue to “innovation and evolve how we do this.”

Tom Adams answers a question

Tom Adams said that while 60 percent of our students go to a two or four years college, but “39 percent of them do not complete their degree.  It says to us that maybe we are not appropriately preparing our students for the challenges of life.”  He said that students when they face the challenges and adversities of life, they need the skills to actually deal with it.

Cindy Pickett noted that the culture of having a job while in school “seems to be fading a bit.  It certainly is lower than one would expect in Davis.  She talked about the need to develop resilience, she also questioned whether parents are working that well with teachers.

She said, “Teachers are trying to engrain these skills in students and sometimes the parents are their own enemies – how can we work together across these groups so we are working toward the same goals.”  Students will face a “harsh reality” but that is a skill they actually need to succeed.

Joe DiNunzio said that every school has unique challenges.  “Every school district in the state of California, if not in our country, faces the challenge of budget,” he said.  “We as a society underfund education.”

“One of the biggest challenges that we face as a community is how do we properly fund our teachers and our schools and our programs so that we’re providing the best possible education for our students,” he said.

Measure M the $150 million school bond passed with 74 percent of the vote in November.

Tom Adams said, “The great thing about Measure M is it shows to our students one thing – we are investing in them.”  He noted that the pay off for Measure M won’t be in the near term but rather in 10 to 15 years.  “Many people don’t realize that some of our buildings are 50 years old.  Close to me in age.”

Measure M, he explained, does a lot of things we haven’t been able to do for a number of years because we haven’t invested in facilities.  “We haven’t had the money,” he said.

Cindy Pickett noted that while there a strong facilities plan in place, her job is to decide what projects should be faced first.”  Things change over time and things that seemed good a year or two ago, may “no longer fit with where we want to go as a district.”

She said, “things do change, we have to respond to them.”

Joe DiNunzio said, “The community has been very generous in granting this money to the district.  I’m confident that it will be spent wisely – there will be a committee that will audit and monitor the spending.  We do want to be thoughtful because funds are scarce.  We want to make sure we spend it in a way that has the greatest possible benefit.”

Joe DiNunzio also explained that at the CSBA meeting they looked at what other districts were doing to “benchmark best practices.”  He said that he and Susan Kirby from Da Vinci, who sits on the Chamber Board with him, have been “looking for ways to strengthen the relationship between our local businesses and our school district.”

“I think we have a lot of opportunities to grow,” he said.

“There are ways to find win-win scenarios,” he said noting that while businesses are very generous in this community, “at the end of the day you need to run your business.”  He wants to “find opportunities whereby working with the school district is beneficial to your business.”

Cindy Pickett heard stories at the conference where 19 year old Starbucks employees were creating problems for the company “because they would just do dumb sh-t.”  She asked, “how do you teach self-regulation?  How do you teach how to properly respond to a customer complaint?”

She said, “What I would like to see partnered along with career technical education are the soft-skills that could come along with that.”

Tom Adams said in his job with the Department of Education he is asked from all over including China a simple question, “How do you teach creativity?”

He explained, “This is probably the most important skill we can give our students.  Creativity not just in terms of artistic expression, but being able to look at various problems and be able to approach them in a creative problem solving way.”

—David M. Greenwald reporting

About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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  1. Dianne C Tobias

    In response to Tom Adams’ comment on being asked how to teach creativity, I would offer that Curiousity is the key to taking maximum advantage of an education and perhaps one of the most important qualities to a successful and content life. I have thought how might we teach this and am still thinking!

  2. Tia Will

    We as a society underfund education.”

    I just developed a new perspective on this priority. I visited Costa Rica for two weeks. The literacy rate in Costa Rica is 98%. The literacy rate in the US has been hovering around 86% since about 2015. I in no mean to imply that there is only one factor involved, however, I would refer to the old adage, “you get what you pay for”.

