Teacher retention has long been a problem in Santa Clara County, particularly for school districts on the Peninsula. What kind of policies would you support to ensure the district can hire and keep instructional staff?
Our support for teachers spans a few broad categories. The first, obviously is direct financial support. We need to ensure that our salaries remain competitive with neighboring districts and those in the broader area, and offer stipends for completing additional degrees and professional development programs.
Housing is the second area of concern. We have a number of existing programs, including efforts to match teachers with local affordable housing and accessory dwelling units, and to make home buying easier by providing help with down payments. The LASD board recently voted to participate in Supervisor Simitian’s efforts to build teacher housing in Palo Alto, a project which, if successful, could give us access to 12 or more units for teachers in the short term and serve as a model for similar projects in the future.
Thirdly, we are focused on providing teachers with ample training opportunities and robust classroom support. In addition to professional development days during the school year, the district and the individual PTAs provide funding for teachers to attend a broad range of training programs and seminars to hone their skills, and in many cases they help disseminate the lessons learned to other teachers once they return. In recent years we have added instructional support teachers in math and literacy who help develop lessons and implement best practices across each school site. In recent years we also adjusted the elementary school schedules to provide teachers with additional collaboration time each week, so that they can work with their peers more closely to refine lessons and exchange ideas about how to best serve each individual student.
Do you believe buying land in the North of El Camino area and building a new campus on it is the right move?
Thanks to a great partnership with the City of Mountain View, we are on the verge of stretching our $150 million in facilities funding into $250 million and purchasing a new campus in the north end of the district. This will not only provide important community facilities and open space to the surrounding neighborhood, it will ensure that the district will have the capacity to serve the children who will live in the thousands of new apartments that will be built in that area over the next couple of decades.
Over the years LASD has had countless conversations both with parents and the broader community, and it has always been clear that a new campus, regardless of which specific students it serves, is a prerequisite for providing long-term facilities for the charter school without either negatively impacting our educational program or placing an undue burden on any single neighborhood. The biggest obstacle has always been the price of land, which is why the district turned to the cities to try to find a mutually beneficial solution, a process which always takes time to come to fruition. While everyone wishes that a solution could have been found more quickly, it is likely that this will be the last opportunity to create a new public school campus and adjoining park in our lifetimes, and the resulting six acres of open space will be a treasure for generations to come.
Why couldn't LASD reorganize the district to make better use of the existing land?
We’ve gotten a lot of creative suggestions about ways to reorganize our campuses. Here’s what I always ask: how will the long term benefits outweigh the short and long term costs, for all of the students, families, and communities affected? Kids are not crates to be stacked in a warehouse as efficiently as possible. Schools are not just containers for children, or obsolete products to be discarded every couple of years, they are living communities that have deep roots, a lesson our history has driven home. The onus should be on those advocating disruption to explain how the changes will benefit all of our families, and improve the educational experience of all of our children.
If re-elected to the school board, what would be your top three priorities?
First, to see the 10th campus acquisition, design, and construction process through to completion, and create a new long-term facilities agreement with Bullis Charter School. The opportunity to create a new 11.5 acre community hub in this neighborhood, including both a school campus and a park, a total of six acres of open space, will not come again in our lifetimes. We have to ensure that it does not slip away. We also need to provide long-term stability for the educational programs in both LASD and BCS, so that both boards can focus on education instead of annual legal wrangling.
Second, to continue to evolve and improve our educational program. In recent years we have provided teachers with increased training opportunities and stipends, with additional collaboration time each week, and with instructional support teachers in math and literacy who help develop lessons and implement best practices across each school site. Our most recent summer school session, which delivered both a summer camp experience and targeted instruction to over a hundred of our most underserved students, not only helped stem the usual summer slide but resulted in impressive educational gains. We are also working on initiatives such as team teaching, which pairs a subject teacher with a special education teacher in the same classroom at the same time, to the benefit of all students of all ability levels.
Third, to strengthen our district’s financial position and develop robust contingency plans in the event of an economic downturn. Our current reserve levels, while above state requirements, are well below those of our surrounding districts, and have not been built up as much as I would like during the long economic boom. We have the unique challenge of directly controlling neither our income, nor our enrollment, nor the demands placed on our facilities, which means we have to be prudent with our contingency planning to ensure that our students do not suffer as a result of macroeconomic conditions outside our control.