Meet the school board candidates – Karen Sylvester

Rather listen than read? Go to https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x5yDcKn7Rhc to check out our full recorded Zoom call with Karen Sylvester. Timestamps for each topic of discussion are located in the description of the video.

Are you able to introduce yourself and what your current occupation is?

Sure. So my name is Karen Sylvester, I’m running for the CVUSD board of education in area one. I am currently retired from being a management business consultant, but I did that many years ago. I’ve spent the past eighteen years as a parent leader and parent volunteer in the various school sites as well as the district level

So why did you choose to run for school board and what are some concerns you have to address in your area?

[laughing] I’m laughing because there are days when I question that. You know, honestly, I have been involved in the schools since my oldest started kindergarten, which is in 2001. So let me just back up, I have three kids. My youngest graduated [from] Westlake High School this past June, so she’s a recent grad, the older two are boys and they graduated six years ago and four years ago. So I have been volunteering since my older started at Westlake hills elementary, I was very involved there, I was involved at Colina middle school, and then I was very involved at Westlake High School, both the PTSA as well as- all three of my kids are theater kids- I got involved with Westlake theater. As I looked at [my situation] I realized a couple things: one, my youngest was graduating, and two, there was an opportunity with the new trustee seats or areas there was no one in this area, and three, so much of my life has been shaped by what I’ve done, and my kids benefited so greatly from the education they received, that it was almost a calling, like I felt like I needed to give back to the district. I had the time, since, you know, I was gonna be an empty nester, I have the energy, I have the background, I have a whole set of business skills which we haven’t even talked about. So it just felt like I could actually make things better and I could make a difference. Twenty or so years ago my husband and I moved out to the Conejo Valley, and at the time I was working downtown, he worked in Hollywood, it was not easy for any of us, for either one of us, but we came out here for the schools, and I think for our three kids we saw the benefit and they all did well. So in terms of issues, I do recognize that not all kids do well, there are kids who don’t get the same benefits of the Conejo Valley school system. I do believe that at the end of the day every kid- every student- really needs to be able to achieve their best outcomes, and what that means is education needs to be provided equitably- and that’s not equally, that’s equitably. So I think that’s the number one goal that [is in] everything I do. And too, and you know I’ve seen this with my own kids and their friends, every student on every campus should feel comfortable, they should feel safe, they should feel welcome, they should feel celebrated, and I don’t think that always happens, and I think that’s a real issue. […] The third thing is, you know, we live in California. There’s just not that much money, there’s just not that many resources, devoted to education, which is a real shame. So I think being able to look at the budget and be able to advocate for funding and do creative things and look at costs is an important aspect of all this. So when I entered the race in February, which is pre-pandemic, that’s really the way I viewed the world, and I’ve had cause over the last few months to say ‘is this still important?’ and what I realized with everything going on that everything I’ve just mentioned has become even more important now and even more difficult to achieve. Does that answer your question?

Yes, and so I see you have had experience in business consulting as well as serving on various district advisory councils, so [what have you done there] to prepare you to be a trustee?

