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 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