Mary Anne Van Zuyle (rhymes with style)
Candidate for CVUSD Board of Education
Q&A date: Sunday, April 8 at noon
Anonymous Mommy Facebook Page
Mary Anne 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.
Mary Anne 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.
Mary Anne's Links
About Mary Anne
Mary Anne is a 15-year Thousand Oaks resident with a daughter in college and a son at Westlake High School. She has a master's degree in geology, and works full-time as a spatial data analyst for the city’s Department of Public Works.
She currently serves on the Conejo Valley Unified School District's Career and Technical Education Advisory Committee. She was on the board of the Parent Faculty Association at Westlake Elementary. She has been a team parent for her kids' sports teams when they were young, and she is currently a band mom at Westlake High School. Before her children were in school, she was the advocacy chair of the local chapter of Mothers and More and served at the national level as a survey designer and data analyst.
She strongly believes that public education is the foundation of our democracy and of a vibrant economy. Both she and her husband Paul are Southern California natives, and they have been married 19 years.
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?
It’s not a matter of belief. The School Board’s role is clearly spelled out in Board Policy 6000. The Board adopts curriculum and textbooks as recommended by the Superintendent (emphasis added). The Board sets standards for student achievement and makes sure a process is in place for involving teachers, administrators, students, and parents/guardians in the development of curriculum. The Superintendent (with staff) selects and/or develops curriculum. The Superintendent reviews current research on curriculum and reports to the board on student achievement.
In addition, per the steps laid out in Board Policy 9310, the Superintendent (or designee) develops Board Policy for adoption by the Board. Board members do not write Board 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?
AND (*Mary Anne combined her answer with one of the supplemental questions as she felt they belonged together):
Consider this scenario: a parent who currently has their child in a private school is touring schools and exploring moving their child into the CVUSD. What conversation would you have with this parent about the benefits of attending school within the district? Further, how much importance do you place on communicating with parents whom currently homeschool or have children in private schools?
First, I think we have to put in place a school board that embraces good governance and keeps out of the headlines. The work of the school board should not be controversial and should be based on widely held community values. In other words, let’s stop actively driving people away.
Now a little comparison. Thomas Frank, the principal at Colina Middle School, makes a point of learning every student’s name and who their parents are. Years ago, a family who chose not to go to school in our district was touring a different middle school and was told by an administrator that the only way this administrator would know their child’s name was if they got in trouble.
One of the reasons people leave our district for Oak Park schools or a private school is because they feel their child can get a more personalized education. That decision to leave is often made on a campus tour. I recently asked a school administrator what they would say to a parent who is thinking about sending their child to a different district, and the response was, “I tell them they have to make the right choice for their child.” True, however, it is important to help parents see how a CVUSD school CAN be the right choice for their child.
School principals must be champions for their schools. On school tours they need to ask the parents about their children. What’s their favorite subject? What do they like to do outside of school? Do they have special interests or needs? Then the principal has to think about how that student might fit into the school culture and talk about where the points of connection are. These have to be very personal conversations with parents about their children. It’s not hyperbole to say that the future of our district’s enrollment is in the hands of our school principals.
I think the district should reach out to the groups of homeschool parents and to parents who choose to send their children to private schools and do some market research to understand better what is driving their choices. I am reaching out to these parents during my campaign. It is important to market our school district, but you can’t have an effective marketing campaign if you don’t understand your target audience. Let’s make the district more attractive to those parents who are open to sending their children to public school. Let’s market to those families where we have a chance of swaying them.
One of my core beliefs is that strong neighborhood schools are an essential part of what makes a community a community. Lifelong friendships develop among neighborhood kids who go to school together. And the same goes for parents of those kids. Every neighborhood elementary school must be an attractor to parents in the neighborhood, with a track record of student achievement, a welcoming atmosphere for parent involvement, and a secure campus.
There is so much that we offer in a school district of our size. Marching band in middle school? Sure—go to Redwood. STEM education in elementary school? Special magnet schools at EARTHS and Ladera. Woodshop? Yep, we still have that at Thousand Oaks High School. Scared your kid will get lost in a massive high school? Try the Academy at Westlake. We need to be asking parents all the time who their kids are and what they need.
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?
The City of Thousand Oaks is built out. New housing tracts that bring in families with young children are no longer being built. The City is working to bring housing units into areas currently zoned for mixed commercial and residential use. While these condos may not be attractive to families with young children, younger people may move in, build equity at Thousand Oaks real estate prices, and move into a larger home in Thousand Oaks when they decide to have children.