So let me elaborate on what I have done, so for the past nine years I’ve been representative to the district advisory council, what is called D.A.C, you guys have SDAC now but this DAC, DAC. So I would say for the first nine years I kind of did my thing on each of the various school sites and helped raise money, support teachers, communicated with parents and what not. And what I realized pretty quickly when I started attending DAC meetings, because they were monthly, there’s a representative from every school there. It occurred to me that even though the unified school district the challenges on the various school sites differ quite dramatically and, parent engagement and the ability to fundraise at a school like Westlake Hills is very different than that of some of our title one schools or some of the other elementary schools. So I started realizing that there were challenges that were very different outside of the schools my own kids went to so I think just understanding that is helpful as a DAC representative. I mean talk about access , every month we would have different administrators come and speak. The superintendent would come and speak, some of the assistants would come and speak. We have presentations that teachers would give on what they are doing for disabilities awareness week or the challenges with weight, they were handling inclusion or co teaching at the various school sites. I’ve been educated in all things district for nine years, to the tune of three hours a month for eight or nine months, I can’t do the math I’m not going to try. So I really think that knowing all that is incredibly helpful especially given that, again I’ll circle back to the pandemic and what life is like now. We need trustees who when they get seated in the beginning of December are up that learning curve, know what they are doing, and understand all of the issues, understand the context and history of the district. Because I’ve seen four different superintendents I’ve seen different assistant superintendents of instruction I’ve seen what gate used to look like and what it looks like now. I’ve seen what special education used to look like and what parent groups and teachers and students are pushing so that it looks like what it would look like now. So I’ve got the context and history of seeing what works and what doesn’t and I think that is just a [valuable] experience. In an alternate life as a business consultant ‘so what does that mean?’ I have a lot of fancy degrees, I have an NBA from Harvard, I have an undergraduate degree from the University of Pennsylvania which is right on my wall. I’ve spent fifteen years in the business world, I worked with wide varieties of organizations and what I loved about being a consultant is I got to do a wide variety of projects, it wasn’t the same old, same old. So after doing that for fifteen years you learn and approach, what I like to call an approach to decision making and problem solving, which is you do your homework. I don’t go into things without researching whether it is ed code or the financial statements underline something. You do your homework, you research it, you crunch the numbers if you have to, most importantly you talk to all of the state holders and all of the people involved. In a business it would be you talk to a CEO, you talk to all the workers and you talk to all the customers, you talk to suppliers. In a school organization it is a little different, you talk to students, you talk to teachers, you talk to administrators and staff. It is kind of like listening to everybody and listening to all the viewpoints it helps with your decisions. So again I’ve sat on [DAC] before, I’ve worked within the school sites and volunteered within the school sites plus I have business deals. The final thing is currently I’m on the measure I citizens bond oversight committee. Even though my daughter has graduated I still have monthly meetings there and that is looking at how the proceeds the measure I funds are being spent, so I still have my hand in that.

Out of curiosity for measure I, there has been talk of more funding for keeping up with sanitation when we do return to school. Is that money going to come from measure I?

It can’t. So when Measure I was passed which was, I want to say six years ago and it was voted on this was something that went on the ballot, problems such as those in the state of California there are some strict prohibitions or strict delineations on how that money can be used. Basically it is things like capital infrastructure so the stem building up is like high school is one example. The library at TO high school redoing the swimming pool at Newbury Park high school but that is all Measure I funds. The other thing Measure I can be used for is technology, so the way the district has decided to do that is every year each school within the district is given about one hundred dollars per student to use so they can purchase technology. Things like cleaning supplies that need to come out of the general fund, that is not a part of the way Measure I was written. Now technology, so one of the good things about Measure I is after the school shut down in March it was quickly apparent that there were kids or students that didn’t have computers so because of Measure I we had an inventory of about ten thousand Chromebooks. The district was able to give out[in the first month] one thousand of those, when you read LA unified there students were never able to log in because they didn’t have the technology. So because of measure I they were able to give out the chrome books, they them realized of course that just having a device isn’t enough and they followed that out with hot spots and I think one of the big things that need to be worked on is closing the digital divide and making sure everyone has access to high speed internet. To answer your question all of the extra costs associated with the pandemic and getting back to school, unfortunately is going to have to come out of the general funds and that’s an extra expense.

Kind of shifting topics a lot of the candidates this year have expressed their top priorities to be handling school board discussions at meetings, respectfully what are your thoughts on that?

I personally would not want to be part of any discussion where people were not speaking respectfully to each other, that is not how I operate I don’t think that is the way any organization should operate. I think you can have different viewpoints, I think it’s healthy to have different viewpoints, I don’t think any organization, whether school board or school newspaper, If everyone thinks the same way and has the same opinion that’s not good decisions and does not get made that way. So I don’t believe that you want a school board with five people that agree on everything or who have the same background or the same approach. I do think you have to speak nicely to people, I mean that seems so silly to say but I think we’ve seen examples where that’s probably not the case. I don’t act that way, I would never act that way. I believe in treating everyone respectfully.

So regarding what has happened in the past few months with covid what are your thoughts on distance learning and do you think there are any areas of improvement for the district?

