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Santa Maria Sun / News

The following article was posted on November 1st, 2012, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 13, Issue 34 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 13, Issue 34

Lompoc school board candidates weigh in

The Sun talks to the five candidates running for three Lompoc school board seats

BY KRISTINA SEWELL

Academic improvement status, sexual harassment among teens, sex education, and budget cuts are among the issues facing the Lompoc Unified School District. With three open seats on the school board, the Sun sent each of the candidates a list of questions designed to learn more about their platforms. Included are excerpts from a biography of candidate Henry Gallina, who did not submit responses as of press time.

What makes you qualified to serve on the Lompoc school board?

Michael Townsend: I am a concerned citizen and ongoing student; I believe that education is the key to our future. I believe that education influences all of us and one does have to have an education background to be an effective member on the board.

Bill Christen: As a retired Lompoc police officer, I know many facets of our community. Schools are often the safest place for some children ... we owe it to [them to] make our school welcoming and create a learning environment that challenges all children to reach their potential. My current career affords me the opportunity to collaborate with many individuals to foster a healthy and happy work environment. I am also fortunate enough to have the experience of creating and implementing a large corporate budget. If elected, I will continue to work with fellow board members on the oversight of a safe and healthy working environment for the staff and students of LUSD, and seek the best fiscal solutions to our current budget crisis. The most important of my jobs has been that of a father. The role of a parent in today's schools gives me an inside perspective on how schools are touching our youth. I would like to ensure that not just some children, but all children have a safe and successful experience in school.

Henry Gallina: I’m a former school and district administrator with a master’s degree in school administration and organizational development. Seeking a position on the Board of Education is driven by my willingness and desire to share my continuous experience and knowledge of the many facets in our profession to help build a cohesive and forward-looking group to meet the challenges of our future.

Carmela Kessler: I have 38 years of experience in education, 31 of which have been with the LUSD. I was a teacher for 20 years and a middle school counselor for 18 years. I have a wealth of knowledge of how children learn—how to meet their individual needs so they achieve academic success. I know how the district works. I’m aware of the dynamics between district management and district staff. Much needs to be done to improve communication among all parties.

Maria Aguiniga: I am a product of LUSD schools. I attended LUSD elementary and middle schools, and graduated from Lompoc High School in 1990. I then attended UCSB and graduated in 1994 with two degrees. I currently have two daughters (ages 13 and 9) attending local schools. For the past six years, I have been an active parent within the district [on] various committees. I have a vested interest in the community. As a small business owner, past juvenile probation officer, parent, and Hispanic woman, I bring a different perspective to the board.

How will you address the district’s improvement status concerning academic standards? What approach would you take to this issue?

Christen: I would continue the work that the previous board has set in motion, analyzing data and school plans to make sure schools are addressing the needs and making data-driven decisions. I would continue supporting the state-mandated consultants’ work with our staff, and continue working with the superintendent on the schools’ ever-changing vision.

Townsend: There has been some improvement as of late, however, more has to be done. One thing I see is an imbalance of standards between the middle schools and high school. I believe we need to rebalance the schools to bring up all schools to the same standards. We also need to encourage more parent involvement.

Kessler: The district improved the API by nine points or so last year. I will carefully review the educational plan it has in place to meet the objectives for this coming year. English learners and economically disadvantaged students are still achieving below state standards; I will carefully review what is being planned to specifically meet their needs. What will be offered to these students that go above and beyond the regular programs in order to close the achievement gap? In the past four years, the district has spent thousands of dollars on education consultants to help raise test scores. These consultants pretty much dictate to principals and staff what they have to do. I will not support spending another penny on consultants. The test scores haven’t dramatically gone up to justify this expenditure. In fact, [California Standards Test] scores have gone down in some schools that were guided by consultants, and some schools that exceeded state standards did not have consultants. I would support using the district’s own resources (personnel and existing programs) to improve test scores. I would also make sure that newly hired administrators have had experience in raising test scores at their previous schools. This has not been a criterion in hiring administrators.

Aguiniga: I would recommend that the board take a close look at the data from testing, past and current plans developed for the improvement of academic standards, and, most importantly, to look within LUSD schools that have shown remarkable improvement to see what is working. A perfect example is Miguelito Elementary School, where my daughters have attended. The school's test scores have exceeded the 800 benchmark. The interesting part is that there was not a change in student demographics. I attribute the school’s success to the new principal who came in and raised the expectations, brought staff together, and followed the recommendations given by the consultants hired by the LUSD. It took 1 1/2 years, but they did it.

