RISE Colorado did not edit or alter candidate’s responses in any way.
1. Aurora is a unique and ever-changing community. Based on your research and understanding of key issues in Aurora Public Schools, what are the top priorities or concerns you have that you’d want to address and what do you see as the strongest assets of this school community?
Based on my research and understanding of key issues in Aurora Public Schools, there are several top priorities and concerns that I have that I’d like to address. Addressing the budget shortfall and establishing transparency is a top concern. It is the responsibility of the board to evaluate every program that APS has and its efficacy. This includes any private contracts that the district has and how they are held accountable. Considering the shortfall, it is important to have transparency and an improvement of communication about how the cuts will impact the entire district. Education needs to be the primary focus of the board and decisions should not impact overall service delivery and/or access to education for ALL students. There needs to be a clear picture of how the shortfall will impact students, teachers, and classrooms. The essential point is that we need to be very strategic in how make our decisions and involve key stakeholders in the decision-making process. With conversations about the low performance of Central High School and questions about potential school closure, it is critical that the Board focuses on programs to strategize improvement and student growth.
There are various assets of the school community. I think that the Board is slowly improving upon communication and transparency with the community. I also know that there are wonderful teachers, students, involved families, administrators, and community resources. There is potential to make APS the greatest school district in the state. We can improve our graduation/completion rates. We can also improve the drop-out rates. It will take an active and involved board to ask necessary questions, to get involved in the schools, and engage the community. Good school systems are derived from good school boards. This election is very important; the board, faculty, students, and community deserve new leadership and fresh perspectives. Aurora is a diverse melting pot of different cultures; it is important that we support ALL students and ALL families to truly transform our schools.
2. As you know, in the 2016-2017 school year there were 19 schools on the accountability clock. What will you do to improve the lowest performing schools and keep them from closing? What strategies do you have to increase academic achievement in Aurora?
There are several strategies that can improve the lowest performing schools to keep them from closing and to increase academic achievement in Aurora. As I mentioned in the previous question, it is critical that the Board focuses on programs to strategize improvement and student growth. There is no one size fits all approach, so it is importantly that we identify the issues that impact the lowest performing schools individually. It is important that we evaluate every practice, program, and procedure to ensure that all students are learning at high levels. At the same token, we need to engage our administrators, teachers, families, and students to find out what’s working. And yes, I meant to add students… It is important that their voice be heard and we include their suggestions and take their feedback as to what is and what is not working. We can also build a mentor/partnership for educators and administrators to establish teams to create shared goals, coordinated intervention plans, and strategic plans to support student learning. We also need to have feedback from the teacher’s as to what’s working and what’s not working. They are in the classroom, day in and day out, dealing with a myriad of challenges. It is important that they have tools and feel support from administration and the school board.
3. A strong connection between high-level decisions made on the school board and the day to day realities of teachers, students, and families is essential. How are you connecting to teachers, students, and families at the school level? How will you remain connected while on the board?
I love learning things for myself and I am a visual learner. With that being said; I don’t do well with the “Take my word for it” approach. I see myself being very involved with the teachers, students, and families at the school level. I would attend back to school nights, plays, activities, resource fairs, etc. I want to be more involved and I want people to know that I am a resource for support. There are roughly 39,184 K-12 Students in the Aurora Public School District. The students come from more than 131 countries and speak more than 133 languages. 36% of the students are second language learners, with 82% of them Spanish-speakers. 71.3% of the students receive free or reduced lunch. 10.4% of the students attend special education programs. 5% of the students are identified as gifted and talented (APS, 2015). I am fluent in Spanish and I’ve lived in Argentina and Mexico. I was recognized as a Community Hero by Viva Colorado in 2012, so I am aware of many community resources to help a diverse array of families and students. Most importantly, I would be able to use my experiences to connect with monolingual Spanish-Speaking students and families to serve as a support.
4. In recent years, we have seen improvements to academic achievement in Aurora Public Schools. However, transformative change and widespread improvements remain to be seen. Why are so many Aurora Public Schools in the situation we currently see with low performance? What is the Board of Education’s role in serving those students of those schools and what were the root causes that brought us to this point?
Several Aurora Public Schools have low performance due to a myriad of issues some of which may range of issues pertaining to the student and issues pertaining to the school. Issues pertaining to the student may include: poverty; low attendance; transportation; housing; medical problems; learning and/or emotional disabilities; etc. Issues pertaining to the school may include: lack of/limited availability of resources (books, technology, and supplies); inadequate facilities; overcrowded classrooms; teacher shortages/turnover rates; etc. Some of the differences in school performance can be attributed to the issues pertaining to the student versus the school. I think it is important to focus on the performance of the student as an individual rather than the school. I know that may be a difficult feat for the roughly 40,000 students in the district, but I think it is very important because there is a vast array of factors that impact performance that cannot be generalized. It is Board of Education’s role to do the following: Put plans, procedures, programs, and systems in place to achieve a clearly defined, desired
Result; Monitor those plans, procedures, programs, and systems against appropriate benchmarks or measures of effectiveness; Change the plans, procedures, etc., if they are not proving successful in achieving the desired result. As a board member, it will be my duty to go beyond the prescribed role and really invest in our students and teachers and find out exactly what is working and what needs to be changed. I am inquisitive by nature and changing the current environment will require board members with the fortitude and courage to ask questions and become fully involved in what is going on in our low performing schools.
5. Considering the diversity in Aurora and the fact that new students and families arrive to the public education system daily from other countries, how do you intend to support new students and families with integrating into Aurora Public Schools successfully?