[sighs] I’ve spent a lot of time over the past few months talking to lots of different parents. I would say in the spring it was fairly clear and uniform that nobody was particularly happy[with distance learning] and I know in my own household I had a second semester senior so I do understand that engagement levels maybe we’re not going to be the same. The decisions made back then and I don’t think they were bad decisions but decisions made back then to prioritise social emotional health and not have kids worry about their grades. That had a negative impact on attendance, there were days I would walk into my daughters room and she would literally be the only one in her class with maybe a teacher. So there were some problems back then and I do think that the district has addressed the basics, you have to go to school, you have to attend. The teachers have to do live instruction, she had some teachers that would do just a video and post it and therefore you didn’t really have to show up at any given time. So I wholeheartedly think imposing and having some synergynet learning is absolutely critical. Having kids go to class absolutely critical grading absolutely critical. So I think all of those improvements have been made. The question is, alright so everything is perfect now. This is all really new to the students, it is new to the parents who are sitting next to the student and it is new to the teachers. You’re all highschool students so my guess is that you’re probably pretty good at getting on canvas by yourself and accessing your homework and uploading and what not. I honestly can’t imagine if I had a first grade or a second grader what that would look like, I think the more that the school can reach out to parents they have done some of it. Train parents on the technology, train parents on some tools I think that would improve distance learning tremendously. I think teacher training from everything I have seen the teachers are working really, really hard. I dropped a yard sign off to a teacher last week and she was very, very clear that she would go back the next day. She had two younger kids and she would send them back the next day, she said with remote learning all she is doing is teaching her cohort a and cohort b. She barely has time to lesson plan or grade, I don’t think this is easy on anyone but I do think that remote learning is going to be here for a while. I hope that the students and the families that want to go back will have the opportunity to go back but not everybody will, so I think getting remote learning right is very, very critical. I think the district is taking steps in the correct direction, there is no play book here this is all kind of new to everyone. I love to hear from your perspective at a later time and what you all think about remote learning and what your experience has been. Just as one more side, last week or two weeks ago I did sit in on an SDAC meeting and one of the topics of discussion was, they were talking about retention. It was great, it was interesting to hear. One of the points a few of the students made was they felt that with the pace really being twice as fast as before they were worried that from day to day or class to class they were having trouble with retaining the material. They were incredibly worried about what happens when the quarter changes and they are not going to have a class or for one quarter. So these are all really ligament concerns.

Regarding the continuing remote learning for whoever knows how long in the future. How do you feel about reopening school at this moment?

At this moment I fully support, there are two initiatives going on. One getting vulnerable populations back on campus and which is allowed now and I fully support that, I think for kids IEP’s, kids who are learning english I think kids with learning services need to get back on campus. It needs to be done safely. I don’t want to put any kid at risk. I don’t want to put teachers at risk paraprofessional. So that’s the whole small cohort, my understanding is that and I fully support it. The second thing I fully support is the waiver process so I don’t know what happened today but I know the waiver was submitted Tuesday to the county and I do support families that want their kids to go back and these are the little kids we’re talking about. The waiver just covers K-6, so I fully support that and once we move into the red [tear] and if we stay in the red[tear] or whatever the latest hurdles are, I would like to see a slow roll out. I don’t think we open the school on day one and everybody comes back. I think the plan is to have the little kids be back if the waiver gets granted, you have the sixth graders come back and the ninth graders come back. Then you bring back other classes back slowly and you monitor and you put in the right protocols, that’s clear. You need to keep the small class sizes, you need to take temperature, you need to clean desks, you need to encourage the little kids to wash their hands and wear their masks. So you need to do all of it in a very healthy and safe way, but I do believe to the extent possible that we can get kids back on campus, I think we should. Again,I’ll[reiterate] recognizing that not everyone will come back so we don’t abandon remote learning by any stretch, we need to continue to strengthen and make sure that is a robust alternative. Does that answer your question?

Yes, and I do remember you mentioned previously providing technology for the students who are participating in remote learning. How would you continue to address the issue with students having access to the necessary technology?