As mentioned in my previous answer, we have to recapture students who choose to leave CVUSD.
The district risks losing even more students to private schools, homeschooling, and out-of-district schools when they close a school. The cost savings of closing a school must be weighed against the cost of permanently losing displaced students from our district. It will be necessary for administrators to review previous school closures to assess what that percent loss has been for the district. This data might not be readily available, but it exists in raw form in the names of students enrolled in schools in each year, ready to be mined. I will have to be convinced that the apparent savings of closing a school is not outweighed by other costs.
If decline in enrollment and/or a reduction in funding from the state lead administrators to recommend a school closure, I will insist on seeing a very clear process for selection of school sites that includes:
●A timeline for the process (at least 18 months)
●Creating a weighted list of all factors to be used in ranking school sites for closure with community involvement, which may include enrollment, unique programs, number of students who walk/bike to school, California dashboard scores--especially achievement gaps scores
●Community forums prior to final ranking to allow for input from potentially affected parents, teachers, and neighbors about what is special about their schools that the board may not have considered
●A plan for integrating students from a closed school into other schools in the district. This plan should include, at a minimum: priority for magnet schools, priority for child care at the new school, visit days in the preceding school year for displaced students to attend their new schools, and a transit plan to help families who want to walk/bike to their new school.
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?
I am currently in the process of reviewing all of the board policies and associated administrative policies. This is the first place that anyone with an interest in how the district should function must go. It has been eye opening to see how the actions of the current board have strayed from board policies.
The California School Board Association (CSBA) is an excellent reference on the role of the school board. In addition to providing information on how school boards function, CSBA has policy papers on many topics with specific reference to California law.
I will continue to go to the California Department of Education website as the primary source for guidance on state policy.
I currently subscribe to Education Week and receive a number of other newsletters on educational policy. I also subscribe to GovTrack and receive updates on proposed federal education legislation.
I am currently developing relationships with CVUSD principals and administrative staff. As a board member, however, it will be important to channel most of my communication with staff through the Superintendent. Staff work for the Superintendent and not the school board.
I think it’s important to stay in touch with community sentiment on issues and will respond to emails. I will continue to read the Acorn and the Ventura County Star. I will continue to blog, Tweet, and post to Facebook on general topics. However, I think it is important to provide information to people about how I reach decisions with regard to policy matters at board meetings during the agendized item.
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?
Our budget actually runs to 172-174 pages over the last few quarters. It is not a difficult budget to understand, and I encourage everyone who has an interest to review it when it comes up on the Board agenda. It is divided into sections by funding source with a summary at the front of the section and details behind.
The district has to report on our budget meeting certain state standards. When it doesn’t meet a certain standard, the district must make an explanation as to why. Some of these explanations are mundane such as things falling arbitrarily into different budget years. Some are not arbitrary, such as the fact that the district is in deficit spending mode.
I am not concerned about deficit spending as long as the reserve that we are required to hold is adequate. If we have a surplus from previous years, we should be spending it on the education of our children now. I will ask the Superintendent to provide me with a briefing on whether the state-mandated reserve is adequate.
In addition to looking at the budget, it is also important to review the Approval of Purchase Orders over $5,000 Report that is in the Board Agenda packet as a consent item. While we have to trust our administrators to stay within the approved budget, it is important to make sure that no extraordinary purchases are made.
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?
While I work full-time, my work schedule gives me every Friday off. I have been visiting school sites and meeting with voters on those Fridays and will continue to do so after being elected. I am a member of the Career Technical Education Advisory Committee, which meets during the work day, and I am able to adjust my work schedule to attend. I assume that I will serve on additional district and county educational committees and have a flexible enough work schedule to accommodate them. I have attended a genius hour evening showcase at Acacia Elementary staffed by dedicated teachers and TEDx Conejo where I heard amazing CVUSD students share their talent, passion, and wisdom.
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?
As long as public education is not fully funded by the State of California, we will have inequity among our schools. This is one of the very distressing results of having chronically underfunded public education. PTAs pay for reading, art, music, and PE specialists at the elementary level, and booster clubs pay for a large percentage of extracurricular and athletic activities at the middle and high school levels. Title I funds for schools with a larger number of students from low-income families can pay for some of these things, but without changes in funding from the state, we will continue to have disparities in programs offered in our schools.
