Candidate for CVUSD Board of Education
Q&A date: Saturday, April 7 at 10 a.m. Anonymous Mommy Facebook Page
Jenny is running for one of the three available seats on the Conejo Valley Unified School District (CVUSD) board. The elections take place on Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018.
Jenny has agreed to participate in my online CVUSD Candidate Q&A forum and below you will find her completed candidate questionnaire that all candidates were required to fill out. I encourage you to read about her views for the CVUSD prior to her online Q&A, in which she'll be available to answer any questions you may have for her.
Each candidate put a tremendous amount of time into their answers and if you feel inclined, please support them by donating to their campaigns. It's been estimated that school board candidates will need to raise nearly $30,000 in order to run a successful campaign this year. They need your financial support if you want to have their presence on the board.
All announced candidates (except incumbents) were extended the same invitation to participate in an inclusive, interactive online Q&A. (I realize we all have busy schedules, and attending in-person Q&A forums isn't always feasible, therefore I created this Q&A platform so that no matter where your plans might have you on any given day, you can participate or follow along online.) In order to participate, each candidate was required to complete 10 pre-selected questions (a mix of questions I contributed as well as contributions from the community), and an additional five questions of their choosing from a list of questions that were submitted by community residents.
Each candidate has agreed to be available to participate and engage for one hour on the Anonymous Mommy Facebook page as an opportunity for the community to interact with them, and ask questions about their platform, or seek clarification on their answers.
In order to provide a balanced platform, I will refrain from injecting any personal commentary on Q&A-related material, however, I reserve the right to share my opinions on school board-related topics and candidates outside of this Q&A forum.
Five of the six announced candidates agreed to participate. You can learn more by visiting my CVUSD Candidate Q&A information page on my website.
Jenny is a mom of two children currently attending school in the Conejo Valley Unified School District. Herself a product of the California public school system, she experienced the power of community engagement and advocacy for the first time during a project in her high school civics class. Jenny put herself through college and graduated from UC Berkeley with a degree in Political Science. She then earned her law degree from Santa Clara University School of Law and is currently an in-house corporate business counseling attorney in the Conejo Valley.
Through her prior work as a litigation attorney and an attorney for the California Department of Managed Health Care, Jenny has extensive experience with legislation and advocacy. She also interned in the district office of former State Senator (current State Superintendent of Public Instruction) Tom Torlakson and in the Capitol office for former State Assemblymember (current State Senator) Hannah-Beth Jackson. She previously served as the Student Trustee for the Contra Costa Community College Board. Additionally, Jenny was also the Vice-Chair of the General Plan Update Task Force for the city of Martinez, which was charged with preparing and adopting a comprehensive, long-term general plan for the physical development of the city.
Jenny frequently volunteers as team parent of her children's baseball and soccer teams, is the treasurer for her daughter’s Girl Scout troop, assists in school classroom and extracurricular activities, and participates in local community service activities.
As a mom of two young children that attend school in the district, Jenny is concerned about the dysfunction on our board and its impact on our children's learning environment. As an attorney, her job is to advocate for her client, negotiate successfully, and forge consensus between opposing viewpoints on complex problems. Jenny plans to combine her concerns as a parent with her skills as an attorney to achieve positive change on the board, and to advocate and help deliver on the promising futures we all want for our kids.
1. In 2017, arguably two of the largest policy votes by the board centered on curriculum decisions. In January, the board worked its way through eventually voting on how the district would implement the FAIR Act, with amended verbiage provided by board member Sandee Everett, after she requested more time to understand the policy. In November, the community witnessed the contentious board meetings and eventual board majority approval of an alternative assignment and curriculum review policy first put into motion by then-board president Mike Dunn’s contentions about approving “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian,” and current board president John Andersen’s vote of approval for the book with the caveat a policy be crafted. What do you believe a school board’s role is in curriculum decisions and how they are implemented at the district level?
