* Editor’s note: This is the last in a series of five stories profiling candidates in the Davis Board of Education race.
School board hopeful Claire Sherman says her candidacy springs from her personal involvement at school.
“I got involved in the school board race because I’ve been volunteering in the classrooms and effecting change that way,” she said.
Sherman started volunteering several years ago in her own child’s elementary classroom, but has continued to volunteer in the early grades, even though her son has moved to the junior high level.
“I go in and help them with math,” said Sherman, who has an extensive professional background in that area, “or I provide some extra hands with art.”
Sherman has seen class sizes increase as the school district has absorbed state budget reductions — and what she’s seen concerns her. “The best teachers I know are not able to scale up from 20 to 30 students. It’s not like a machine where you crank up and say ‘Faster!’
“One of my radical ideas is getting class size in grades K-3 back to 20 students or less,” Sherman said. “And then reapportion larger class sizes at the high school for the juniors and seniors taking honors and AP classes.”
Her rationale: “At grades K-3, students need more attention from a teacher, all those things that serve as a foundation, so they become independent learners.”
On the other hand, Sherman notes that college freshmen at UC Davis taking calculus attend classes that can have “several hundred students. So is it so terrible at Davis High to have calculus classes at 50 or 60 students? The reality is that these are kids who have gone through math successfully. If they were in a college class for the same topic, they would be in a class that would be larger. If these students are going on to college, which most of them are, it readies them for larger classes and how to manage and navigate them, which is actually a good thing. And then the younger kids get what they need — additional attention, smaller class sizes. There are studies that indicate (small class size in the early grades) has benefits that carry through to other grades.”
Sherman acknowledged that many high school classrooms can physically handle only so many students — “the thing that is going to keep down class sizes (at the high school) is the fire marshal. But the idea is to balance this out across grades K-12. Right now, some of the (budgetary) hits are greater for younger kids. I’m not saying older kids don’t need support, but they need it in a different way.”
Sherman said she supports Measure E — the proposed local school parcel tax on the Nov. 6 ballot. But she points out that in terms of class size, “where we are today is where we’re going to be with Measure E. It’s not that we’re going to be able to reduce class sizes (if Measure E passes). It would be the status quo going forward.”
With that in mind, Sherman urges “more people to volunteer. The teachers need help. This is the bottom line, and I look at myself as an example. I work more than full-time, and yet I volunteer — in a classroom that my kid is not in. It’s not just money that’s going to solve our problems. It’s the community helping. And it’s rewarding.”
She also thinks it is important that good teachers be encouraged. “If you find someone that’s gifted as a teacher, make them happy! Keep them in the classroom working with students. That’s where they need to be. And that’s what the students need.”
And she would like to see a more diverse set of opinions on the school board. “You really want to get a school board with five distinct and unique people who bring something different (to the task), because that is Davis. Right now, the school board is very homogeneous, you don’t get these great discussions going. And those discussions would serve the public in a greater way.”
Sherman grew up in Pennsylvania, outside of Philadelphia. She earned a bachelor’s degree in mathematics (with honors) at Penn State, a master’s in biostatistics at UC Berkeley, and a doctorate in statistics at the University of Waterloo, in the Canadian province of Ontario.
In 1994-96, she was a staff fellow with the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. She came to UCD, serving for a year as an adjunct assistant professor and director of the biostatistics unit at the UCD Cancer Center. She then spent a year in Japan as a research scientist with the National Academy of Sciences, living in Hiroshima and analyzing data related to atomic bomb survivors.
She returned to Davis in 1998, serving as an assistant professor in the math department at San Francisco State University. Then she joined the California Environmental Protection Agency in 2000, serving for nine years as a biostatistician in the agency’s Oakland office. Since 2009, she has worked as director of statistics for a Concord-based firm that develops systems designed to improve the safety of blood transfusions.
Sherman’s spouse, Philip Kass, is a professor at the UCD School of Veterinary Medicine.