You know what that is one of the most interesting things that I have realized. If you are learning remotely you obviously need a computer and you need the wifi and what not but honestly if tomorrow covid went away everyone went back to school full time and we weren’t doing remote learning you still need a computer and access to the internet. I do believe that that is an absolute essential tool for every student regardless of whether they’re learning remotely or learning in school. I think there are some initiatives from the state level, Tony Thurmond who is the chief education guy in the state is working hard to close the digital divide and working with private companies and providers, because it is access to the internet that is really part of the issue it is not just the device. It is making sure people have high speed access to the internet. Another thing, one of the students at the SDAC meeting was off camera. Someone queried him about it and he said he didn’t have a web camera, so sometimes it is just the device, it is not just the internet access. It’s getting the web camera so I fully support money spent by the district and making sure people have these devices. Anything we can do with businesses to help with defray or make it free high speed internet I support fully. Regardless of how we are learning

For my final question to you is what do you think are something the district should be doing to help support students and teachers besides the education [itself]?

Well in terms of teachers, let’s start with teachers. Are you talking about just in general or now during the day of covid?

Interviewer: More towards covid related.

Again I think that training for teachers in professional development is key for students. Look we all know that this has been, I hate using the word unprecedented times because that is now becoming just the most tried expression but it is. So I think the social emotional health of everybody really needs to be focused on and it is nice to see the elementary schools and middle schools they put that time in their day and the high schools you guys don’t have that time built in teachers need to mindfully provide that. I mentioned briefly before all three of my kids were theater kids which is interesting to me, that was their community, that was their friends, that was half the reason they would go to school, that was their enjoyment. All of that stuff right now has been taken away and I really really worry about how that impacts kids and their mental health. So to the extent that the district can continue providing time for the social emotional connections and to the extent that they can. Publicize referrals and let families and students know where to go when they’re feeling overwhelmed or anxious or stressed. I think that is partly the job of the school district so I think if I have to say the number one thing it would be the social emotional piece of it and the mental health services and again for everybody. Parents I mean I feel for these parents who are working with younger kids, I can imagine they need support as well and teacher[laughing] we all need support and school board candidates let me tell you we need some support as well. Does That answer your question?

Okay, and then what do you think are some areas that the district is doing well and some areas you hope to see improved in terms of providing equal access to opportunities regardless of [race, financial status or any other factor]?

I mean, there has been incremental improvement that I’ve seen and I do think that the conversations have evolved over the past 18 years. It seems like a lot of it started with parents who had kids/students with disabilities. There was/is a group called PRIV and they really started advocating for their own kids at the district level and now we have SEDAC which is the special education DAC which has become a force within the district. So I think that things are heading in the right direction. [The fact] that the district went on the path of putting together an Equity Task Force and then again these are unanimous votes, that’s a signal. [They] created a new position at the district office and Dr. Miller who oversees Student Support Services reports directly to the superintendent. These are all really positive signs and it shows [inaudible] some of what the district is prioritizing. So again, improvement, reality. It is [inaudible] our, you know, are we doing better by all of these special populations? You know, if you look at the [inaudible] California Dashboard, the answer would be: Not really. There hasn’t been a significant improvement just from an education standpoint, from a college and career readiness standpoint there’s certain groups that are not doing as well. Graduation rates, suspension rates, there is definitely a lot of room for improvement in those areas. So again, I see improvement, I really do. I see encouraging signs, I see some, you know, I see a couple new books that got adopted for the high schools. There’s still a long way to go, long way to go.

Okay, and then I wanted to ask specifically about the english language learner programs that we have in our district. So what are your thoughts on how these programs are being run? Any positive things? Any [room] for improvement in these programs?

So I think when you’re looking at things like language acquisition, one of the concerns is you have kids who are learning language at the same time they’re learning curriculum. So you want to make sure that they’re language acquisition is not getting in the way of their curriculum [retainment]. [To me] that’s the most important thing. So, I don’t have a great handle on how that’s going, but that’s another [inaudible] where if you look at the progress, it’s been incredibly incremental. Some of the issues are, you don’t have a tremendous number of bilingual teachers, even at the [inaudible] schools, some of the admin are bilingual but not all the teachers. So if you’re at a [type of school] where 70% of the kids speak Spanish, shouldn’t there be Spanish speaking teachers? Again, there’s been some improvement. The new principal that was just hired at Conejo Elementary, is bilingual. [So again], there’s been some hiring changes, but it’s far from really being enough. And I think that that’s the representation aspect and the hiring policies, I think would help tremendously in that area.

There’s been a lot of discussions regarding core literature books in the english curriculum. So what is your thought process when evaluating [a book for core literature titles]?