Our current board majority has set an extremely dangerous precedent by circumventing our teachers and school administrators in the interest of advancing personal religious beliefs and polarizing political agendas. The few instances where they have consulted our district's educators has been only for show, and they have then taken it upon themselves to advance and push policy through in incomplete and even incorrect form. Their actions have not only put into place a policy that is ultimately harmful to the educational and personal growth of our students, but in their haste to advance their agenda has left teachers and administrators with zero direction on how such policy should be implemented. In addition to the obvious harm to students, such actions demonstrate clear disregard for the efforts of our teachers and have a destructive impact on their morale. As a result, the district will suffer in its ability to attract and retain quality teachers and will lose credibility with the community it serves.
The board has an important role in developing and adopting educational curriculum but should do so with an eye towards the long-term growth and success of our students. More specifically, we must recognize that the board is legally responsible for making decisions around curriculum, and that such decisions must often be made in tandem with budgetary considerations. However, this does not mean that board members should take it upon themselves to make decisions that reflect personal political agendas. This is part of the reason board elections are supposed to be non-partisan. Curriculum objectives should take into account the educational well-being of all of our students, not just the beliefs of a distinctly partisan and extreme minority.
In addition, board members should give consideration and deference to those that are on the front lines of curriculum issues, including teachers and administrators, professional staff of the board, and other appropriate experts and stakeholders. This is invariably true when you consider that curriculum is made up not only of what is taught through books and assignments, but encompasses students’ educational experiences in total. We need to consider curriculum that doesn’t just get our students through the next grade level, but takes a longer view and prepares them for life in our dynamic society and for a successful future.
Our teachers and school administrators are the ones with the necessary training and expertise as it relates to curriculum, and importantly, are the ones left to implement new curriculum policies. They devote their lives to the education and well-being of our children. Board members should develop strong working relationships with teachers and administrators, so that they feel free to express their points of view and concerns openly with the board, knowing that they will be valued and considered in a meaningful way on matters of educational policy.
Board members should also direct and ensure that the district’s professional staff conducts relevant studies and research to obtain necessary and much needed data relating to decisions around curriculum. Members should ask thoughtful questions, listen to feedback, and settle for nothing less than a thorough exploration of the impact and implementation of curriculum policies.
2. It was announced in July that California’s funding for the District of Choice program was given a six-year extension. We’ve seen conversation this year regarding concerns about how District of Choice has affected CVUSD enrollment, with a significant amount of transfers out of district to Oak Park and LVUSD. Dr. Connolly proposed the idea of online school choice forms and pushing the enrollment dates up a month to be more competitive with surrounding districts. The district has adopted that idea, and hopefully it helps retain more students that reside within CVUSD. What ideas, or plans, do you have in mind that will help to retain more students that live within CVUSD boundaries?
We need to demonstrate to everyone that ours is a school district worthy of their children. My approach for increasing student retention starts with: 1) improving the perception of district leadership by bringing a thoughtful and student-centric approach to the board; 2) highlighting and clarifying the school choice process within CVUSD; and 3) improving our schools and our district in ways that attracts new students and retains those that we have.
Improved perception starts with the board making clear to the community at large, with demonstrated leadership, that CVUSD is the best district for children. I have been approached by numerous parents outside the district that watch the live stream or recording of the CVUSD Board meetings and cannot believe what they see. To them, our board meetings are must-watch reality television. How can we expect to be viewed as the district of choice for all students when our board dynamics are seen as the equivalent of the Real Housewives shows in our community? As much as I may disagree with them about our district, their perception is understandable considering what they witness during the meetings on a regular basis.
We cannot discount the harm that the lack of professionalism and governance on the current board has on enrollment numbers in our district. Instead of representing our district as leaders focused on creating the best possible learning environments, the board majority distracts and ultimately detracts from the amazing schools, teachers, students, and community that we have. It further has a negative impact on our ability to attract and retain quality teachers that provide positive learning environments. The role of our teachers should be valued and respected, not dismissed and attacked. The unprofessional behavior in officials elected to enhance the education and welfare of our children is unacceptable and cannot be tolerated any longer.
