Thank you to everyone who participated in — and read along — CVUSD candidate Jenny Fitzgerald's online Q&A session this morning! For those of you who don't have access to Facebook or were unavailable, I'm compiled the complete* list of questions and answers here, after the jump!
You might want to familiarize yourself with Jenny's candidate blog (which featured her answers to a pre-selected set up questions before her session), before you dive in!
Read Jenny's CANDIDATE BLOG HERE
Link to Jenny's Facebook Online Q&A forum HERE
Did you appreciate Jenny's time today in making herself available to answer your questions... and all the time she spent on her pre-selected Q&A questions? Here's how you can help her campaign:
DONATE. Donate because stamps aren't free. Donate because signs aren't free. Donate because all exposure isn't free. Donate because attending networking events isn't free. Donate because Jenny has stepped up to make a difference on our school board.
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*Jenny's Q&A had an excellent response and she's still answering questions. I will update this further as I have time, but this is a start.
Q: What motivated you to run for school board?
A: Thanks for your question. As a mom of two young kids who attend school in our district, I have been extremely dissatisfied with the conduct of our current board majority and believe I can bring a much needed, positive change to the board and our district.
I have been interested in education and community advocacy since high school and am thrilled to be able to take this leap in an effort to help our children and put the focus back on them where it belongs.
In addition to being a parent with young children in our district schools, I will also provide a fresh voice and perspective of someone from a different generation. Additionally, I am willing to take more aggressive advocacy steps in support of students.
Q: Good morning! What are your views on the lack of accommodation for many who apply to elementary school before- and after-care programs and are turned away for lack of space? It's been cited before as a reason some leave CVUSD, and is a factor in declining enrollment. Do you feel the child care accommodation right now is adequate, and what are your thoughts on how to improve access for more working parents?
A: Thank you for this question! Our two children currently attend on-campus childcare at one of our district schools, so this issue is very important to me. Their school always has waitlists and has to turn families away, which can be extremely stressful. I do believe this is one of the reasons that district families choose to go elsewhere and it negatively affects our enrollment numbers. Simply put, we need more resources devoted to childcare to ensure we retain existing families within our district and are offering them the childcare support that is so needed. I will make this one of my priorities if elected.
Q: Would you do anything to reverse or revise the contentious board policy regarding core literature?
A. Yes - Generally speaking, I disagree with the notion that we should limit the literature our teachers have available to educate our children. I feel that to prepare our children for life outside of school in our dynamic society, this type of policy hurts more than it helps.
With that being said, I understand there are particular instances where a parent/child may not feel comfortable with a particular resource. However, there was an existing policy that enabled parents/students to request and alternate assignment for this very purpose. The recently passed opt-out policy circumvented teachers in our district that should have had a key role in the process and ended up being entirely against what the CDE intended. The policy needs to be repealed and I would actively work to do so.
Here is a more in-depth response on my website blog.
Q: Good morning Jenny! Thanks for taking the time to do this! I think in this coming election one of the hot topics will be the safety of our schools and our children/students in the wake of recent events. What are your thoughts on this and do you have any proposals in mind to address this issue?
A: Thanks for your question! This issue is obviously on the minds of so many of us parents with kids in our district schools. Physical security is being addressed through Measure I and now also through the safety consultant recently engaged by the district. I have pushed for the opportunity for parents to learn more about our current measures and have their concerns voiced with the district, as I believe this type of communication is vital for our parents to feel their concerns are being considered and for the district to fully appreciate what is on the minds of the families they serve. Beyond physical safety, we need to prioritize policies and measures that improve upon the emotional and social well-being of our children.
I include a more thorough response to these issues in Questions No. 1 and No. 11 (under "additional questions") in my candidate blog. (*Linked at beginning of this blog).
Q: My question: Many of the ever-expanding career fields beyond high school and college are science and technology-focused. What would you do, starting at the elementary level, to ensure that our students are being taught science and use technology, especially in light of the new (and quite rigorous) Next Generation Science Standards?
A: This is a great question that really emphasizes the need to continue to grow and evolve as a district to keep up with our ever-changing world. It starts with ensuring we are on the cutting edge of curriculum development and adopting goals and standards for our schools that include science and technology. We also need to implement uses of technology that have been shown to have a positive impact on our students. For example, Walnut Elementary has incorporated specific technology programs to help English language learners with much success. Like anything that impacts our district, there is a dependence on available resources in our budget, but this should certainly be prioritized to adequately prepare our children for life beyond school.
Q: What will you do as board member to close the achievement gaps for the 3 student groups CVUSD is currently failing?
