What are the three most important issues facing the Davis school district?
The eight applicants seeking appointment to the open seat on the Davis school board offered different answers to that question in their application for the job.
Board members will narrow the field from eight applicants to three finalists at their May 1 meeting, and select a new trustee from the three finalists during a special meeting Thursday, May 8.
The school board vacancy was created by the resignation in March of trustee Nancy Peterson, whose term extends through November 2016. The appointee will serve through this November, the voters will elect a trustee to fill the remainder of the term.
Here are the applicants’ responses, in alphabetical order:
Tom Adams, director of the curriculum frameworks and instructional resources division of the California Department of Education in Sacramento. He has a child attending the Davis schools: “The three most important issues over the next four years are the implementation of the Common Core state standards and the accompanying assessment system, the switch to the Local Control Funding Formula and the Local Control Accountability Plan, and the improvement of the fiscal stability of the school district.
“The implementation of new standards and assessment will mean a change in instruction and assessment. The Common Core standards call for students to be active learners who will achieve academic independence. The student assessment system will be measuring student achievement in a new manner, and instruction must reflect this changing set of expectations.
“LCFF and LCAP put in place a new fiscal system and accountability system in which many decisions previously made in the state budget have been given to the district. The school district budget will then have to reflect local priorities. At the same time, the district will have to create fiscal stability that accounts for the different state and local fiscal resources. While Davis has enjoyed community support with the passage of local school parcel taxes, the question remains whether current fiscal resources meet the needs and demands of the community.
“As for community input, the current school, district, teacher and parent networks should be used to gauge community values and priorities. In extraordinary cases, districtwide committees may be necessary. However, strategic use of new media resources may help the school board understand community needs. Many parents may not have the opportunity to participate in committees or attend meetings, but they may be able to provide input through social media. Also a student input page needs to be created so that it provides a safe harbor for comment and participation.
“Lastly, all social media input should be tempered with a sense of how representative it is.”
Barbara Archer, a public relations manager for a Yolo County organic produce delivery service. She has three children in the Davis schools: “The ability to focus on the important initiatives — Common Core, strategic plan and Local Control Funding Formula/Local Control Accountability Plan — is a key issue facing the district right now. The district has been in crisis management mode for so many years, and it needs to pivot out of that mode and focus on these core initiatives.
“Finance is the second major issue — LCFF dollars have provided some relief, but we still have major facilities issues and a significant part of the district budget is funded by parcel taxes that sunset in two years. Communications is another important issue at this time. Consistent messaging to stakeholders that everyone receives is a cornerstone of a functional organization.
“Community engagement is necessary for our schools to function smoothly. It is also required for the district’s LCAP. We must roll out a communications plan that is consistent and informs people well ahead of time and reminds them about events, meetings, initiatives and the district’s challenges and successes.
“Community forums, email messaging, social media, the district website content and announcements at school events are all tools the district can employ to foster community engagement and gather information and opinions. Personal conversations with parent leaders and community members are also essential.
“Input from teachers and staff is a critical part of this directive. Ensuring that teachers and staff have representation in the initiatives I mentioned is absolutely necessary for a complete picture of district concerns.”
Alan Fernandes, chief legislative representative for Los Angeles County, works at the state Capitol. He has two children attending Davis schools: “The three most important issues facing the district are the implementation of the Common Core, adapting to the Local Control Funding Formula and the implementation of the district’s strategic plan — all while building and maintaining the public’s trust.
“Over the last several years, the district experienced significant financial stress. Our biggest challenge had been to maintain the quality of our classroom instruction despite funding shortfalls. However, with the passage of our local parcel tax measures and Proposition 30, the fiscal health of the district is starting to stabilize. Nevertheless, because of the structure of the LCFF and requirements of the Common Core, the need for creative and responsible fiscal management continues as we work to rebuild the schools for long-term success.
“Gathering and assessing complete and accurate information is critical to achieving this long-term success. Given our proximity to the state Capitol, the district ought to be able to bring school finance experts to our community to make sure that we are making decisions on the basis of both accurate and current information. In addition, there are other ways to improve both the quantity and quality of information-gathering from multilingual parent information nights, alternative district meeting scheduling to accommodate dual-working households, or even board meetings located at alternating schools within our district.
“Only by actively seeking direct input from diverse community perspectives can a board member make truly informed decisions in the best interest of the district and the children it serves.”