In addition to earlier enrollment dates, we need to bring clarity to the school choice process and what it means for our families and students. The newly enacted marketing campaign is a plus for our district. It showcases our schools, students, and teachers in the positive light they deserve and brings our district closer in line with the standard of on-line and social media marketing. However, we should also find ways to better work with families to find that right fit for their children. I have, for example, spoken to many families that found themselves moving to and from schools trying to find the right fit for their children, particularly those that have specific needs or interests they are seeking to address.
Consistent with the district's present approach, they seek out schools based on the particular offerings the district identifies, only to find that it may not meet their child's needs in other areas. Frustrated with this process, they find themselves looking to other districts or private schools rather than continuing efforts to navigate ours. This type of feedback suggests that we need to look critically at ourselves and find ways to better assess the needs of students and communicate the strengths of our various schools so we can ensure the first choice is the right fit.
Providing different educational offerings based on students' needs and interests is helpful, but we also need to ensure certain baselines and standards are met at each neighborhood school. Each school must be strong enough that it has the potential to be a fit for every student. In short, we need to give families a reason to keep their children in the district.
Another area we must continue to address is on-campus childcare. Working parents need assurances that their children will have a space in quality on-campus childcare. There are a number of sites with waitlists every year and parents choose to send their children to other schools as they cannot risk not knowing whether they will have a spot for their child.
We have also seen a recent push for inclusive education in our district; not only for students in special education, but for others – such as GATE students - as well. Finding ways to offer more programs and services to these students during school hours, as done in other districts, will help attract and retain students with specific needs within our own district schools.
I continue to believe that we need data on other specific reasons parents choose to send their children elsewhere. To me, it is worth the time and funds to obtain this knowledge so that we can identify further programs and services that need improvement based on the resulting data.
3. In correlation with question No. 2, it’s no secret that one of the large concerns weighing on the district is the trajectory of decline in student enrollment. In your opinion, what other issues have contributed to the decline and what specifically do you feel the district needs to be doing to address this issue? How will you respond if the decline leads to a closure of school sites?
First and foremost, it is imperative that the board do everything in its power to keep schools open and teachers fully employed. Teachers are the centerpiece to each of our learning environments and will ensure that ours is the district families choose now and in the years to come. There are plenty of places budget cuts can be made first, not the least of which are board member stipends.
Closing schools negatively impacts our children and their families, as well as the neighborhoods they serve, in multiple ways. Moving students around can be detrimental to the academic achievement and well-being of our students. Closures are harmful to morale amongst our teachers and make it difficult to attract and retain the best educators. Additionally, closures often disproportionately affect low-income, special education, and minority students. Consequences also extend to local businesses and property values.
As a result of these potential impacts, alternatives to school closures should be thoroughly explored and vetted. For example, many districts are confronted with the possibility of school closures because of facility underutilization (due to declining enrollment and budget constraints). In that situation, we should identify and evaluate other potential uses for excess facilities. A somewhat recent idea that was developed because of mass school closings is converting schools with underutilized facilities to full service “community schools”. With this model, schools are also used for social support services such as parenting classes, health clinics, expanded after school activities, and/or tutoring services. The result can be increased enrollment in the affected school(s).
If the board is ultimately put to that decision of last resort, any discussion of school closures must therefore be based on hard, indisputable data. Considerations must include the likely outcome on students, including whether students will be transitioned to better performing schools. Given that savings based on school closures are often overestimated, it's important to know how much money will be saved as a result of a closure. Further, no decisions should be made before public input is obtained and considered.
4. As most of us know governing is difficult and bureaucracy is complicated. We have heard from some of you that you would consult the experts, which is responsible (and important), but what else would you do to go about educating yourself on an issue or policy you needed to know more about and what resources would you use to make fully informed decisions? Further, how would you go about informing the public and communicating your findings?
First, it is important to state that no elected official should assume they have all the answers. As aptly demonstrated by our present board majority, that kind of thinking results in policy that excludes feedback from those most impacted by board decisions, and in many instances to their considerable detriment. As with education in general, learning by board members should be an ongoing pursuit with the goal of always trying to better understand how they can most effectively serve the community.
With that goal squarely in mind, coupled with the reality that board members are responsible for handling complex problems with critical consequences for children in our district, I will voraciously seek out all possible opportunities in every form to learn more about how I may be able to better serve the students of CVUSD. This will include, without limitation, seeking out available training and frequently engaging with stakeholders, as well as identifying learnings from my professional background to make fully informed decisions.
