With the April election next week, CV Weekly asked candidates for the Glendale Unified School District board of education their views that are of particular interest to our readers. Below are the responses in the order they were received.
In your opinion do you think the GUSD has wisely spent the Measure S dollars?
Vahik Satoorian: Measure S is funds to be used for renovation, remodeling and improvements of old school structures. This helps modernize our campuses, and ensures our students have access to the latest technology.
In my opinion, the selection process of choosing contractors is being done very well. Budgetary details are being analyzed and reviewed by a specially selected committee (Superintendent’s Facility Advisory Committee) in order to make certain that monies are spent wisely. This committee is independent of the GUSD board and administration. In addition, a good amount of the monies are being allocated to upgrade computers and security systems. [I have been a member of the Measure S, Superintendent’s Facility Advisory Committee since its inception.]
Jennifer Freemon: Yes, I believe overall the Measure S dollars have been well spent. Schools are receiving much-needed updates to infrastructure, technology, and deferred maintenance projects. The Measure S Oversight Committee is comprised of a mix of district officials and community members and one of their jobs is informing the neighborhoods about the projects. While the projects are going well and are providing much needed improvements to our schools, the outreach and communication can be improved. It is vital that we are all working together to use these Measure S funds in ways that not only improve our schools, but that also have a positive effect on the surrounding neighborhood.
Kevin Cordova-Brookey: I believe the district has been diligent about how they have been using the Measure S dollars; however, I do not think the communication to the stakeholders about where the dollars have actually been spent is transparent enough. We hear at school board meetings about how the large projects are coming along but not much about details at each school site. Not everyone is able to attend or watches our school board meetings. I would like to see a report sent to the families at each school site with an update on what that site individually has received from those dollars. It would be very beneficial for the stakeholders to know what their child’s school site is actually receiving from Measure S funds.
Nayiri Nahabedian: In the two years since we passed Measure S, GUSD upgraded and modernized many of the older sites, added safety and security measures at all schools, and maximized Measure S dollars by winning matching grants, rebates and incentives. We are taking advantage of Overcrowding Relief Grant for new buildings at La Crescenta Elementary and Lincoln Elementary. Next year, CVHS will get new science labs! And across the district, we have upgraded our technological infrastructure and secured emerging technologies.
Most of all, we have implemented Measure S through stakeholder input and collaboration. From the start, I was pleased we held school site assessment and validation meetings at each individual school to establish needs and priorities. Parents, PTA leaders, teachers and the architectural, engineering and facilities team worked together for best outcomes for students. Finally, the Citizens’ Bond Oversight Committee’s audits highlight both our budgeting acumen and our ability to work cohesively.
Todd Hunt: Yes, I do. After Measure S was approved in 2011, I was appointed chairman of the GUSD Superintendent’s Facilities Advisory Committee and Technology Sub-committee. These committees, comprised of local community members, worked closely with district staff to review all facilities and technology related projects and expenditures. I’m proud of the work we’ve done and I’m confident current and future generations of Glendale and La Crescenta students will benefit from upgraded facilities and classroom technology.
Great examples are the new College View school for our developmentally disabled students; new classroom building at Mark Keppel elementary; upcoming new classroom buildings at Franklin, RD White, Balboa, Verdugo Woodlands; upgraded science labs at Crescenta Valley; upgraded computer network infrastructure and wireless access throughout the district. There are more projects in the pipeline, all of which will help our students graduate with the skills they need to compete in the 21st century global economy.
Are you in favor of the La Cañada territory transfer of the Sagebrush area, specifically concerning the park’s ownership?
Vahik Satoorian: Sagebrush territory is a 385-acre area that has always been served by Glendale schools, and has long been debated by Glendale schools’ administration and residents of La Cañada. La Cañada residents prefer that Sagebrush becomes part of La Cañada, and not Glendale. In November 2014, Glendale asked La Cañada to pay $6.8 million to do this transfer. I am against transfer of the park or any territorial transfer. My stance on the subject is that we must solve this matter through public discussions, and any formal negotiations must be made transparent to the public.
Jennifer Freemon: I believe Sagebrush should stay in GUSD. There is a long history of commitment and community in the GUSD schools that serve the Sagebrush community. Looking at what is in the best interest of the students and families in the area, keeping that strong community school intact is best for both the students and the community. The park has recently become a hot topic as we follow the discussions between the two districts. For students to continue to have a convenient and safe access point to the school, the park needs to remain as is. It would create an unsafe situation for our students if the park were to change in a way that would restrict access to the school. There is no amount of money that can be substituted for student safety. I appreciate the thoughtful way in which the GUSD is approaching the issue and will continue to encourage the districts to be patient and thoughtful as we work through the various issues surrounding Sagebrush.
Kevin Cordova-Brookey: We have to think of what is in the best interest of these children and their families. We also have to think of what is in the best interest of both GUSD and LCUSD.
One of the great things about public education is that you get to go to the schools in your neighborhood. The Sagebrush territory lies in La Cañada. So, as a parent, if you want your child to go to a La Cañada school, you should be able to do that. However, since territory also lies in the GUSD, parents should be able to send their child to a GUSD school if they choose.