A: Addressing the achievement gap is one of my top priorities as I believe it is imperative that, as a district, we support all of our children in a way that enables them to succeed. I believe the success of Walnut Elementary in closing the achievement gap at their school stems from their overall guiding principle that their diversity is their strength. We must make it a priority to engage both school staff and parents to determine what specific resources are needed for these three groups of students (special education, English language learners, and socioeconomically disadvantaged).
I provide more specifics in my response to No. 8 in my candidate blog.
Q: Is it appropriate for LGBT teachers, teacher’s aides, counselors, principals and coaches to be “out” to their students? If so, under what circumstances?
A: I have not yet received a question on this topic, if you can believe that! Thank you so much for asking. It's appropriate in the same way it is appropriate for non-LGBT teachers/staff to be "out". To me, I see no difference. Children often generally know about their teachers' spouses/significant others - that shouldn't changed based on LGBT status. Is there a specific type of example/instance you are thinking of?
I understand how this is a genuine concern for LGBTQ+ teachers in our district, particularly as we have a board member who has made inflammatory statements regarding the LGBTQ community. I do not believe it is acceptable for those in leadership positions within our community to instigate/fuel a culture of fear and hate. I think we have found ourselves in an environment where teachers are afraid to speak up about many things, including their concerns regarding our district policies. In addition to the negative impact this has on our teachers, it also has a negative impact on LGBTQ+ students in our district. We should want our children, ALL of our children, to feel safe, welcome, and accepted at school. This requires demonstrating through words and actions that ALL of our children belong in and will be protected in our school communities.
Q: Should books depicting LGBT-parented families such as Heather Has Two Mommies or Daddy’s Roommate or How Would You Feel If Your Dad Was Gay? be used in public schools? If so, how?
A: At the outset, I should note that I have not read two of the three books you mention (although you can count on me reading them now!). This is honestly due to the fact that our own children with familiar with LGBT issues at a very young age. For example, the concept of having "two mommies" was never foreign to them and I am incredibly grateful for that. I support materials that broaden our children's understanding of the world around them, of the positivity of differences among us, and that include messages/themes of acceptance. We often use books as a way of teaching our own children about things in life (other cultures, disabilities, etc.). I believe the duty of our public school system extends beyond that required to help our children succeed academically. We should also strive to create individuals who will become more engaged and empathetic community members, and I believe we have seen at all levels (local, state, and nationally) that this needs to be a priority.
Q: What have you personally done to support LGBT students, parents/guardians, and employees?
What will you do to support LGBT students, parents/guardians, d employees if you are elected?
A: I spent the majority of my life in diverse communities of the SF Bay Area and learned at an early age the importance of accepting and empathizing with others who are different from ourselves, particularly the LGBT community. As such, I have regularly incorporated this way of thinking into every aspect of my life and will continue to do so, both professionally and personally. If elected, I will support our LGBTQ+ community in my words and actions as a board member, as well as policies that create an accepting and supportive environment for all of our school community.
Q: Good morning! One of my concerns is that in CVUSD our elementary schools have access to a counselor 1 day a week. My children's school has about 700 kids and 1 day a week is simply not enough time to address the needs of our diverse students. What can we do about that? Thank you for being open to talk to people in your community!!
A: Thanks for your question. This issue hits home for me as we have a child who greatly benefits from some of the services counselors offer, but is often not able to take advantage of them given the fact that our counselors are stretched so incredibly thin across our district. This need has existed for a long time, but I think we have all recently been reminded about the importance of investing in our children' social and emotional well-being. I believe we need to continue to de-stigmatize mental health issues and provide more services at school so our students receive the support they need. The result of our current counselor to student ratio is that we miss key opportunities for early identification and intervention. Even parents who have a child with identified needs are often left having to use outside resources to help their children - often logistically and financially burdensome/impossible. Additionally, our teachers are left without the support needed to adequately address these important issues with their students. This is one of the top policy issues our district needs to prioritize and specifically includes decreasing our counselor to student ratios, finding innovative ways to weave social and emotional skills into curriculum, and providing appropriate training and resources to teachers and staff.
Q: Thank you for joining this forum, and for serving the community by running for school board. I have a child with ADHD. I have found that most traditional schools (not just in our district), even those who do a great job with special education needs, have not figured out how best to serve the needs of children with ADHD. Do you have any experience in this area and do you have any thoughts on how the district might be better able to serve this need?