More specifically, I will take full advantage of training opportunities, including those presented by the district, as well as other organizations such as the California School Boards Association and the National School Boards Association. These organizations offer conferences, webinars, and newsletters which provide training, research, and information on current issues regarding public education. I think it is also important to learn from current and past board members that I respect, as well as district staff.
In addition, I will make a point of seeking out and engaging appropriate stakeholders directly to understand relevant issues and their impact. For example, before advocating for increased fencing and security measures, I will talk with the school administrators and teachers about their emergency planning and other funding priorities to determine if that is truly money well spent, and whether the proposed solutions will in fact be a help rather than a hindrance.
I will also leverage the learnings and education obtained from my considerable professional background to help guide and inform my approach to addressing issues as a board member. To that point, it is important to mention that many of the issues board members are required to address are not those that garner the most publicity. Issues like the opt-out policy fall into a very narrow scope of board responsibility, which is mostly focused on other aspects of district administration such as collective bargaining and employment issues, site maintenance and oversight, and procedures and processes related to board governance. I am very well suited to these types of tasks as an attorney, which has required that I exercise extensive research and analytical skills daily to address difficult and complex problems.
Similar to what we should be able to expect of our elected officials, as an attorney I have had to become familiar with many issues that I have not previously had background in, requiring that I take all available steps to fully understand such issue prior to providing legal guidance. For example, I worked for a period of time on complex multi-party contractual disputes, issues involving difficult insurance and medical issues, and challenging procedural and process issues. As part of these experiences, I have learned how to wrap my head around difficult questions and how to identify and engage appropriate experts.
The board’s decision-making should be transparent, which also means that the process by which and the information used in making decisions should be made public (unless legally prohibited). This can be done through concise and understandable reports presented during board meetings, building rapport and relationships with community members so they feel comfortable approaching with questions, public forums, and communication with school staff.
5. The importance of how the district’s money is spent cannot be undermined. We are currently operating at a deficit and will feel the effects of this after surplus in the budget is depleted. What experience do you have with complicated budgets? When you are given a 300-plus page budget for the district to review, what will be your process to determine if it is a good budget for the system?
One of the main duties of board members is to ensure we have a fiscally sound budget. The district's budget should reflect the overall vision and specific goals and priorities of the board. These goals and priorities must also be evaluated in tandem with the overall goal of ensuring the future financial viability of our district. Determining the appropriateness of our district budget starts with engaging appropriate stakeholders to identify the existing needs, and then prioritizing those needs based on the impact to the learning environments and success of our children. As previously discussed, I believe those aspects of the budget that will keep quality teachers in our classrooms and that will ensure a positive learning environment for our children should be paramount above all else.
I will lean on my professional experience when evaluating the complex district budget, as I deal with difficult budget issues on a daily basis. This was also true when I worked for the State of California, with the Department of Managed Health Care, and we were required to make decisions on a tight government budget. Additionally, as a litigator, it was imperative to develop a reasonable client budget at the outset of a case and stay within such budget. However, as I learned during my time as the Student Trustee of the Contra Costa Community College Board, it is also important to recognize that the budgeting process for school districts is different than for businesses and will require a willingness to ask questions and learn about these differences.
I have often found in my professional experience that having a new member of a team review documents and policies is extremely beneficial because these individuals are able to ask different and critical questions and challenge long-existing assumptions. I will bring this much-needed new perspective and critical eye to many issues in our district, including the budget.
6. During board member comments, we often hear about events and programs within the district that school board members have attended at school sites to get to better know our district, our students, and the programs and resources within. Will you be able to set aside time to be an active member in our district and community, outside of mandatory school board meetings? What have you done at this point in time to educate yourself on school-related activities and events?