Considering the diversity in Aurora, it is what makes our community unique and a gem. I love our community and I love the diversity in our community. Growing up, I had a very adverse childhood, we dealt with issues of homelessness, Department of Human Services Involvement, Criminal Justice Involvement, etc. I attended 14 different elementary, middle, and high schools. I went to Lansing Elementary School for the fifth grade. I had a teacher by the name of Ms. Fisch. She is one of the few teachers that I remember by name, because she had that much of an impact on me. She taught me that I did not have to be a victim of circumstance at a young age and she helped me learn ways to cope with issues that I had at home. She introduced me to different books where I developed a passion for reading and used it as an escape from reality. The essential point is that education saved my life and I know how important it is. I graduated from Overland High School, many of my peers chose different pathways in life, but I continued to pursue education. I graduated with my Doctorate Degree at thirty years old, which shows you how passionate I am about learning and about education. I was once a new student in Aurora Public Schools and I felt like I fit right in and that was attributable to the teachers, administrators, and students. I intend to pay it forward and lend the same support that I felt as a child to our families, students, teachers, and administrators. I would do that by being present, available, and supportive.
6. Many families express the desire for additional extracurricular activities for their children. Tutoring, clubs, enrichments activities, and sports all contribute to a holistic education experience for students. How would you support additional extracurricular activities for students from Preschool-12th grade?
I am the director of Senate Bill 94 in Denver, which is a program that provides alternatives to detention for youth ages 10-17. I provide funding for a vast array of programs and services to keep kids safely in their communities. I truly know the value and the importance of having extracurricular activities for students. It provides students with a positive, pro-social outlet that can lend to better coping skills and positive peer relationships. I would absolutely support additional extracurricular activities for students from Preschool-12th grade.
7. Students continually express concerns around bullying and racism in Aurora Public Schools. If you become an APS School Board Member, how will you ensure the safety of all students in APS and help to build an anti-racist and anti-bullying community among students, families, and teachers from different cultures?
It is very important that our students feel safe at school and it is very important to build infrastructure that communicates that we are an anti-racist and anti-bullying community among students, families, and teachers from different cultures. The school climate needs to be safe and positive; our students should feel connected. We need to have effective bullying prevention and intervention responses in the schools and ensure early and enthusiastic support from faculty, staff, students, adult mentors, and community partners. Most importantly, bullying can take form in various ways; we need to stay on top of the ways in which bullying occurs in our schools. We do that by collecting local data on bullying, school climate, and youth violence to raise awareness and motivating others to take action. Our rules and policies need to be clear that bullying will not be tolerated, using a graduated sanctions approach versus a zero-tolerance approach.
8. Based on the diversity in Aurora, how would you leverage the assets of the community to provide support to schools such as interpretation, jobs as Paraprofessionals, and mentoring opportunities for students from community members who speak their same language and reflect the student population?
Being culturally inclusive is not enough, there is a requirement that staff are able to respond to the sensitive needs of our families and students. It comes down to having accessibility to adequate training and resources to work with a diverse population. We need to use community resources to recruit culturally appropriate and responsive supports for our kids and families. If we want more parent and student engagement, it is important that there are resources to support, encourage, and empower them to be more involved.
Please respond Yes or No to the following questions and provide an explanation.
9. Families and students often struggle to receive the interpretation and translation services they need to interact with teachers and engage about academic achievement. Would you support an increased budget for interpretation and translation services to support ELL students and families across the district? Yes or No? Please explain your answer.
Yes, I would support an increased budget for interpretation and translation services to support families across the district. It would be important for me as a new board member to understand the current resources and how families are currently supported. In conducting some research, I found that there is $468,968 in the English Language Acquisition Budget. The website http://aps.abalancingact.com/, says the following: “The ELA department seeks to ensure that ALL students receive equitable and appropriate instructional support. APS is committed to promoting English language acquisition and ensuring academic achievement in inclusive schools that are culturally and linguistically diverse.” It is not clear whether interpretation/translation assistance is taken from this budget to support families as well to interact with teachers. It is very important that there are resources dedicated to offering this assistance to families and students to maximize engagement.
10. The community-led resolution to support students regardless of immigration status passed on May 16, 2017. Here is a link to the resolution: APS Resolution. Would you have voted in support of this resolution? Yes or No? Please explain your answer and provide your thoughts about the resolution.
Yes, I would have voted in support of this resolution. Public schools serve ALL students. Students should not fear coming to school and school should be a safe place that is absent of any political rhetoric that is not inclusive of all people. I wholeheartedly agree that education plays a critical role in empowering our society and paves a way for equity and opportunity. I want all students and families to know that they are supported by Aurora Public Schools. We have a responsibility to foster growth and empower our students and families; their voices will not be silenced.
11. Do you plan to engage the community’s voice, ideas, and opinions in decisions made by the Board of Education? Yes or No? Please explain why and how.
Yes, I absolutely plan to engage the community’s voice, ideas, and opinions in decisions made by the Board. While campaigning, I came up with a unique idea called Cookies and Conversation. King Soopers has allowed me to set up a table outside of the entrance of several of their stores to engage the community. I am the only candidate/potential school board member who has done this. I just talk to community members about what they’d like to see change with the school board/schools in their communities. If I were elected, I would continue this activity to engage the community, because I truly enjoy talking to different people and hearing their opinions. School Board Directors are elected by their community and should be held accountable by their community. They deserve to be engaged and that should not stop once the election is over.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]