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?
Aurora Public Schools is in great need of support and leadership. The district is the only one in the state in danger of state intervention if quality ratings don’t improve. Recently released CMAS scores (including PARCC scores in English and math) point to growth in English language arts above the state average, but overall proficiency continues to lag far behind other school districts. This is particularly true in northwest Aurora. For me, student achievement is the single most pressing issue in Aurora Public Schools. Beyond the very real threat of state intervention, I consider it our obligation as educators, parents, families, and students, to push our district to ensure that every student has access to a high-quality education. It is the promise that we’ve made with the families of these students. We owe it to them to deliver.
In my opinion, one of the strongest assets of the school community is the community itself. I have spoken with students, parents, families, resident leaders, nonprofit organizations, local government officials, and business owners who have all expressed the desire to be part of the effort to improve Aurora Public Schools. For example, I have witnessed parents eloquently address the school board, in their native language, with the plea to have a seat at the decision-making table. Some may say, “These parents don’t want to be involved.” I wholeheartedly reject this notion.
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?
As stated above, Aurora Public Schools has demonstrated some academic growth, which is to be applauded. Unfortunately, our students are still performing much lower than needed in order to access the jobs of the future. This includes the high school where I graduated from in 1989, Aurora Central High School.
Some believe that student test data is to be used to punish schools. I believe that student test data is to be used to find out what is working and where there are challenges. By examining test scores, we should be able to uncover existing successes and highlight practices that could be used to increase student academic achievement in Aurora.
However, I also believe that time is of the essence. We do not have the luxury of time to make changes and tweaks that could take years to show results. Models of successful change efforts exist in our state and around the nation that the district could learn from. We must act, as a district and a community, with an extreme sense of urgency to provide a high-quality education for all students in Aurora. This will set them up for success in college, careers, and life.
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?
Keeping my finger on the pulse of the most important issues to students, parents, families, and teachers is vital to the role of school board member. How else do you know the realities of being in their shoes? Since announcing my candidacy for the school board, I’ve made it a point to asks those closest to Aurora Public Schools (students, parents, families, and teachers) what they see as the most pressing and important issues. I’ve accomplished this as I’ve encountered individuals and groups at various community events; spoken to friends and neighbors in my community; and jumped in on conversations with the youth on the block. While most of these spur-of-the-moment conversations weren’t planned, they have provided a wealth of information and insight.
When I am elected to join the school board of Aurora Public Schools, I will actively and regularly seek out the perspective of students, parents, families, and teachers. Some of the organizations that I have already connected with include RISE Colorado, the Asian Pacific Development Center, the African Leadership Group, and the Resident Leadership Council of the Community-Campus Partnership. I am also exploring other avenues to ensure that I would be equally accessible to the multilingual and multicultural communities of Aurora.
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?
In my opinion, the rapidly changing community of Aurora over the last decade, which has been particularly pronounced in northwest Aurora, caught Aurora Public Schools off guard. Rather than proactively changing to meet the needs of the increased numbers of immigrant families, refugees, languages, and cultural backgrounds, the district has been reactionary to these changes in the community. This is most evident with the ACTION Zone of innovation schools in northwest Aurora. This zone was created as a reaction to the threat of possible state intervention after multiple years of low performance.
The school board has the obligation to ensure that all students, regardless of where they live in the district, have the opportunity to attend a high-quality school. The board’s role is to push for urgent change by creating policies that support expansion of what is currently working in our schools, and to learn from (and possibly replicate) what is working to turnaround low-performing schools in surrounding districts and around the country.
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?
Aurora is the most diverse city in the state of Colorado. In fact, it is the most diverse city in the entire Rocky Mountain region. It is a “minority-majority” city where people of color outnumber the White population. Immigrants, many fleeing war-torn areas of the globe, are calling Aurora home, looking to access the American dream.
Aurora Public Schools must be ready and able to educate the children of these families to the highest degree. Education is the greatest predictor of future success and the schools and district must be able to help new students excel in our academic system. I believe that it is the responsibility of the schools and district to ensure that there are adequate interpretation and translation services available; cultural and tribal differences are respected; and parents/families are kept abreast of their child’s academic growth and proficiency in addition to inviting these families to be engaged as valued partners of the schools and district. The Village Exchange Center, which provides coordinated services for immigrants and refugees through a merger with the Aurora Welcome Center, would be a key partner in the engagement of these families.