    California has attained the ranking of the world’s 5th largest economy but of native-born adults, only 85 % read at a proficient level. It would seem to me that while money alone is not the answer, prioritization may indeed be the key. Costa Rica is an example of a country that despite it’s developing nature, has prioritized education on a national level. We have not chosen to do the same to our own detriment.

    1. H Jackson

      Tia Will: “…but of native-born adults, only 85 % read at a proficient level. It would seem to me that while money alone is not the answer, prioritization may indeed be the key.”

      The key is how one interprets this literacy deficiency.

      The way the U.S. has responded for the past 30+ years is to focus specifically on reading skills (also math skills) at the expense of everything else.  Students who don’t score at an acceptable level on standardized tests are counseled into all kinds of literacy/numeracy interventions and supports and are discouraged from participating in any other activities that might distract.

      This impact is heaviest on lower SES students, who are likelier to score lower on standardized tests.  As such, students lose a sense of relevance in school due to such a narrow educational focus, become truant, disengaged, drop out in HS, and are more likely to land in disciplinary issues, and probably not pursue college.  Higher SES students are likelier to score higher on standardized tests, thus won’t be bothered to participate in various interventions, and ultimately are allowed access to greater diversity of curricula and activities.

      In a strategy of offering diverse curricula and activities (music, performing arts, visual arts, athletics, student government, school newspaper, yearbook, speech/debate, robotics, etc.), students will likelier find activities and subjects that will interest and engage them, they will develop more diverse skill sets, and may even score higher ultimately on standardized tests.

      The U.S. has been freaking out on low standardized test scores for decades.  The U.S. has never been exceptionally high as a national average compared to other nations.  And efforts to raise test scores by focusing exclusively on literacy/numeracy skills generally haven’t worked for lower performing students.  That is the legacy of “No Child Left Behind.” It’s time to take a different approach.


      1. Mark West

        “The U.S. has been freaking out on low standardized test scores for decades.” [emphasis added]

        The problem is the emphasis on standardized tests with the notion that they are the appropriate measure to determine the success of the individual. As long as our focus remains on test scores we will never address our educational deficiencies.

  3. Mark West

    “We want to build our policy from the student out.  It’s not built around our concerns as adults or what we imagine to be the future.  But actually going back to our students and making sure that we’re addressing their needs.”

    This may be the way that Tom Adams wants the district to function, but it is not consistent with what I see on a daily basis at my children’s schools. The approach that I see is one that focuses on what is easiest for the adults working at the schools, with little more than ‘lip service’ going towards meeting the needs and concerns of the students. The only exceptions to this, at least that I have seen, are the school’s counselors, nurses and those ultra-rare teachers and administrators who put their students’ success in life above all else.

  4. Jeff M

    The education system has not changed much in the last 150 years (except to narrow and constrain its teaching methods and targets) while almost everything around it in the US has changed drastically.

    With all due respect to Tia’s example, Costa Rica’s education needs are far below the US needs.  Costa Rica’s exports other than farm products and a bit of mining is almost all production of products invented in and previously made in the US.  One Intel chip manufacturing plan accounts for 25% of Costa Rica’s total exports and 5% of its total GDP.

    Many recent studies have concluded that US student critical thinking skills have fallen and continue to decline.  Ironically it gets worse after a college degree.  Sure the kids can successfully regurgitate group identity grievance theory against white men using their thumbs, a small keyboard and screen… but faced with a challenge requiring practical real-like problem-solving skills, they can only look back longingly on the days that their high-educated Baby Boomer parents help them finish their grade-school projects so they could win that trophy A-grade and hopefully get into a prestigious trophy college.

    So, at a very time when US education needs to be reformed to be the next killer app, the system does the opposite while continuing its perpetual whine that it lacks funding.

    The strong Davis academic gene pool will continue to support the myth of quality education in our community.   However, the reality is that we are stuck with a broken system and the solution requires that system be destructed and replaced by something significantly different that can meet our high-end needs.

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