Yes, I will continue spending as much time as possible learning more about each school within our district and the individuals that attend and work at our schools. The decisions of our board weigh heavily on the future of our children, and engagement with those in the know is critical to understanding the issues that underlie those decisions. As again demonstrated by the board majority's lack of recent success around the opt-out policy, engagement should be made a priority by all board members to effectuate policies that have any chance of success. This gets to the idea of engaging appropriate stakeholders on issues of concern that I previously mentioned – board members need to talk to those that will be charged with implementing a policy and those that will be affected by it before presuming that it will present any type of solution for our students.
I typically like to stay up to date on issues out of my own personal interest, but I have also been conducting in-depth research on education issues facing our local community, state, and nation to gain a more thorough understanding of the complexities involved. In addition to growing my knowledge base using research, I have been meeting with many organizations and members of our community to learn more about their experiences with and concerns regarding our district. I will continue to do this, because I believe in-person communication is the best way to build positive relationships, as well as learn about and communicate regarding issues.
7. We know there are inequities across schools within CVUSD. Generally, schools that have families who can donate more money have more. Starting innovative programming at some schools (like Acacia and Ladera) is one method for addressing this issue. Do you have other solutions?
At the outset, it is important to note that this problem is not limited to resources donated to our schools. Rather, it also extends to the time spent by parents and other volunteers in our schools. As many of you have likely experienced, there are some schools that have parents who are able to donate more time than others. The net result is that there are particular schools that benefit from both more resources and more classroom/school involvement. Our own children benefit immensely from the resources donated to the school they currently attend and the parents who donate so much of their time at school helping to run its various programs.
The difficult truth is that there is no easy answer to this problem. We certainly do not want to discourage the donation of resources and time to any of our schools. However, we have to acknowledge that with socioeconomic disparity increasing nationally, the threat of this problem is only going to get worse. Efforts to correct this disparity start with increased funding and innovative thinking for those schools that are not able to obtain the same resources from their communities. Ladera and Acacia present great examples of where this type of focus has been successful. These programs are offerings that are difficult to find elsewhere and can draw students in from other areas.
For a district like ours, we also need to increase transparency around the differences in resources that our schools may be receiving. This will help us openly and proactively engage the broader community about the disparities and needs within our schools so that we can encourage the donation of time and resources to those schools that need it the most from our community at large.
Finally, we need to increase our positive marketing efforts for schools in our district that lose out on initial enrollment due to long-standing negative beliefs about these schools. It is important for incoming families to be more aware of the positive environments in these schools and new programs and services that have been more recently implemented.
8. Earlier this year we were treated to a presentation by Walnut Elementary regarding its methods for addressing its achievement gap. What do you believe are some crucial initiatives that address and decrease achievement gap, and what more can the district be doing to support these?
The achievement gap in CVUSD disproportionately affects children with disabilities, English language learners, and socioeconomically disadvantaged students. Watching the Walnut Elementary presentation at a recent board meeting was incredibly inspiring. While each school within our district has unique needs, Walnut’s success provides real hope that our other schools can make similar strides in closing the achievement gap.
I believe a large part of Walnut’s success stems from their overall guiding principle. During the presentation, Walnut noted that they believe their diversity is their strength and that their teachers play a vital role in the practices used to close the achievement gap. With these principles as a guide, more specific objectives (identifying students who may need help early on, maintaining high expectations, conducting family outreach, and providing social and emotional support) have a better chance of succeeding.
As it relates to students with disabilities, the reinstatement of the Special Education District Advisory Council (SEDAC) is a positive first step. SEDAC will provide the district with important information regarding the current unmet needs of children with disabilities, coordination of services required to address such needs, and guidance regarding the development and implementation of policies to repair current deficiencies. Another local group garnering significant momentum, Thrive Conejo, is also currently working with the district regarding inclusive education. As many students with special needs continue to struggle to obtain the resources at our schools needed for them to meet their full potential, these steps are critical.
The English language learner student population is expected to continue growing rapidly. We must ensure we are actively engaging students’ families, hiring staff who speak families’ home languages, conducting adult education and parenting courses at schools, and potentially establishing family centers at schools. Similar endeavors have succeeded at Walnut, including free classes for Spanish speakers and an outreach assistant who connects parents with school and community resources.
Socioeconomically disadvantaged students need support through mentorship programs, tutoring, and peer support programs. It is also important that high quality and accessible after school programs and activities are provided to create environments for children to learn and grow social and academic skills.