A: Thank you for your question. I have personal experience in this area as we also have a child with ADHD. Additionally, I have heard your concern from a number of other parents within our district, which I believe is a strong indicator of the fact that more needs to be done to evaluate and address how we best serve these students. I believe one of the concerns voiced by another individual on this thread - the fact that our school counselors are stretch too thin - has a direct and negative impact on children with ADHD and the services they miss out on. Additionally, we know that students with disabilities are one of the three groups most impacted by our district's achievement gap. There is a growing library of resources and programs to support children with ADHD. Students with ADHD should be included in the efforts to close the achievement gap, which will require research and analysis of the available resources/programs to determine which have been proven to be successful and which are best suited for the children in our district. I have been encouraged by a number of steps recently taken in some schools, such as flexible classroom seating and the acknowledgement of the need from more physical movement. However, I find that there are still areas, such as the need to grow executive functioning skills and the need for redirection and increased individualized assistance, that need more attention by our district's leadership.
Q: My question is when are where are your upcoming meet and greets?
Thank you for asking Andy Pletcher! We just recently added an "events" tab to my webpage. www.fitzgeraldforschoolboard.com/events
The next meet and greet, which will be in person, is on Sunday April 15th from 1-3. I would love to meet more of our community in person, so please feel free to share the event online/by email/by word of mouth! There is an RSVP link or I can always track RSVPs just by email. It is so important that we spread the word in our community about the issues on our board and provide opportunities for others to get to know the candidates. Meet and greets are a great way to hear about my vision for our district, my campaign, and to discuss issues/concerns.
Q: My question on behalf of several teachers is this: with the discussion of increasing inclusion of special needs students in general education classrooms, do you support funding to help teachers successfully meet this objective (e.g. smaller class sizes and hiring more aides?)
A: Thanks for participating and asking a question on behalf of teachers. I think the discussion you are referring to is the one related to full inclusion, recently brought to the attention of our school board by the Thrive Conejo group. I have learned a lot about inclusive education by speaking with the founders of the group and researching on my own - including the fact that full inclusion does not mean simply placing students currently in special education into general education classes. Instead, it involves many changes to the way we teach and support students. A necessary component of full inclusion is increased support in the general education classroom, including academic and behavioral support. The model, as I understand, incorporates such additional support. Outside of the full inclusion discussion, I agree wholeheartedly that more support services are needed. I have seen this personally with our own children, and have heard this from many other parents, as well as educators in our district. To be frank, we ask a lot of our teachers and our expectations only continue to grow without a mirrored growth in resources. It is extremely important that we provide our teachers with the support they need to perform their job in an effective manner, and so that our children's social and emotional well-being are also prioritized.
Q: I’m curious to see how you’d define the role of board trustee. What boundaries and limitations do you think appropriate? How would you navigate a situation where your personal vision or hope for the direction of the district wasn’t lining up with popular consensus?
A. Generally speaking, I believe the role of a board trustee includes things such as actively participating in setting the vision and goals for the district, adopting policies to achieve these goals, ensuring we have a fiscally sound budget, and overseeing the collective bargaining process. Beyond this, I believe board trustees are responsible for providing effective governance and setting good examples as leaders of our district. This includes actively seeking out information, asking thoughtful questions, and relying on data and other facts whenever possible. I also believe it is extremely important that board trustees engage and listen to stakeholders (which can include teachers, administrators, parents, district staff, students, etc.). This enables trustees to make informed decisions that are not based in personal bias and support the notion of building a strong community. At the end of the day, not everyone will agree on each outcome/decision, but if trustees effectively engage others and are transparent in their decision-making process, we can often avoid the toxicity and anger we have unfortunately become accustomed to in our own community.
Q: Hi Jenny! As a childcare provider for 36 years, my personal expertise is on the early years.
And I’m ever more horrified at how expectations in K have gone in the exact opposite direction from research. TK scares the hell out of me. I was further upset by a study that recently came out asking ‘Is Kindergarten the New First Grade?’which was comparing today’s K to that of the 1980s.
I took my early childhood development classes in the early 80s. I was taught, repeatedly, that K in the 80s had lost its original purpose, was the ‘new first grade’. What does that make it now?
When my son started K in 1987, I observed two classrooms and selected the lesser of evils. Two years later when my 2nd son started K, things had started changing and he had a wonderful, age appropriate experience. Oh, and also the summer following he began reading fluently, by 2nd grade he was in a gifted magnet, and is now an engineer. A developmentally appropriate experience not only didn’t hurt him, but compared to his brother I feel strongly it helped.
Truly, as much as I support CVUSD as a whole, I also strongly oppose its kindergarten policies and I tell my clients and anyone else I can that if my kids were that age now, there is absolutely no way I’d send them to K in this district. Maybe not 1st either, depending on their individual development.
