Candidate Questionnaire: Gail Pough

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RISE Colorado did not edit or alter candidate’s responses in any way.

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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?

As a parent organizer, and as a mom, my top priority has always been eliminating achievement gaps that leave students of color behind, ensuring that all kids have access to a great education, and ensuring that parent voices are being sought out and taken seriously. Parents and families are our strongest asset. I was so proud to support the resolution supporting safe schools in Aurora – my daughter Kris testified. Our schools exist to serve students and their families! I get frustrated when I hear people talk about how some parents won’t get involved – working families work hard so that they can provide for their children. When I am on the board, I will work with the district to ensure all families are served – that means translation services, child care at board meetings, and part of our culture should be being accessible to families at all times. It means that I will come to you, and not just say that you didn’t come to me.

There are many issues that I want to address regarding APS. School quality is a priority, as too many of our students are behind, and too few are catching up to where they need to be. Secondly, district communication to community members and families is not where it needs to be. APS has the most languages spoken of any urban district, yet communication from the district comes only in English. The school board needs to assure the district is doing all it can to leverage the diversity of our community. There are educational inequities based on geography. All students should have the access to a quality school not just those to the south of the district. Lastly, the achievement gap between students is yet another serious concern. I believe that all students can learn, and that all students need to be supported by their school district.

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?

I plan to work to improve school culture by ensuring school leadership is effectively communicating expectations to staff and students for success. I want to ensure that all schools are using data in meaningful ways to drive instruction and ensure academic needs are being met. It will also be a top priority to improve early literacy so that all students have a strong foundation to succeed in school. I also find it important to implement alternative school models to ensure that students have a meaningful choice of schools to attend that meets their needs. For example, my youngest daughter went to William Smith which is an expeditionary learning school – it was a great fit for her and she was very successful with this learning model. Lastly, improving non-academic supports that focus on meeting the needs of the whole child is another strategy to be utilized.

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’ve served with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). I also served as a parent organizer at Together Colorado and was a parent with kids in APS schools. Working with RISE on their safe school resolution has helped to further my connection to teachers, students, and families. While on the board, I will continue working in these communities and go to community events to hear from families. Placing myself with community members will allow me to stay connected to what our families, students, and teachers need.

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?

There are various aspects that have brought APS schools to the state they are in today. Low expectations for black and brown kids and kids from low income families have stifled our children. Poor school culture and lack of educator best practices have impacted our schools negatively. Lack of teacher support and professional development has left our teachers at an unfortunate disadvantage, which leaves our kids behind. The board’s role is creating policy to ensure high standards and expectations, provide quality school leadership, and to drive the district to value every student, while ensuring that our superintendent is focused on hiring instructional support for current teachers, and ensuring an equitable focus on schools and their needs. The school board has to focus on kids first and not adult issues.

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?

One way to do this is by ensuring that cultural competency is a core value and goal of professional development. The board needs to improve school culture and guarantee high expectations for student success. There needs to be a focus on the whole child so mental, physical, and emotional needs are met in school. Including immigrant and refugee welcome centers would further this approach and help children integrate into APS, and know that they are fundamentally valued as members of our school communities, and not as a burden. I worked to support the RISE safe school resolution to make sure the district is letting parents know they are committed to their child’s safety as well as educational attainment. As parents, we can work together by leading with our shared experiences and building empathy around experiences that we do not share. I think that continuing to listen to diverse communities like RISE would help me understand what more could be done to help kids.

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?

Fostering community partnerships with organizations that provide these activities is one way to provide a holistic approach. Also, we could consider approaching the community for a Mill Levy Override to increase funding for these activities. As a board we can ensure that there is an equitable distribution of district resources to help all schools provide these activities so availability isn’t dependent on neighborhood.

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?

When our students don’t feel safe, it’s much harder for them to learn in school. APS is a diverse district – it must also be an inclusive one that celebrates all students and their families. I would consider creating a committee through a resolution to look into these issues to develop better policies and best practices. I will work with the multitude of community partners to bring people together to make it clear that diversity is a strength for all students, and I will promote integration of schools and ensure equitable distribution of resources to ensure that the diversity of the district is represented in the schools. We must ensure that leaders are creating strong school cultures where these actions are clearly unacceptable – whether racist playground bullying from peers, the harmful racism of low expectations from school systems, or the fear of ICE arrests near schools, I am committed to defending the members of our community.

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?

We need to ensure that grow-your-own policies are implemented with fidelity at the local level – our schools should reflect the communities that they are in. Pathways should be provided for paraprofessional and mentors to move into teacher positions, and it is important that we work with local organizations to ensure that the diversity of the community is reflected in district hiring efforts. In addition, I am committed to working with local organizations to ensure that they are aware of upcoming district events and ask for their help in providing interpretation and other wraparound services for students and families.

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. Increasing the budget is part of this, but it is also important to look to the multitude of community organizations for support. In addition, it would be important to look for state, federal, and private grants to help the district pay for these services. Finally, sometimes it’s about prioritization. The principals of the innovation zone in Aurora used their autonomy to ensure that their schools had additional interpretation services. The district should look at those decisions as they consider the broader district budgeting – parent teacher conferences, school board meetings, and every document sent home from school needs to be accessible to every family.

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 worked alongside parents at RISE in drafting the resolution and I testified on behalf of the resolution. My daughter testified too, because this resolution was important to my family.

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 will reach out to the community and community organizations by attending community events, and soliciting feedback from students and families at schools and school events. I’m also committed to being available to working families. As a working parent, I know that it can be hard to make a 6:00 meeting after school, and as a district, we need to do better – school events that aren’t accessible to working parents aren’t acceptable, and I’m committed to ensuring that everyone has a seat at the table.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]

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