If elected, what would be a priority issue you would address?

Christen: The most pressing issue is our current budget. We need to begin to think outside of the box to generate revenue opportunities: advertise and brand our schools for all of the positive learning that is taking place; attract the attention of students choosing to attend other educational agencies (charter schools or private schools); look at ways to generate [average daily attendance] and be competitive in the education market. LUSD is moving in the right direction; the district and schools are making slow, steady growth to an unattainable target. I believe we need to continue to support our staff and keep the lines of communication open with our stakeholders. With the existing cutbacks, I would like to look at creating a position where a person would work only on applying for and receiving grants. There are many grant opportunities out there, and any little bit would help.

Townsend: We need to raise the standards; preserve higher-level math, science, and the arts to prepare students for the future. The budget crisis must be handled in a way to preserve these goals.

Kessler: If elected to the board, my priority would be to meet all students’ academic needs. Of course, the right policies and educational programs need to be in place. What is also imperative is that communication improves among all stakeholders who ultimately affect student learning. I understand that staff morale is quite low right now: budget cuts, necessary furloughs, and district dictates may all be contributing to this low morale. What LUSD needs most is to improve communication and rapport with district staff. Communication will foster understanding and build trust. Teachers and support staff need to know that they are valued and appreciated. They, after all, are the ones who foster academic growth and student achievement through their hard work and dedication.

Aguiniga: The No. 1 priority would be to bring to the table all of the stakeholders (administration, teachers, classified and non-classified staff, parents, students, etc.) to get input regarding the budget cuts that will need to be made. We need to get the message across that the current economic crisis affects everyone, and therefore we will need to work as a team to prioritize. I think what LUSD needs most is to implement plans that will improve student achievement for all students.

Given the current budget crisis, how can the district improve the learning opportunities of its students?

Christen: I believe our latest testing data shows that even with the budget crisis, our students continue to thrive in LUSD. We need to continue to follow district and site plans, make data-driven decisions, and continue to be the voice of the community.

Townsend: I support Proposition 30; although it is not a magic bullet, it will help us get through the crisis. I want to take a look at some budget issues. For example, I want to look at the district’s health insurance. The company I work for has approximately the same size as the district, yet has much lower insurance costs. ... If we can address items like this with better results, it can save the district and employees [money]. This could also attract new staff to the district.

Kessler: Despite the budget crisis, there are still numerous grants available to educators and school counselors. I would support having a person experienced in writing grants to do just that. This would increase revenues to the district and continue to provide educational opportunities and support for students. I would also work with other community agencies and take advantage of other programs available through the city or county to continue to meet the students’ educational needs.

Aguiniga: The district can improve the learning opportunities of its students by exploring resources that exist nearby, for example Vandenberg Air Force Base, Cal Poly SLO, UCSB, local city colleges, wine/agriculture industry, Space X, etc.

There has been an increase in gang violence at schools in Lompoc. How would you combat this problem?

Christen: Violence and bullying is not the norm—we need to address character education in the school environment and support district/site administration with education code and board policy. We need to create a positive behavior support system within schools to bring about a change in the culture and reduce disruptions.

Townsend: I think one way we can combat this is [by getting] the parents involved in the schools. Also, we could have more afterschool activities to involve the students.

Kessler: Gangs are a challenge for the whole community. LUSD needs to collaborate with law enforcement, local agencies, parents, students, and all stakeholders in order to find an answer to this ongoing challenge. Some students have grown up in a gang environment because of an older sibling or even a parent being in a gang. There is no easy answer. It’s important that school staff develop personal connections with students so they get a sense of belonging and purpose. This can be done through clubs, sports, and after-school activities. Students will not need to join a gang to feel like they belong. It is also important that there is ongoing staff development so that the ever-changing gang language and activities are recognized and dealt with to prevent possible acts of violence.

Aguiniga: Based on my experience as a juvenile probation officer, it's my opinion that mandatory parent/family participation of those students who need intervention is critical in addressing gangs. The failure to incorporate cultural values in the disciplinary process is one reason why there is a disconnect between the educational system and families. Without a dual approach, the gang problem will not be adequately addressed. LUSD needs to also use community resources such as the probation department, nonprofit organizations, child welfare services, and children’s mental health services to help them combat the gangs. ∆

Contact Staff Writer Kristina Sewell at ksewell@santamariasun.com.