I speak to professionals all the time who KNOW this, including people in CVUSD. Yet practice continues to go the other way.
What is your position on this as a whole and what would you support as a board member?
A: Let me first say that my fondest memories of my own K experience, which took place at a similar time as your son's, include building with ginormous blocks and singing endless songs...and I ended up loving school. We see more and more emphasis on preparing children academically at younger ages and, to be honest, I jumped on that bandwagon with our own kids for a period of time out of fear that they would somehow fall behind. Now that our kids are in elementary school, I think so much of the importance of early childhood education really relates to social well-being and, frankly, creating a positive school experience. Unfortunately, I think we also place demands on teachers of children in that age group that aren't appropriate or helpful. The implicit suggestion in your question, that we consider the research that has been done, is a good one. I would want to spend time understanding the data around this issue and also speaking with our TK and K educators as to their concerns and objectives - this a prime example of the meaningful discussions I believe we need to be having with stakeholders in our district. If you have additional reading materials/others who would like to chat about this topic, I would very much appreciate it!
Q: What role does the Board play in regards to the much talked about adjusted LCAP goals.
How can the board members effect these goals:
1. Implement targeted actions and services that support positive student outcomes. (Student focused)
2. Ensure highly qualified and effective staff are provided with targeted professional development, and have an understanding that all job responsibilities are structured to support positive student outcomes. (Internal focused)
3. Provide communication and targeted outreach that informs the community of programs & opportunities that support positive student outcomes. (Community focused)
4. Enhance the social, emotional and physical well-being for all students through targeted actions that support positive student outcomes. (Student and school focused)
A: This question gets to the heart of one of the main issues I have identified as part of my campaign, which is the is need for our board to provide true transparency in its policy development and decision-making on issues that impact our students. Though the board has specific required responsibilities and accountabilities related to the development and execution of the LCAP, it is the community engagement piece that, at least for CVUSD, seems like it will have the most significant impact. Just to level set - district staff have identified specific subgoals and metrics for each of the four goals you note above. As part of the LCAP process, feedback is supposed to be obtained from stakeholders and then from the broader community. I honestly do not believe most parents in our district are familiar with the LCAP/understand what it means. To be clear, this is not unique to the Conejo Valley. I am familiar with statewide data that shows community feedback on LCAP goals is typically quite limited. Given this, as well as our board majority's demonstrated tendency to disregard the feedback of key stakeholders, I believe it is important for the board and district staff to think through other opportunities to solicit community input. This type of broader outreach would help mend fractured relationships with the community served by the board, and will potentially allow deeper insights into the specific areas under consideration/development. It is also extremely important that the board actually consider and evaluate feedback received from stakeholders and the community.
My question relates to all the weekly tests CVUSD puts on the kids at an early age in elementary school - and really also middle school - and the stress this creates in our children. What is your stance on this and the general work load for homework (studying for the tests on top of general homework as well)?
K seems to have lost it focus as a transitional year as well, unfortunately.
I think it is important to ensure our children are academically successful, but it is equally important to support them socially and emotionally. As we continue to ask and expect more of them academically (including through homework and tests), we run the very real risk of causing harm to their well-being. The stress our kids experience as a result of academic responsibilities is real and even more problematic when we do not have the resources in place to provide a balanced approach/support. There has been a lot of recent debate on this topic, given the studies that have come out regarding the results achieved/not achieved through homework. Consequently, some of our schools/classes have created policies scaling back the amount of homework assigned. Other schools in our district have begun to implement different homework philosophies. For example, Acacia Elementary uses a student-centered approach which involves students reading and pursuing their interests using personal learning goals. This approach may not work for every child, but I think it would be extremely helpful to create a forum for the exchange of ideas within our district so that our schools can learn from successful practices employed at each site.
Q. Assuming you win election in the fall, it is very possible you will step into a rather unhealthy board dynamic (yes everyone, I know we could switch 3 seats, but let's prepare for a less perfect result).
Having served on a board myself, I know that my best intentions were often undermined by my lack of skill navigating rough waters. Sometimes you're not working with good faith actors, but still you need to build relationships to the extent that you can get positive work done.
Talk to me about how you'll approach doing good work in what may well be a dysfunctional body when you get to it.
