To better acquaint our readers with those running for office in the April 2 election, Crescenta Valley Weekly has asked questions of the Glendale City Council and Glendale Unified School District board of education candidates. Below are responses by some of the board of education candidates listed alphabetically by last name.
Next week, we’ll spotlight the city council candidates and include remaining board of education responses.
QUESTION: With recent student tragedies experienced in the foothill schools and growing academic stress, how do you think the school board and district can partner with the community to help students?
Dan Cabrera: First, the school board can let the community know that they are aware of the problem and want to do everything they can to help. Two things the district should do are: 1) Ensure that we have closed campuses. Students that leave campus are exposed to temptations that they normally do not have at school, including sources of alcohol and drugs. 2) Inform teachers and parents how to notice the signs of stress and trauma among students, including dropping grades, withdrawal from activities, lack of emotion, depression and aggression.
Second, parents can be encouraged to visit their child’s campus. Parent involvement seems to drop off after elementary school. For example, middle and high school parents might be encouraged to spend just one period each year in a classroom with their child. I know this would help them understand and relate to their child’s school experience.
Jennifer Freemon: As a representative for our Glendale Council PTA to the Crescenta Valley Drug and Alcohol [Prevention] Coalition this year I see the incredible opportunities for us to bring the community together to protect our precious children. I believe we need to ensure that our children have an adult in whom they can confide and who will help guide them through those periods of high stress and adolescent angst. The school board and district can partner with the community by continuing to reach out to the professionals in our community to create parent education workshops, find mentorship opportunities, and support groups for our students. As a community, we must commit ourselves to both supporting and nurturing our children so they are successful and confident adults.
Armina Gharpetian: Educating students and parents is the key to solve these issues. The school board and the district should not underestimate the power of knowledge and the importance of providing more opportunities by teaching the entire community to be proactive rather than reactive. We need to use all the resources available to us in order to make positive impacts on our children.
One of the best ways to get the word across to our students and parents is by organizing more community forums and educational seminars throughout the year. Secondly, offering more youth programs in our schools can help create a healthier and caring school climate. Third, implementing better protocols in identifying the issues facing our students.
Ali Sadri: Out of the box thinking. The installation of a crises hotline for stressed students. The increased use of the districts Psychological Services. In Santa Ana, for instance, the 20-plus school psychologists are involved in numerous issues. Much of the program is funded through referrals to the Intermediate District. Careful and thorough review of outside safety contractors assigned to monitor students, as it appears that in 2012 some were not licensed as required by state law. There are allegations in Ferraro vs. Glendale Unified where it appears proper attention was not provided. I have personally experienced bullying and I believe that the only concern a student should have is if they have done their homework and not how to survive the day once on campus. We have a great community and we should explore their expertise. I am confident that many will offer and volunteer their expertise for even a greater area and schools.
Joylene Wagner: While academic stress is but one of the many factors affecting emotional health, since academics are central to our mission, we need deeper conversations about the issue. The question comes to the heart of GUSD’s mission as stated in our 2015 Strategic Plan: “…To provide a high quality education that addresses the unique potential of each student in a safe, engaging environment [emphasis added].” A) We need to talk about encouraging academic challenge in the context of a healthy life. The number of AP classes students take should not outweigh the need for sleep or result in the use of stimulants. The “A-G bus” and its riders must park and receive maintenance on occasion! On the other hand, we need also to consider the appropriate amount of time for homework and “pleasure” reading (which I heard at one of my first PTA conventions is one of the biggest factors in college acceptance). Can there be too much community service and “down time” for some students?
B) We need to continue partnerships with groups like the CVDAPC to educate all of us about recognizing and responding to signs of stress and building more emotional/developmental assets for students. I still love the motto of my college: “The Pursuit of Truth in the Company of Friends.”
Christine L. Walters: The first and most important step is to recognize that we all need to work together to best support our kids. The CV community has been very proactive in the past few years in working to address the social and emotional needs of our youth. CV Drug & Alcohol Prevention Coalition, the CV Youth Town Council and The Firehouse are all excellent examples. The district partners by participating in community groups, offering the schools as a meeting place, promoting events and activities and working to remind students that they have help available to them in the community and are not alone. We also share information as much as we are able so that we can collaboratively support students in need.
As the district financial picture improves, a priority for me will be to add more adult support outside of the classroom so that we can better address our students’ social and emotional needs.
The relationship with GTA has been strained at times. What do you think should be done to improve the teacher/district board relationship?
Dan Cabrera: As in so many negotiations, each side, in this case the School Board or the GTA, has identified what they want. Each side must understand not only what the other side wants but, more importantly, specifically why and whether alternatives exist for satisfying those desires.
Separating a negotiation into manageable parts in a calm, courteous manner is a key to reaching agreements. Perhaps a mediator may provide the best solution.