As the proud son of an immigrant, inclusion is a core belief of mine. As a school board member, I will do all that I can to advocate for important inclusionary practices in every school.
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?
Aurora Public Schools is fortunate to have a community of families that are requesting additional academic and enrichment activities for their children. It is another affirmation that parents and families, regardless of cultural and linguistic differences, are engaged in the education of their children.
While the district has experienced significant cuts due to declining enrollment, I believe that there are creative ways to answer the call for additional educational and supplemental activities. Aurora is home to several existing youth-serving organizations that provide services like tutoring, enrichment, and sports. Outreach to these groups might yield opportunities for partnerships or expansion of services. Further, Denver is home to even more youth-serving organizations that could potentially be tapped for services in Aurora. In fact, in my role as the Senior Program Officer of the Daniels Fund grants program, I have clearly seen a concentration of youth-serving organizations in Denver and a dramatic drop-off of programs in surrounding communities like Aurora. I believe that it would be worth the effort to gain a better understanding of the existing services, in Aurora and elsewhere in the Denver-metro area, that could be possible partners in the effort to educate the whole child.
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?
While I was a student at North Middle School in northwest Aurora, I had a group of bullies who terrorized me every day after school for a period of time. I was too embarrassed to tell my parents, and when I told the assistant principal, the bullying only got worse. The harassment finally came to a head when I was chased into traffic on Montview Blvd. and nearly struck by a car. The memory of this bullying has stayed with me all of these years and I cringe whenever I recall the details.
As we have unfortunately seen in Charlottesville, VA, racism is another ill that still plagues communities across the nation. Similar to other immigrants and people of color, I have been on the receiving end of racist name-calling. I have been told to “go back,” although I am a U.S. citizen by birth. I know how painful it is to experience discrimination and racism, especially as a child.
As a school board member, I will do all that I can to advocate for educational environments that are free of bullying and racism. While school board members don’t have direct oversight of each school, we can ensure that anti-bullying and anti-racism policies are in place. We can also push for quick resolutions when issues arise – resolutions that include parents or other appropriate family members, with accommodations for linguistic differences and respect for different cultural norms.
Finally, as a resident of Aurora and someone who will advocate for our immigrant students and their families, I believe in protecting our students from bullying even from our government. I supported the resolution to keep our immigrant students safe in schools, and I will work to prevent immigration officials from entering schools, tearing the fabric of our communities and dividing our neighbors based on documentation. Families need to know that they can drop their kids off at school without being in danger. Students need to know that they are safe in our schools, that they are fully members of our communities, and they shouldn’t fear that their parents won’t be there to pick them up at the end of the day.
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?
Access and inclusion for all families, regardless of language and cultural differences, is a core belief of mine. Interpretation and translation is not only important, it is vital for parents to be engaged in their child’s education. These services also unlock access by allowing parents to be at the table to inform school-level and district-level decisions.
I applaud the recent move by innovation zone schools in northwest Aurora that used their autonomy to keep interpretation and translation services despite the cuts to this service districtwide. The flexibility to make school-level decisions like this made perfect sense, especially when schools like Crawford Elementary use telephone translations services three times more often than the average school in the district.
In addition, existing interpretation/translation services, including the interpreters bank at the Asian Pacific Development Center, are assisting students and families in Aurora. These services should be looked at closely for possible replication or expansion.
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. Interpretation and translation services are fundamental tools to reach and include parents and families whose primary first language is not English. Personally, I also believe that language accommodations are not the only way to include families and parents. Making sure that teachers and administrators have an understanding of cultural nuances and differences, perhaps through training and immersion into the community, is equally important.
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.
Without question, I would have absolutely voted ‘yes.’ I applaud the authors of the resolution. I feel that it is an important reaffirmation of the role that schools play in our community. It is also an important declaration of what role the schools will not play – that of assisting immigration and customs officials with the enforcement of immigration laws. Schools must be safe zones for all children.
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. To me, school board members have the responsibility to keep their ear to the ground and a presence in the community in order to gain an appreciation for and understanding of what is important to students, parents, and families. For me, this will be accomplished by regular engagement with established organizations that are working with the community, like RISE Colorado and the Resident Leadership Council, but it can also be facilitated by actively inviting the community to be at the table. This includes having parents and students at school board meetings, but it also includes pushing school board members to do a better job of providing opportunities for dialogue and input.