Our main way of addressing inequity in the district is to close the achievement gap. The district’s new alignment of the Local Control Accountability Program (LCAP) with data-informed decision making can have an impact on equity in educational outcomes in our schools. Based on research by Amanda Datnow at the University of California, San Diego, data-informed decision making can help to reduce inequity in districts. When we use data in elementary school to create flexible groups of students for target time each trimester like they do at Walnut Elementary, we avoid placing kids in tracks year after year which can perpetuate inequity. Data can also help us challenge our beliefs on what works in the classroom which helps us to reduce the achievement gap.
The board must make a commitment to fund successful programs throughout the district equally.
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?
I visited Walnut Elementary and spoke to Principal Aileen Wall about the success of their data-informed approach to student achievement. They follow the best practices for data-informed decision making about curriculum, focusing on continuous improvement in student achievement and making new groupings of students each trimester for targeted instruction. Because Walnut is a Title I school, Mrs. Wall has the funds to hire credentialed teachers to instruct during target time. As the district identifies these successful programs and spreads them throughout the district, choices will have to be made about how to fund the resources that make these programs successful.
Technology programs such as the 1:1 Chromebook program at Thousand Oaks High School can help alleviate inequity to a degree. However, we have to make sure that there are easy ways for students to download material and apps at school in case they don’t have internet access at home.
Inequity in our society will always filter into the classroom. Students who face hunger at home and who have parents with job/financial insecurity will always bring that burden into the classroom. We don’t like to think about it, but we have homeless kids in the CVUSD. As a district, we can’t fix these problems; however, we can make sure that our teachers are trained to think about students’ external circumstances as they manage their classrooms. Teaching students how to regulate emotions and talk through their differences has always been a standard in younger grades (“use your words”), but this type of teaching and learning should continue throughout the upper grades, as well. District administration needs to research best practices with regard to limiting excessive absences, encouraging parental involvement—especially among parents who are struggling or with limited English language skills—and restorative justice in discipline to empower students to resolve conflicts on their own and in small groups with peer mediators.
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?
I think it’s important to acknowledge that the current board has violated board policy 9310, “Board Policies,” when it considered a curriculum policy written by Trustee Everett.
Policy Development and Adoption Process
The district's policy development process shall include the following basic steps…
5. The Superintendent or designee shall develop and present a draft policy for a first reading at a public Board meeting. At its second reading, the Board may take action on the proposed policy. The Board may waive the second reading or may require an additional reading if necessary.
The first step in regaining trust with both parents and teachers is to follow the rules the board has set for itself.
While the process to relocate Conejo Valley High School was less than ideal, I think everyone agrees that a good solution was found. This comes from listening to parents and teachers and community members until a balance is struck. As I have been saying all along, if you have 100 people coming to board meetings to express their disapproval of something the board is proposing, you haven’t found the right solution. People won’t trust you if you disregard their input.
I think that parents and teachers are still working together quite well toward the education of our children. The board needs to not interject itself into the relationships between teacher and student and parent that are at the heart of the learning process. Our teachers are dedicated individuals who give some much of themselves, and they deserve our respect.
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?
I hope everyone is following Superintendent McLaughlin’s presentations about the new approach to the Local Control Accountability Program. I believe this approach has the chance to be transformational for the district. This is the big idea that can serve as a framework for any and all programs the district would like to try.
In times when the budget it tight, it will give us priorities for trimming. If new money flows in from the state, it will allow us to prioritize new spending. It will provide a framework for professional development for teachers, and I believe it will offer teachers opportunities to bring innovative teaching methods into their classrooms.
We have to make sure that there are enough teacher professional development hours available to train teachers on curriculum proven to be effective at other school sites. We have to make sure that we are setting goals that are measurable and achievable. We have to make sure that everything we are trying to do in the district finds a place in the LCAP. And we have to make sure that parents, students, teachers, and the community have a chance to comment on and influence the district’s goals and sub-goals. We may not get it all of it right the first time, but we have to keep trying to use this LCAP framework to drive continuous improvement in the district.
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 four that Mary Anne chose. (Her fifth answer was submitted as part of question one).
A huge thank you to Mary Anne Van Zuyle 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 Mary Anne 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 SUNDAY, APRIL 8, NOON, TO INTERACT WITH MARY ANNE ON THE ANONYMOUS MOMMY PAGE ABOUT HER VISION!