Oh so you picked a big discussion for the past few years. Okay, so when you say core [literature], there was the whole issue a couple years ago with the asterisks, we have moved past that. I have met a couple times with diversifier narrative, as well as the justice in the classroom [students], and I completely applaud their thoughts about diversifying the literature that is being taught at [high school’s]. And it started a couple years ago with a part time- I can never get the title of that book correct. Part Time Adventurers of an Indi- [confused look] – right?

Interviewer: I think it’s “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian,” yeah something like that.

Sylvester: I read it, I read the book. I can never get the title down. But anyway, it started with the two books, “The Underground Railroad” and between [inaudible] both of which books I’ve read, that’s a great start. But I do agree that every grade level should include a BIPOC author, and I do believe that should go back into middle school as well. I also think that when books or even in elementary school level, when you’re talking about books that younger kids read or being read too, I would like to see the books they’re also reflecting on [inaudible] various students and their backgrounds, even in elementary school. Now in terms of how those books get selected, I think the process now which is there’s a whole series of- it starts off as an english teacher recommends book and then it goes through a series of committees and then it gets to the point where they do bring the book forward and have parents, get parents input and I think, again, getting input from [inaudible] is a nice, important thing to do, and then the board votes on it. So it’s nice to have that parent perspective, but I do believe that literature should be driven by the educators. They’re the ones who- they understand the fuller context of what students are reading, they understand how they’re gonna guide the students through the books. Again, good idea to get some input from parents and students as well, but at the end of the day I think it should be educator driven and then obviously approved by the school board. Did I answer your question? I think I kinda went off into a tangent on that.

Do you believe that a diverse set of perspectives is necessary to be represented and is required for literature books for [the CVUSD]?

Absolutely.

And how will you as a board member ensure that everyone’s voice is heard when deciding?

When deciding on the core literature books?

Interviewer: Yes.

Again, I think it’s- I think with everything, it starts with the teacher, but [I applaud] all students who call into board meetings and have public comments and parents who call in board meetings and have public comments. So I think that’s one way you get the voice of students and parents. I think all the various DACs, the regular DAC, the SDAC, the DLAC, all of them [will] drop to the board and have a voice [inaudible] at the table. I think as a trustee, going to these meetings, I know it as a DAC Rep for the past 5 years, there was always one or two board members at the DAC meeting. [Recently I’ve been] at a CDAC meeting and a SDAC meeting, and there was [one or two others]- not a trustee [laughs] – one or two trustees at the meetings as well. So I think it’s good to have the students and their parents come to the board meetings, but I think as a board trustee, you need to go out into the community and the world and go to these meetings as well.

On the same note of inclusivity and curriculum, but with the California Healthy Youth Act, the CVUSD committed to starting the health textbook selection cycle this year. What are your thoughts on including LGBTQ education in the health curriculum?

Well first of all, if it wasn’t for the pandemic, that would have been decided on this past spring and it could have been starting to teach it this fall. Unfortunately, the pandemic kinda disrupted plans. I believe we need to be compliant with the California Healthy Youth Act period. I know they’re working on ninth grade, but on other complaints in seventh grade as well. And a key component of the California Healthy Youth Act is to teach kids about gender, gender expression, gender identity, different types of relationships, sexual orientation [and] all that needs to be included. And it needs to be included not just because it’s the law of the land, but because it’s the right thing to do.
Interviewer: On that note, how would you say that the best way for the district to support LGBTQ students, specifically transgender students. Just in the day-to-day life of going to school.
Sylvester: Well, the first thing is there’s a long [inaudible] that’s about 5 to 6 years old- if I was really good, I’d know the number [like 1266]? Anyway, that guarantees that if you’re transgender, you can use the facilities of the gender you identify with, or you can join the sports to anything thats segregated on the basis of gender or sex, you can join the team that you identify with. So that’s the [inaudible] that needs to be followed. So much of this comes down to education, a lot of it comes down to training teachers, a lot of it comes down to having that curriculum, I mean having the California Health [Youth] Act and being compliant with it, I think would help support students in the classroom. I think having teachers that are trained and I think training teachers of Elementary School students, starting when those kids are young. I mean that’s really when you start having the ability to teach kids acceptance, inclusion, kindness and anti-bullying and all of this stuff, I mean I hate to say it but by the time someone is 17 or 18, it’s a little tougher. But when they’re 7 or 8, teaching them acceptance is so absolutely critical and important. So, I think it’s just doing a whole bunch of that stuff, I think it’s also getting back to literature and curriculum. I think it’s having LGBTQ students see themselves reflected in some of the books they read, see their families reflected. I mean, you could be a straight student, you might have two moms at home, two dads or a transgender mom, I mean there are so many kinds of families out there and I think the more that students can see their particular family reflected in the stuff they read, the better. In my day, all of the books were, you know, a white mom, a white dad and two white kids. And the mom was always in the apron and the dad had the briefcase, and it was- the world doesn’t look like that anymore. I mean there’s maybe some families like that, but the world does not look like that anymore. Then [our] curriculum and our literature, I think it’s caught up a bit. I don’t think it’s quite the way it was when I was in school, but I think there’s still a long way to go. Does that answer your question? [laughs]

