With about a month of school completed, the big question on most school administrators’ minds remains, “How can we improve our community through school reforms?” This question is especially concerning to five candidates running for a four-year term on the Sequoia Union High School District Board. The group of hopeful candidates includes Carrie Du Bois, Georgia S. Jack, Laura Martinez, Allen Weiner and Noria Zasslow, three of which— Du Bois, Martinez and Weiner— have previously served on the board. The candidates, with the exception of Zasslow, who had prior commitments, convened at the district building on Wednesday, September 23 for a public forum to discuss their goals for the progression of the community. The four present members, vying for three available positions on the board, were prompted with questions provided by twenty to thirty forum attendees. Each panel member was allotted a minute and a half to speak on a given topic.
Throughout the the duration of the forum, most of the attention focused on the prospects of two new schools to be developed in East Menlo Park. While the two schools remain in planning stages, each candidate asserted their vision for the two smaller project-based high schools. Weiner, the previous term’s board president, confirmed that the schools will have a technology and design focus to support vocational training for at-risk students. These new facilities are necessary in his opinion because “everyone needs to have literacy, numeracy and problem solving skills.” Du Bois continued along the same lines, stating that smaller more focused schools must be provided “for our most at-risk students.” Martinez, who currently works at the Phoenix Academy in East Palo Alto, which partners with companies such as Facebook, stressed the value of work experience at her school. She envisions a similar program at the new schools. Jack echoed the ideas of her fellow contenders requesting a “small school that is a therapeutic environment.” As the regional population continues to expand, board members hope to accommodate the needs of all students by constructing new facilities to nurture at-risk students and relieve overpopulation at larger schools.
Another topic of interest among attending parents and community members was student and teacher involvement in school reforms. While all four speakers agreed that, in Weiner’s words, “inclusion of teachers in decision-making” is essential, they expressed different views on possible solutions. Du Bois and Jack centered on improving teaching quality through closing the achievement gap and implementation of common core standards. On the other hand, Martinez pinpointed teacher welfare and affordable housing as the crux of the issue.
The candidates understand that communication with teachers is the key to accessing student opinion. Even though the board allows a few student representatives from different district schools, they recognize that these vocal students are not representative of the entire student population. Instead they hope students from across the academic achievement spectrum will voice their opinions and bring light to the different issues around their schools.
In order to create a safe learning environment for everyone, Jack stated that administrators must understand that amidst the high level of academic rigor, students face the “emotional tyranny” of teenage thoughts. Du Bois recognized a major fault in today’s society, especially in our community, that people are “so focused on success in a narrow way of academics.” Instead, she claims, with the support of all three of her colleagues, that schools need to make kids feel comfortable in all endeavors and secure student-teacher relationships to keep students involved. Otherwise if kids do not feel included, they will not perform well.
Through the forum, the candidates demonstrated their qualifications and extensive knowledge of school district proceedings. They represent not only the future of our children’s education, but also, to an extent, the culture of our community through the importance placed on school activities. Regardless of which three candidates are elected to serve on the board, the district will seek to better accommodate a student environment with kids from diverse backgrounds. The candidates possess a passion for education and a bona fide interest in the success of local students.