When we believe our strength lies in our diversity and that our teachers are pivotal in the success of our children, then we can build programs specific to the needs of students at each school that follow general guidelines of success.
9. This is a district divided. How do you intend to bring unity back to a community who has seen the gap between parents and teachers grow wider and wider, due in large part to the way the board majority has mismanaged board meetings and framed policy conversation? How would you, as an individual board member, and in working with the board, assure parents that they’re being heard, while instilling confidence in our district’s teachers that they are not targets for far-leaning agendas?
The current board majority’s treatment of teachers and the division they have manufactured between parents and teachers is plain and simply unacceptable. Our board majority has created the false and destructive choice that if you are for teachers and broader learning, you are against parents' rights and vice versa. Such grossly transparent efforts to pander to voters that may ultimately support their extreme and distinctly out of touch political agendas has no place in this district or anywhere else. This disgraceful practice that sacrifices the futures of our children in the interest of political expedience should be roundly opposed by voters who believe that students are best served when teachers and parents work together.
As parents, we should have an active role in our children's education, but should also allow teachers to do the important job they are trained to do. We are fortunate to have excellent teachers in the Conejo Valley. In order to enable our teachers to be as effective as possible, the board must not only ensure that teachers have the necessary resources but also the support of our board. Board members should encourage teachers to speak up and provide their expert input on issues and be a key part of policy development and implementation. Instead, our board has cultivated a culture of fear. This culture serves these board members well, as it stifles opposition to personal political agendas being pushed forward. As a parent of young children in our district, I will be a board member who welcomes and seeks input from those charged with educating my children and all the children in our district schools.
10. What important policies and issues have been overlooked or ignored this past year (whether it be because people were paying attention to larger issues, or they were never addressed) that you’d like to address and make the community aware of?
One main issue I plan to address is the increased need for advocacy by our board at the state and national level. Our board must find ways to get involved in the legislative process to ensure that the needs of the children in our district are adequately addressed.
While there has obviously been some discourse on the important topic of school security, one of the issues I have been championing is the proactive engagement by our district on the topic of gun control. Our discussion around the need for common sense gun control laws is too important to be left to our federal and state representatives. As stewards of our children’s safety, we must aggressively advocate for laws that will protect our schools and children, and limit the availability of guns that may ultimately result in physical and emotional harm to them.
We also need zealous advocacy around funding for public schools at the state and national level. Given that the majority of funding for schools is controlled at the state level, our ability to fund our schools locally is limited. Furthermore, our district is facing a potential $7 million deficit over the next few years. We must therefore proactively address this deficit and also have a seat at the table with key stakeholders making decisions at higher levels.
I will also focus on our district's ability to recruit and retain quality educators. This ability is significantly jeopardized not only due to compensation issues, but also due to a need to ensure our teachers have safe working environments conducive to learning, which allows teachers to focus on teaching. It is also imperative that we create a much higher morale than currently exists given the treatment of our teachers by the board majority. As the expectations and demands on our teachers continue to grow, it is our obligation to make it a priority to demonstrate that their work and efforts are valued.
On a related note, addressing the district's ability to recruit and retain quality special education teachers is crucial. The demand for these teachers and paraprofessionals has grown, but the resources have not. As a result, our special education teachers are faced with significant administrative burdens and large caseloads. This negatively impacts their ability to perform basic necessary activities, such as lesson planning and daily teaching activities. The result is that these educators quickly burn out, leading to a high rate of attrition.
DID YOU MAKE IT? Here's a picture of a palate cleanser before you hit the additional questions.
Candidates were asked to choose five additional questions from a list of questions submitted by the community. Here are the five that Jenny chose.
1. Due to a combination of recent events, including an increase in students being approached by strangers near campuses, and the response to the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School mass shooting, the topic of school safety has been more prevalent than ever. What is your opinion of the current safety measures in place at the schools in our district, and what, if anything, would you like to see done to improve safety?