A: This is where I will lean on my professional background. I have been an attorney for over twelve years, which has prepared me well for this exact scenario. When I practiced as a litigation attorney, the best solution for my clients often involved working out a settlement with opposing counsel. This required that I identify a fair resolution that both sides could agree on with individuals who were often extremely and unnecessarily contentious; this meant finding places of compromise while still strongly advocating for my client. I currently work as a in-house corporate attorney. In this role, my guidance (legal and regulatory in nature) is often not aligned with the proposed efforts and activities of those I work with from other areas of the company. This requires that we find creative solutions that address these competing interests in ways that allow us to meet goals/projects in the most effective manner possible. Additionally, I have also previously spent time working on difficult issues with state legislators and as part of my prior employment with the Department of Managed Health Care. In each of these roles, considerable efforts were required to balance or address the competing stakeholder interests, and to find a path forward on issues despite such challenges.
Q. Although I know it is not the board’s job to make specific curriculum decisions, they do vote for or against policies that affect them. And teachers often will do more of what they already know is best when they know they are supported at the top.
I agree we need to increase focus on science and technology. But there are only so many hours in a school day. In order to move forward and teach what will be needed in the future, we need to provide the time by letting go of relics of the past. For example, dropping the teaching of cursive writing is very controversial. Yes, I’ve heard it helps with things like math. But you know what does so even better? Music, and music is a stress-reliever, unlike cursive. One middle school teacher I know argued that it’s ok to drop it- we dont teach cuneiform or hieroglyphics today either!
Another relic is memorization of spelling words and weekly tests. Many studies have shown that it’s quickly forgotten and has no long term benefit. What DOES help is more reading- on any subject, so STEM reading will help too. My youngest didn’t do well on these in elementary school nor did she score well on standardized tests. Because she had some learning difficulties but not quite enough to qualify for assistance in the district, I began homeschooling her in 6th grade. There was never another spelling lesson or practice.
When she was 18, I took her to a psychologist for testing, prior to college. She’d last had it done at age 9. When giving us the results he commented ‘wow, she did great at spelling’, over the 90th percentile.
A: I'm going to answer this in two parts so it is more digestible. ;) My husband and I met in band class in high school and are both self-proclaimed band-nerds who have experienced the positive influence music has on students. On a related note, my interest in community advocacy stemmed from a project in my high school civics class, where we were tasked with speaking to a parent/community group regarding an unresolved problem we saw in our community. Our high school had recently been completely renovated and when funds ran out, as is often the case, the fine arts building was scrapped. Students in the fine arts programs shared an old portable classroom on the new football field and lacked a performance space. When I presented this issue with another student to our school board, most members wrote me off as a young kid (sadly, I still see this behavior on school boards). One member, however, took us seriously and pointed us in the direction of available bond money. After many months of leading community advocacy efforts fighting for this project, the fine arts building was approved and stands on the campus today. I share this story in response to your question, because I think it is so important that we realize the value and impact different programs and services have on children in our schools. This building represented prioritizing something that allowed a huge subset of children in our district to flourish and grow, which helps students succeed in other areas of their lives- including academics.
A2. Your question brings up issues that relate to our declining enrollment and our method of adopting educational curriculum. I strongly believe we need to invest the time and efforts to obtain data on why families in our district choose other options (private school, other districts, home schooling) in order to determine what specific changes need to be made to combat our district's declining enrollment (which leads to less funding for our schools) - we need to use this as an opportunity to determine how we can be better serve the children in our district. Your comment as to why you chose another option for your own child is enlightening and helpful. Additionally, I think our current board majority has set a dangerous precedent by circumventing teachers and administrators to advance particular policies. I believe curriculum should be developed and adopted in a different manner than the current approach. Below is part of my response to a related question that I think is applicable: "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."
CLOSING COMMENTS BY JENNY:
I think I have responded to all the questions posed. If I missed or misinterpreted your question, please let me know and I will be happy to follow-up with you directly. Thank you to all who asked such great questions or participated by reading along. I appreciate your time! I am also always available to answer questions by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or FB message.
As mentioned by others, this election is going to be contentious and we will need a lot of support to be successful. I am energized by this process and ready to continue working hard to bring positive change to our district - I hope you will join me! For those who are interested, the following are ways you can help:
- Consider making a donation to my campaign (any amount is appreciated).
Based on prior elections, it is estimated that candidates will need $30,000 to run a viable campaign.: https://www.crowdpac.com/campaigns/380960/jenny-fitzgerald
-Like/follow and share FB page: https://www.facebook.com/jennyfitzgeraldforschoolboard/
- Follow me on Twitter: www.twitter.com/Fitz4SchoolBrd
- Join my email list to receive updates using the form on the homepage of my website or sending me a message with your email address: www.fitzgeraldforschoolboard.com
- Attend and spread the word about meet and greets listed on the events pages of both my facebook page and website.