What are your thoughts on social and emotional learning in the classroom? Also known as teaching self awareness, self management, social awareness, relationship skills and responsible decision making.

Oh that sounds really good [laughs]. Again, I think that we need to- this is something that teachers need to specifically embed in their teaching and embed in their curriculum, and they need the tools and the training in order to do that. [Because] I don’t think it necessarily comes naturally or it’s [inaudible], If you’re teaching math, it’s not embedded in that textbook. What I love about what they’re doing in the pandemic is that for the middle schools and the elementary schools, they have what they call “Social Emotional Learning Time.” I’ve heard various things about how that’s working out to be honest, and it seems like some teachers are doing a better job of it than others, but at least it’s there, at least they’re trying. I would love to see some time like that set aside at the high school, and I don’t think that’s quite happened yet. And I’d love to see once we go back to life as normal or as normal as possible that that type of thing continues. So, you know, it really comes down to training the teachers, I think, and having the time. I mean, you know, in today’s world and the whole [waste to nowhere] and all of the standards, it’s really really hard, I think sometimes to sit back and have that time to reflect. I saw it with my own kids, you know, 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. was go, go, go and you know, and you’re taking these number of classes, AP classes, you have to take a sport, and you have to do this, and it’s just a crazy world. I think things need to slow down a little so there is that time for self reflection, there is that time to kinda take [inaudible]. I think it’s critical, I do. And It makes me sad when kids are just under such tremendous academic pressures, and I hear stories that that starts in sometimes four, fifth grade, where kids feel if they’re not in that top math class, you know, back when they get that test in fifth grade that their entire academic career is in the toilet. Therefore it’s trickled down to the younger kids, it’s not just “you become a junior in high school and realize “oh my gosh.” It’s [starting earlier] and there’s so much stress and anxiety these days.

I was also wondering what your opinion is on Conejo Valley Social Emotional Specialized Programs? Such as the self contained classes for students with certain disabilities.

So, special education in general, here is one of the ones where I’ve seen this evolve over the years. It clearly, at a lot of the schools, the special ed students were over there, they were kinda off to the side. It was considered a school within the school. No one thinks that that’s a good thing anymore. And what parents and students want is to be included in the general population, to the extent possible. And there’s laws about that, there’s laws about offering the least restrictive environment to students. So the days where the specialized classroom is off to the side of the school and you never see these kids, that is changing a bit. With that said, in the [inaudible] world, there is quite a spectrum, and there are student’s and children who really need so many resources that they probably can’t function in some of the general ed classes. But to the extent that they could find sometime in the day to work with general ed students, I think the more the better. In the high schools and I think even in the elementary schools and middle schools, have what they call Co-Teaching Sections, so I don’t know if any of you have been in any of those. But it combines special education students with general education students and two teachers. You have the special education teacher who [has] been trained in how to teach, kinda the methods of teaching. And then you have the general education teacher who has been taught in the subject matter. And if you think about it, any student having those two types of teachers in a section would be just tremendous, because not everybody- even if you’re a general ed student, not every kid learns the same way. There’s [controversy] there. So, in my opinion, the more that we can have inclusion of our special ed population in with the classes, the better. And there’s been- one example is that at Maple Elementary School, they actually moved one of these SEI classrooms closer to the rest of the school, so the kids could all play together on the playground. Just doing that small thing, really changed the way a lot of the kids viewed each other. I do recognize there’s a need sometimes for having some of these specialized classrooms, but to the extent that we can start including more and more- and look it benefits everybody. This is the 21st century and learning to work with people with different abilities and backgrounds is absolutely key […]

I just have a quick thing, jumping back a little bit to when you mentioned students with anxiety and with grades. Do you have any ideas of programs you’ve used you could implement or thoughts on the programs they have to help students who are experiencing anxiety in that way?