I appreciate the district's recent retention of a consultant to analyze school site safety measures as this is a necessary step in evaluating the most effective methods of keeping our children safe. However, there are a number of other considerations that I believe should be addressed in implementing school safety policies. The first is ensuring appropriate transparency and stakeholder engagement on the topic of safety at our schools. The need for this was magnified for me following the Parkland shooting when there were reports of a threat at Westlake High School. Appreciating that there were many different inputs about what was happening there, most parents I know in the district learned about the incident or the details of the incident through social media prior to receiving a communication from the district. As a result, the district suffered a mass decrease in enrollment the following day. While I in no way advocate for providing details that might impede law enforcement's ability to conduct a thorough investigation, the basic details of such threats should be received via official communication by the district rather than learned by word of mouth or personal social media accounts. It provides parents and staff the trust that they need in the handling of the threat and the ultimate decision on its validity and the safety of their children. Further to that point, I have requested a town hall meeting with parents to discuss safety issues so that specific issues and concerns can be addressed. Parents and teachers should be given an opportunity to have their concerns noted so that these concerns can be analyzed as part of the consultant's work.
As referenced in some of my prior responses, while the importance of the implementation of further effective security measures is undeniable, such measures will only get us so far. Students need to feel safe and supported at school. We also must continue to destigmatize mental-health issues and invest more resources on addressing these issues. Mental-health struggles affect the overall health and impact many areas of our children's lives. Counselors and psychologists have the necessary training to provide these services, but are currently stretched too thin to provide the level of services needed. Teachers and staff also need to be provided with training to identify and respond appropriately to at risk students.
3. Board governance. What does board governance mean to you? How important of a role do you feel good governance plays in contributing to the success of the board to address community concerns, school policies and compromise between board members with dissenting opinions?
To me, effective board governance requires that our elected officials proactively and constructively address the many concerns and issues we face as a district, and identify thoughtful and considered solutions that enhance our existing learning environments. Further to that point, I think it is fair to say that the future success of our district hinges on effective board governance, which has been glaringly absent with the present board majority.
Progress on real and crucial issues affecting our children is effectively stopped while time and energy is wasted dealing with fallout from the toxic environment these board members have created. The idea that we have to spend time discussing ridiculous and unprofessional actions by board members, including threatening the livelihood of a community member who disagrees on policy issues and inappropriately attacking students who speak out, is absurd. More time is then wasted as board members must update policies and take time to censure this member. While this is a critical act, it is not one that has been shown to make any difference to this member or the remainder of the board majority that permits his actions. Most critically, it is our children that will pay the price for these actions.
Board governance also requires an engaged and diligent board, actively working to better our schools rather than using their time in this role to promote anything he/she perceives – or what he/she apparently believes that Zillow perceives - as a success. The reality is that while our district is in many respects very good, there are numerous issues on the horizon that threaten its success in the very near future. In addition, we no longer exist in a society where sitting back and admiring perceived success is an acceptable approach for board governance. The world around us is constantly growing and changing, and we need to grow and change with it if we expect our children to be able to keep up. Sitting idly by is not a recipe for continued positive results; rather, it’s a recipe for disaster.
It is clear from simply sitting at the board meetings that we have current members who are unengaged, uninformed, and consequently ill-equipped for the requirements of this job. Questions are not being asked of staff on important presentations and policies are pushed through in a haphazard manner. As a parent of children in our school district, this behavior angers me. As elected officials, board members should be held accountable for taking their role seriously and investing the time needed to engage our community and critically analyze pressing issues.
Additionally, board members cannot govern the district on an individual basis. It takes a board working together. The toxicity that exists on the current board prevents this from happening. We therefore need new voices on the board in order to start again and move our district forward.
8. What does “the Conejo Way” mean to you?
To me, "the Conejo Way" evokes a sentiment of community-focus and engagement that is missing from our present board. It's the idea that we are a close-knit community that strives to do right not just in what we do but also in how we do it. Broadly on the topic of educational policy, doing things the Conejo Way requires that district leadership and constituents make every effort to come together and accomplish what is needed to ensure the social well-being and educational success of ALL of our students. It means looking out for one another, building positive relationships, and finding ways to collaborate on the many issues and concerns we face as a district in the interest of moving our children and families forward in a positive manner.
