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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?
Let me start with the positive and strongest assets of Aurora Public Schools. Our strongest asset lies in our diversity, and it is not simply our diversity of color, but also our diversity of thought, culture, and singular belief that we have the framework to be a cutting edge district. APS is on the right track with the schools of innovation and the P-20 campus of Vista Peak, where my children go. We need to continue down the path of progress for these two areas.
As for the top priority, APS like every other school district, is faced with the same problem of lack of funding for schools. Unfortunately, the district just dealt with a major deficit of funding that should have been foreseen. The district had to make cuts to programs and teaching staff which has caused in some cases larger classes with less staff or programs being cut. I would seek to find creative ways to fund the programs that are being cut, and look at reducing district and school administrative staff, and diverting those funds toward the teacher pay pool. No one likes to make cuts, but at the end of the day, it is the teacher that is needed in the classroom, not another teacher out of a job within the district.
Another top priority is the amount of assessments that are given each year. My daughter, who is now a freshman, took roughly 36 assessments during her 8th grade year. I would be seeking to drastically reduce the amount of assessments given in a year, and allow for the teachers to actually teach the subject versus teaching to a test. But this is not a plug to remove assessments completely. Assessments done responsibly and with an eye toward helping the student find where their strengths and weakness are is invaluable.
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?
Closing schools should be the absolute last resort. As with the accountability clock, there is a 5 year window in which the school has the opportunity to turnaround their performance. If we are getting close to the 5 year window and the school or schools are not making the needed progress, then we have to look at the other options. There are 4 other options, change in management, charter school conversion, innovation status, and district reorganization. The first choice, should a school reach the end of the 5 year window, would be to seek innovation status. This would give the school the opportunity to take a fresh and out of the box approach to create change, and to hopefully be given the freedom to better meet the needs of those students within that community. Any of the other options would be last resorts.
First I think we need to recognize that Aurora Public Schools have showed academic growth according to the Colorado Department of Education statistics. So the goal is to continue that growth, but I believe that the parents and the community and want to see more growth on a greater scale. We must first start with bringing greater transparency to the families and communities. Transparency with respect to how the children are doing individually and collectively, and transparency with how the schools are serving the students. With that, we need input from the parents and the individual schools on what has worked and what has not, and from that point make the changes needed to have the students catch up.
Further, we need to find ways to creatively meet the needs of those students. This could be hiring a core of bilingual teachers who speak a certain language that may match a certain population of students in the school. Another strategy would be the professional training of the teachers. The training that should be given to the teachers and other staff should be acutely focused to that specific school and the challenges that that school faces. I think the board should study the population and challenges of each individual school so that an individual plan can be made specifically for that school with the proper funding geared toward having those needs met. There is no one size fits all when it comes to our schools and the communities that the serve.
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?
Town hall style meetings with the families and communities that APS serves. That is the most direct way to be connected and stay connected. But on a personal level, I am married to a veteran school teacher who taught in Aurora Public Schools for over a decade. For the past 19 years of marriage I have been connected to what she is going through as a teacher and I have been supportive every step of the way. She is effectively my eyes and ears of the day to day realities of a teacher. Further, I have three children, two high schoolers and one middle schooler. My children and I speak every night about their day and what is going on in their schools. These conversations are important to me because as an engaged parent I want to stay connected to their progress. I further stay connected at the local school level by becoming a member in PTAs and programs like Watch D.O.G.S. These programs engage parents and teachers with a focus toward helping all of the children within that school. I also continue to volunteer within PTA, I am currently the Vice President of Advocacy for the National PTA, which is a 120 year old grassroots association with over 4 million members, with a singular focus of making sure public schools are meeting the needs of today’s children. And for me, this is not a cliché, this is the focus and reality that I operate in.
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?
Teacher turnover, lack of resources (i.e. funding, translation services, programs, consistent curriculum changes), and strong leadership from the board. The board’s role is to make sure that each school has the funding and resources it needs to serve the students, teachers, families, and staff of those individual schools. The board must be transparent in its operations and really give the tools to the schools to also be transparent. The board must meet the needs of each student. Aurora is a beautiful community with a changing population. The board cannot afford to be stagnate, it must be maneuverable with the community as it changes.