There’s a couple things, so one is a lot of high school students feel they need to take seven, eight AP classes. They work constantly, they get no sleep, they can’t really do much outside of that. I don’t think that’s particularly healthy. But there’s this race to take as many AP classes and [get as many] A’s in your AP classes. So one of the things at Oak Park Unified School District has done and they did it in collaboration- I believe with Stanford University, was to say “We’re going to limit the number of AP classes a student can take. We’re going to look at what your overall schedule looks like, and if you’re a baseball player and you have extra hours of baseball practice a day, we’re going to take that into account and you’re not going to be allowed to take more than x number of AP classes.” And what that does is- colleges, when you’re applying, colleges know that if you’re in Oak Park High School, you can’t take eight AP classes. So there’s no disadvantage of only taking only two or three. So I don’t know- I know they’re doing this, I don’t know the results, there was a little bit of an outcry from the parents in the beginning, but my understanding was that it’s been positive. I would like to, at least explore that possibility. I can’t say it’s the answer, but I would like to explore it. [Because] I don’t want to throw Westlake High School under the bus, but there is definitely a [real] culture there of taking a lot of AP classes, and it’s too much. I mean we’re talking about time for self reflection, there’s no time for self reflection if you’re taking the whole load of courses and you’re trying to do some co-curriculars, extracurricular activities or possibly even trying to hold a job. So I think we need to do that, I think a lot of that is parent education, a lot of that. So that’s just one thing I keep coming back to.

So, regarding budget what would be your top priority for district spending and do you think the district could better allocate its funds?

So, as far as district spending and programming, not a dollar can be spent in the budget that is not attached to an LCAP goal. Do you know what the LCAP goals are? A goal controlled{…}. So every single program and every single dollar spent has to tie back to one of the four goals or more than one goal and so one way to prioritize it is to make sure of that and I think what’s more important than what’s on a piece of paper is the paper saying you know this program ties back to the school is to make sure that you can measure the results of the program and you can go back and say okay we spent all this money on we the people. Did it do what we thought this would? Is this a good use of funds and i’m just picking we the people, i love we the people and i just want to say that. So it’s not just assigning a goal to a program it is actually measuring the effectiveness of that program. Does that make sense? And I don’t know how well thats going on. I know that in the past year or two the budget committee has now been called the LCAP committee so they are trying to mindfully do that so if you can’t measure the effectiveness of spending a dollar that’s a problem. Especially in a world where you don’t have money or a lot of money or much money.

How do you address the funds considering when we potentially do re open schools there’s gonna be a certain budget necessary for custodial surfaces and cleaning supplies? How would you address funding that?