11. The students in our district (and our country) are facing more social and emotional challenges than ever before. Please share how you plan to address this issue at both the elementary and secondary levels to support students in our district.
This is an issue that hits home for me, and one that I have spent countless hours thinking about. Most importantly, we want our children to feel safe, welcome, and accepted at school. This extends beyond physical barriers. We must continue to destigmatize mental health issues and provide services at school so our students receive the support they need to combat mental health issues such as anxiety, substance abuse, and stress.
Learning social and emotional skills at a young age is critical and has been shown to have a positive effect on students’ academics. We want children from our district to be able to successfully manage and cope with the many social and emotional issues they face now and will likely continue to face as they get older. It is important that our children feel connected with their community and are able to empathize with and understand the perspective of others.
Our qualified school psychologists and counselors are currently stretched too thin with our existing counselor to student ratio. As a result, we miss key opportunities for early identification and interventions. Additionally, parents ultimately have to try to obtain help outside of school grounds and hours to help their children, which is often not financially or logistically feasible. This also assists our teachers, who often do not have the resources to provide the help needed to students in this regard.
We must therefore decrease our counselor to student ratios, find innovative ways to weave social and emotional skills into curriculum, and provide appropriate training for teachers and staff.
12. Do you see yourself primarily as a representative of the community or as a representative of the school system?
In my view, the two are intertwined in a way that they can't really be separated. While the focus of any board members is obviously going to be educational policy, the success of that policy will be measured by the ability of our students to become successful members of our community. It is perhaps this reason that school board members are elected by our community to govern our schools, and are held accountable by the community for their success in this role. As a school board member, my main job will be to serve as an advocate for our children and schools, and to ensure our children’s well-being and academic success. I will measure that success by the ability of our schools to help our children become thoughtful, independent, and engaged members of our community. The success of our children and our schools is a reflection on our community and the value we place on education.
THRIVE CONEJO (Thrive Conejo submitted two questions. I asked candidates to pick one to answer.)
2) What do you think our district can do to increase inclusive practices for students with disabilities?
As a general concept, inclusive practices implemented in a successful manner are beneficial to ALL of our students. They provide our students an opportunity to learn from each other's differences and support one another. These are things that build individuals who go out into the world with the ability to recognize and appreciate what others have to offer, effectively communicate with others, and have empathy for their struggles.
As mentioned in my response to another question, I believe the reinstatement of the Special Education District Advisory Council (SEDAC) and the district's recent work with Thrive Conejo is a good starting point. We are often apprehensive of things we do not understand. Therefore, I think first and foremost, our district needs to ensure that parents who are not familiar with the concept of inclusive education/inclusive practices for students with disabilities are provided with an understanding of what they are and what they offer to students, as well as how these practices differ from our current programs.
Successful models of inclusive education should be identified and analyzed for potential use in our district. We will need to take the necessary steps to examine what updates/adaptations can be made to our curriculum and teaching methods to implement inclusive education. This also involves evaluating the necessary support resources, such as specific types of specialists, that students and teachers will need to provide inclusive education successfully. This evaluation should also be performed in tandem with an analysis on school resources as inclusive education has the ability to make better use of school resources.
As a side note, I also want to mention that I believe this notion extends beyond students with typical disabilities. Students benefit from having individuals with many different backgrounds, whether cultural, intellectual, or socioeconomic in their classrooms. Inclusive practices can also be used in different forms to support other individuals, such as those in GATE programs and English learners, as well.
A huge thank you to Jenny Fitzgerald for the time she spent in answering these questions.
If you would like to support not only her efforts here, but throughout her campaign, you can donate here:
Like what Jenny had to say? Make sure you share her platform with your neighbors, friends and family who are stakeholders in the district. There is no reason we should be uninformed this election. Let's all do our part to make sure that we know who we're voting for, and why!
MAKE SURE TO MARK YOUR CALENDAR FOR SATURDAY, APRIL 7 at 10 A.M. TO INTERACT WITH JENNY ON THE ANONYMOUS MOMMY PAGE ABOUT HER VISION!