GTA’s many objectives include salary, security, benefits, total hours, and duties. The Board’s objectives include many of these but more public attention has been given to teacher evaluation and furlough days. These negotiation items can be clarified by deciding what, when and how that desire can be satisfied. No individual item is as important as coming to an agreement that shows our community that both sides clearly care most about providing a first class education for our children.
Jennifer Freemon: There is much to the relationship between the GTA and District. At the moment I see a lack of trust between the two entities that then puts them at odds with one another and thus counter to what is best for our students. We need to re-establish an atmosphere of trust so that we can then focus our efforts on what is best for students. I firmly believe our parents, teachers, community member, and district staff all want to see students thrive and succeed. The challenge is creating an atmosphere where we can all get together and be on the same educational page so that our efforts are successful. I believe I bring the ability to help bridge the gap between the district and teachers and can start the process of bringing people back to the table for open and honest discussion of what we need to do in order to help all our students thrive.
Armina Gharpetian: Frankly, this is one of the main reasons that our school board is in desperate need for some change in order to establish healthier relationships. An individual like me with leadership qualities can contribute to build consensuses with GTA and create a better communication channel between the two; something that has been missing for the last 10 years. On the same token, we need someone who won’t have any conflict of interest and will not be influenced by special interest groups. Let’s not forget that the actions and decisions made between the board and the GTA have a direct effect and impact on our children and their future.
Ali Sadri: More ongoing, open and direct communications with the GTA. I had an opportunity to meet with them, they are good people and reasonable – after all, they are teachers whom deserve the best we can offer and the only strain should be strive to provide the best education for students so that our area would be known nationally for its schools.
Joylene Wagner: First, we need to remember that the strain is not unique to GUSD. We know from board members and superintendents in neighboring districts and across the state that many if not most of the teacher associations follow the direction of the California Teachers Association in resisting the accountability reforms of the last decade and fighting school boards for increasingly scarce funding. Given that context, we must continue to move forward with our focus on students, in as positive a tenor as we can, with the understanding that the purpose of analyzing student achievement data is to help teachers succeed in their goal of helping students succeed. We need to work to provide our teachers the support they need in their very demanding and critically important work, and we need to keep the focus on students.
Christine L. Walters: The primary purpose of an employee union is to protect the interests of the employees that it represents. The primary purpose of our school district is to protect the interests of our students. Of course the district wants to be a good employer and the teachers’ union wants our students to be successful. But when times are tough, as they have been for the last few years, our primary roles can put us at odds. I think we have increased the level of trust that many of our individual teachers have with the district, but that trust is not shared at the highest levels of the union leadership. I’m hopeful that as our overall financial picture improves, so will the relationship with the GTA.
What do you feel are the strengths of the foothill schools?
Dan Cabrera: One of the primary strengths of the foothill schools is the community that seems so closely bound by its identity with the foothills themselves and by the remarkable parent and community concern with education. I attended the CV Chamber of Commerce meeting on March 13 and witnessed the presentations to Mary Pinola for her work on behalf of area schools. It was clear that education is a high priority for parents and businesses alike. This is key to the many successes that Crescenta Valley High and its feeder schools have achieved, including the National Blue Ribbon and California Distinguished Schools awards.
Another strength is the support the schools receive for their sports and music departments. Any athletic contest or music performance in CV is well attended and gives the students a sense of spirit that translates into pride, an important element in later adult dedication to community and school success.
Jennifer Freemon: Our foothill schools are fortunate to be in extremely strong communities focused on the success of the schools. Not only do the schools have high levels of parental involvement, the entire community is willing to support the efforts of the schools. The foothill schools are able to effectively support the athletics, enrichment activities, and key supplemental programs for the schools. As a result, we see high levels of achievement, both academic and athletic from the students in this area.
Armina Gharpetian: High performing schools, great parent involvement, strong community bonds, embracing diverse and culturally rich families, strong athletic accomplishments and low high school drop out rate.
Ali Sadri: All students and staff should be treated equally in terms of environment. There are exceptions for special needs and GATE that must be provided.
Joylene Wagner: Overall, the foothill schools benefit from a strong sense of community afforded by the many residents who have returned to where they were raised or who were drawn to the area because of its “small town” reputation and its schools’ reputations. Much as our magnet schools benefit from parental/student choice, the CV schools benefit from parents who choose to move there, understanding the value of community involvement and desirous of opportunity for their children.
Choice begets parent participation begets student academic engagement begets higher achievement begets…more choice. They also have the CV Weekly and the Firehouse to strengthen them!
Christine L. Walters: Our foothill schools benefit greatly from the very strong sense of family within the CV community. This community takes great pride in its schools and has an expectation of excellence in academics, athletics, performing arts and most everything they do. The CV community truly values their youth and has a large network of adults that want to engage and support these students in any way possible. The students of our foothill schools are very fortunate as they are part of a community that wants to see them truly succeed!