So, a couple things, one is [that] it is clear that there is going to be more costs in the district due covid, when we do reopen. Technology, technology platforms, continued training, janitorial cost, ventilation, cleaning supplies, hand sanitizer and I mean all of that stuff would cost money so the first thing is that I do believe as the school district we really need to advocate at the state levels as well as at the federal level for money period. This is unprecedented times so I wouldn’t really use it but here we need as much money as we can get. So, that’s absolutely critical. I’m sure we all know that California is ranked very close to the bottom in terms of spending per capita as well as number of counselors per student. So that is just abysmal so i think it is a school board trustee advocating for as much funding as possible is absolutely critical. I do think that we need to make sure that in our own house that we manage our costs and that it goes by the LCAP costs and that every dollar we are spending is effective and that the programs are spending are effective and I think we need to make sure the way [we are] organized and operate is officiant and i do believe that any savings or potential cost savings should be kept as far away from students and classrooms as possible. So it’s looking at [an] overhead and such outside of the student and the classroom. I think as far as money there is always a focus on saving money you know, cutting costs, getting the statements[from the] federal government [and for the] federal government to give us more money. The other way to increase the money we gather on the revenue is to increase your enrollment and that is a better way of doing it often than cutting costs. In the past i don’t know how long it’s been going on 5-10 years our enrollment has been declining and it’s not a function of Conejo Valley it is a function of the State of California , birth rights [have been] declining or people [are] holding off having kids. If you look at Thousand Oaks in particular the population is aging and is aging in place, in other words people like it here they wanna stay here. When they get older, they want to stay here and they don’t want to move out and therefore the housing is stocked, there’s less of it, there is less supply and young families with kids are finding it hard to move in. So, all of that has led to a decline in enrollment of our schools and when you lose one kid you lose the money where you know, the way we get money from the state is on a per student basis. When you lose a student you lose funding from the state and you don’t lose all the costs associated with that one student in other words i use the simple example it costs as much to run a school bus with 5 kids on it then it does to run a school bus with 20 kids on it. So, if you lose some of the costs maybe you need one less textbook, but you don’t lose all the costs. So to the extent that you can improve revenue and bring kids in then i think you are in a much better shape then trying to cut costs. How do you improve revenue? One is you are any student that is supposed to go to your schools, you entertain them or you attract them, you advertise all the great things that we do. We have a great anatomy program at Westlake High School. We have Century Academy which is a hybrid academy. Newbury Park High School has a slew of career and technical education classes, even an IB program, the more we can advertise and promote all of the great things we do to keep kids in the district and to quite frankly attract kids from outside the district. The better we are we can convert more of our elementary schools to magnet schools, they are a great way to rebrand schools. I talked earlier about title 1 schools where the dominant language is Spanish, turning them into a dual version magnet school. So many parents of English speaking kids want their kids to learn another language that’s one great way of re branding and attracting students. The more students we can get in. Home schooling is another opportunity, up until this year there were 20 kids that went through the district from home schooling program. Because of the pandemic a lot of parents have decided to go that route there are now several hundred kids in the shine program [and remote learning]. If we can do remote learning really really well, we talked about how there is a great playbook that’s another way you keep kids in the district and you attract kids from outside the district. So, again you wanna advocate for funding for the state and government because i do think education is underfunded and needs to be more fully funded. You do your part and you cut the costs far away from students in classrooms as you possibly can and then you try to push that top line revenue number as best you can. [laughs] That was a very long answer to your question there, I’m sorry.

So since students do make up a huge portion of our district, what is your position on lowering the voting age?

That is an interesting one! I do believe number one the one thing they are looking for is lowering the age of the primary. My daughter is a good example. She turned 18 in April so she couldn’t vote in the primary, but she can vote in general elections. So I think as long as you are 18 and can vote in the general election I think you should be able to vote in the primary. She is better for me, but that is a different story. It would be very easy for me to say we should learn voting age but I don’t know enough about it. What I do wish is that even 18 years olds tend not to vote. I don’t think that if you are 16 or 17, I do believe that if you are involved obviously all of you are then you have the vote. What I worry about are all the 18 to 20 year olds who don’t vote. So, I don’t want to give a bad answer, I don’t know enough about it to be honest.

In terms of the school board election, something I find that I am personally interested in is people that live here, people that don’t have kids in the district vote in school board elections obviously but the students don’t really have a say. What are your thoughts on that?

Well I guess at the end of the day is an election so if I have to restate my last answer it would be wonderful if you can get 16 or 17 year olds to vote in for local politics and I would say that you guys are probably way more educated in voting in the school board election than probably the average citizen in Westlake who is going to show up and maybe would like my name or not like my name, you know vote on that basis. I mean this is a one way conversation [where] you’re asking me questions and I am talking rather endlessly I think, I’m sorry. The more input I can get from you guys to me the better of a trustee that can be, if that makes sense. I don’t have a great answer on this one in terms of voting age, I will do my research and understand what the arguments are and I mean most of the students I’ve come into contact with, you guys are diverse in their narrative. Honestly you guys are much better spoken, well educated and knowledgeable of the issues than a lot of the parents i’ve come across in my meet and greets. If I had to pick between an informed 16 year old to make a decision versus a 65 year old who really has no idea what is going on then obviously I think you guys would make a better choice. That is as much as I can say at this point, I’m sorry.

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