A solution to this would be open enrollment for this territory. However, if that is something that La Cañada is not willing to do then we have to provide a solution that has a winning outcome for all residents. The districts continue to negotiate a settlement and that is a good thing. However, we cannot reach a deal with La Cañada that would harm the GUSD financially and impair its ability to provide the education and services the remaining students deserve. The park’s ownership is something that the Sagebrush and Crescenta Valley stakeholders are very passionate about and GUSD needs to pay very special attention to that. We either need to keep it off the table or come up with some deed restriction so that the residents are insured that it stays with GUSD. I fully support continued communication between GUSD and LCUSD to get to a winning solution for all.
Nayiri Nahabedian: The GUSD board did not initiate the territory transfer issue and my strong preference is to keep Glendale Unified united. However, this is a long-standing issue and we must have a final and fair resolution – so that each student, parent and resident can move forward with certainty and security about their future. We have offered a fair and balanced plan to LCUSD, and continue to have open dialogue with them.
As your representative on the board of education, I have been transparent, fair and balanced on this matter. Together with my board colleagues, I have been diligent in seeking input from stakeholders and assessing the legal, financial and long-term impact of a transfer.
Most importantly, I have been diligent in protecting all our students, schools, and the park! We must continue to protect the park for our students’ safety as well as the learning opportunities it provides.
Todd Hunt: As I’ve said, “the Genie is out of the bottle” when it comes to Sagebrush. Therefore, I believe the prudent approach is for GUSD and LCUSD to do the hard work to find common ground and achieve the best possible agreement for both districts. As a board member I will put in the time and effort to ensure that both the short-term and long-term financial impact to GUSD is mitigated.
For me, the park on Ocean View is 100% off the table. I will not agree to a deal that gives the park to La Cañada.
Lastly, Mountain Avenue Elementary must remain a neighborhood school. It’s a special school and we must support it throughout the transition period so that it maintains its unique character and continues to achieve the high academic standards it’s accustomed to. The students and families deserve no less.
Each school in GUSD is different, with varied student population and concerns. How would you work with individual schools to identify that school’s specific need and help them achieve their goals?
Vahik Satoorian: We must pinpoint each school’s weaknesses and strengths in order to help them achieve their specific goals. We are a data and information based society regardless of our professions. We have to analyze such data in order to improve our efforts. The best source to analyze each school’s needs is to study each school’s performance report card. We can compare and contrast schools in order to make informed decisions about needed adjustments and improvements for each school.
Jennifer Freemon: One of the strengths of GUSD is in the tremendous diversity of our schools. We have specialized programs across the district to meet a variety of interests and needs of our various communities. The key is to match the right type of program with the right school. Strong community-based schools need the support to develop those programs which the community views as key to a great education. This could mean an elementary robotics program at one school, an art series at another. The magnet-based schools (i.e. Foreign Language Academies, Clark) need to be in places where they will enhance the community and are fully supported.
The singular key to all of this is communication with the school community. GUSD should be working collaboratively with the community to understand specific needs and work together to create the right set of programs and supports for each school. There is no one size fits all solution and it takes time and dedication to listen and then create the best school possible in each of our 30 unique district schools.
Kevin Cordova-Brookey: I think this is a great question. Each school board member is assigned a certain number of schools that they each oversee. As a parent and active PTA volunteer, I have always been curious to know how often a school site sees their board representative. I asked some administrators at a couple of school sites and those I asked said usually at a Back to School Night, school event (i.e. musical concert), open house or graduation. It seems like they only show up to main events.
As a school board member elected by the stakeholders of our community, I see it as my duty to regularly check in, not to manage what is going on at a particular school, that is the superintendent’s job, but to show that as the elected official you care about what is happening at your schools. We should attend more PTA meetings to hear what parents are talking about. At the middle and high schools we should sit in on ASB or Prom Plus meetings to hear what the students are saying.
I have been PTA leader for almost a decade now and that experience has afforded me the opportunity to see and hear first-hand what the concerns of our school community are and, as a school board member, I will continue those efforts and be an ever-present voice for those I serve.
Nayiri Nahabedian: School-Site Councils and PTAs have been good avenues to assess the needs of particular schools and students. Since they are on the ground at each school site, they provide a valuable and unique perspective.
As your representative on the board of education, it has been my pleasure to collaborate with parents, teachers and community members, those in the front lines, to reach constructive solutions. Back to School Nights, open house and school site visits keep me connected and able to make more informed decisions. When glitches occur, it’s been my privilege to respond timely and effectively. I will continue to support school-site needs. For example, last school year, CVHS had an additional mental health provider relative to other high schools. This school year, Rosemont Middle School has an additional mental health provider relative to other middle schools – supporting the needs of our students!
Todd Hunt: I believe every student in the district deserves a great education –every school matters and every student matters. As a board member I will visit every school to meet with students, parents, teachers and administrators. I’ll listen to their needs and concerns to make sure that board policy decisions are in line with what’s really happening at our schools, because every school is unique.
I was born and raised in Glendale, and graduated from Hoover High School. My four children all graduated from Crescenta Valley High School. As president of Glendale Kiwanis, board member of the Glendale Educational Foundation, and my work with the facilities committees have provided me with a depth of knowledge and experience throughout the entire district.
I know our district very well and will make sure every school and every student has what is needed so that our children and grandchildren get the education they deserve.