The board’s role is to set policy for the district and make changes and make plans that are to ensure the proper management and implementation of policy that meets the needs our diverse community. We cannot apply blanket policies, because not all schools and communities are the same.
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?
APS has a welcome center that was started in 2015. The center has been a success with the goal of helping new families with transitioning into the school district. I would want to make sure that the welcome center is fully funded, and expanded to meet the needs of new families and their students. This has been an amazing and positive program, and we want to make sure that it will continue to meet the needs of the students and their families.
Further, the welcome center needs to expand as the community expands, and diversify its services as the community diversifies. We must make every effort to be accessible to the community so that we can know what needs we need to meet for each student, and eliminate that learning gap and resource gap that exist. One starting point, is to make sure that translation services are available to every student that needs them, and not simply over a phone, but in person.
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?
Understanding that the question addresses extracurricular activities, I think before we get to extracurricular, we need to first address the academics. We first need to set policy that addresses the gaps in academic achievement. The board needs to know what languages are in the school community, and what we can do to make sure that child is getting the same level of instruction as the English speaking students. I think we need close that gap first.
Secondly we have to sit down with the budget and really do a thorough budget review. I understand that APS is or has gone through a budget redesign, but we have to look at the budget and review the priorities of the district. The current budget has effectively cut out some extracurricular activities, while leaving others intact. Quite frankly, I would be advocating for the budget to include funding for tutoring, clubs, and sports as well as funding for transportation which is currently a major issue within APS. Study after study has shown that after school activities such as sports, music, and clubs have been proven factors in reducing crime, loitering, and increasing participation in school, improving grades, and behavior. Bringing back and expanding on extracurricular activities is critical.
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?
Students need to see adults within the school that look like them and speak like them. The district has to become more sensitive to the various cultures within the school. And learn to understand that not all cultures and students are the same.
I would advocate for the board to sponsor a district wide program that confronts bullying and racism, and teaches the students how to spot and report those incidences. I want to make sure that all materials are translated into all of the languages that APS has so that no student is left behind.
We must have trained professionals on hand free of charge to students and families so that they can come and speak in confidence about what that student is experiencing, and remedy the issue.
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?
The school should be seen as the central hub for all things students and all things diversity. We need to possibly leverage the very assets contained in those communities, such as utilizing community members who speak the same language as those students as assistants in the classroom or as a core group of parents and community members as tutors. We do not have to necessarily reinvent the wheel when we can use what we already have within the community.
Further, the City of Aurora puts on an event called Global Fest where the various ethnic cultures from around the city can come together and celebrate their diversity. APS needs to take that concept and put on a similar event where the district recognizes the various cultures, and celebrates them, and use that as a networking opportunity for the district. With further thought the event can be an annual fundraiser for the district. But an event like this puts the diversity of APS on display and allows the community to begin to build a coalition of interpreters, paraprofessionals, and mentoring opportunities. Simply put we need to put our diversity on display, and celebrate it.
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. If not an increase, maybe a decrease in other areas at the district level so the saved money can be distributed to the schools to make sure they have access either to an in-person interpreter or translator, or access to the interpreter phone service. We know that the goal of all public schools is to educate each child to their fullest potential, so I have to ask the question, why would we not provide the needed interpretation and translation services to our students and families.
A great example would be to look at the innovation zone schools. We need to study those schools, as they have been given autonomy to address the specific needs of their individual schools. We should be looking at their progress as a road map for progress of other schools. This is critical.
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. Simply put, we are talking about children who also happen to be students of APS. In most cases these children do not have the ability to control their circumstances, so why would we punish them simply because they have some immigration issues that are beyond their control. We must support them and educate them no matter their situation.
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. The board is voted in because the community trusts us to be their voice. My focus would be town hall style meetings with the public in various wards of the city, so we can hear directly from the community about what is working, and what is not working. This would also be a chance for the community to express ideas, concerns, and complements. I would also want to expand the concept of parent coffees, PTAs, and other programs that engage the community.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]