Jose Granda, a professor of mechanical engineering at Sacramento State, has several adult children: “The three most important issues, in this order, are:
“1. Regain the public trust. This is at a level of 2/10 now;
“2. Be open with the public. Good financial planning, control spending; and
“3. Commitment to deliver a college-centered education with opportunities also for vocational education.
“While I believe staff is an important source of information, staff should not be the only source in which to make decisions.
“Maintaining office hours so the public can speak to board members freely may be a good way to listen to the community, parents, teachers, etc.”
B.J. Kline, a Davis school board member in 2001-05, manages a cryogenics transportation company. He has adult children who attended Davis schools: “1. Community trust;
“2. Fiscal health;
“3. Employee morale.
“Information-gathering strategies: maintain open lines of communications with superintendent, listen to the concerns of the community, school site visits are very important, elicit feedback from relevant district-level committees and board two-by-two meetings.”
Robert Poppenga, a professor in the School of Veterinary Medicine at UC Davis. He has two children in the Davis schools: “It is always difficult to list a limited number of ‘most important’ issues when so many public education topics deserve attention. I believe that one of the most immediate issues facing the district is the interconnected triad of better communication/better transparency/engendering public trust among the stakeholders of the district.
“The other top issues in the short-term include 1) implementation of the Common Core and associated student assessments, 2) implementation of the strategic plan action steps, and 3) allocation of new resources under the Local Control Funding Formula and Local Control Accountability Plan.
“With regard to gathering accurate and complete information from district staff, the following are logical steps: 1) ask district administration who the in-house experts are and consult with them or, if there are no in-house experts, find the experts outside the district and consult with them; 2) after consulting the experts, consider the information provided and ask questions; 3) depending on the topic at issue, personally conduct a search of various available information resources; and 4) synthesize collected information, share with colleagues and formulate an opinion or position.
“With regard to assessing what parents and community members thing: ask the question using a variety of methods, conduct open forums, be accessible and listen. One option to explore would be the use of survey tools such as SurveyMonkey to solicit input (this requires Internet access, which might not be universally available). I am also a strong advocate of regular community ‘town hall meetings’ that would be open to a variety of questions about district activities.”
Charles Rairdan, chief of real estate acquisitions for the South Pacific Division of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. He has two children in the Davis schools: “1) Closing the achievement gap. We must find better ways to inspire, engage and mentor the students who are struggling in our schools. We really are all in this together and we need to develop a broader range of instructional options and tools to better address the full range and diversity of educational needs in our community.
“2) Investing more in our teachers and staff. With many district employees eligible to retire in the next five years, the district needs to be well positioned to attract, hire and retain quality talent. In addition to offering competitive compensation packages, the development of an effective professional growth system will also be vital to this effort. The calibre of the district’s existing personnel is a cornerstone of educational excellence in the district and we must not lose that edge.
“3) Successful implementation of Common Core. The emphasis on critical thinking and creative problem-solving skills inherent to this new learning approach is a marked improvement over the former test-centric approach to instruction. Therein lie many opportunities to develop and implement more inquiry-based modes of learning while meeting the new state requirements.
“Seeking staff and community input at key junctures will be vital to the success of these and other efforts. The manner of soliciting input will vary, depending on the complexity of the issues and level of controversy, but effective communications and open and transparent deliberations will promote trust and confidence in district decision-making.”
Madhavi Sunder, a professor of law at UC Davis. She has two children in the Davis schools: “1) Fiscal challenges. The district faces a structural deficit and has substantial capital expenses that the district has long postponed. Declining enrollment places further pressures on the budget.
“2) Academic challenges. The Common Core brings fundamental changes in teaching and testing. There are many children who are struggling in our schools. We need to ensure that all children have access to the programs and support they need to achieve their full potential, and that teachers are properly supported to offer students excellent instruction.
“3) Respect and morale. Teachers, programs and students in the district should be treated with respect.
“I have begun educating myself on the strengths and challenges of each of our schools by meeting with administrators, staff, teachers, parents and students and touring each school.
“I will approach challenges by being connected and accessible, and through deep study of educational policy and best practices in Davis and outside of our district.
“Fiscal challenges should not distract us from achieving our academic goals; we must find ways to partner with the community and with national groups to educate our children. I bring passion and enormous energy to these tasks and would be grateful for the honor to serve our children and our schools.”