Student Forum hosted by Ventura County Youth Coalition, September 10, 2020
School Board Candidates were given six questions in advance of the forum. The following are my written responses to these questions.
Hi, my name is Sandee Everett and I’m a current Trustee on the Conejo Valley Unified School District School Board. I am running for re-election and we need your vote in November.
I grew up in a family of ten children and my mom and dad were both public school teachers. I understand teachers and the value of being frugal and staying within a budget.
I am the full-time mother of five children, three of whom graduated from Newbury Park High School and two that are currently attending Newbury Park. Because I currently have children in the schools, I vested interest in their success.
I earned a master’s degree in education from Purdue University and I hold an active California School Counselor license. One of my guiding principles as a board member is that parents know what is best for their own children. I will always protect a parent’s right to choose what is best for their own children.
Please go to my website, SandeeEverett.com for more information
1. What are your main goals for the District and what changes or improvements do you want to see being made?
My three main goals would be to open our campuses, improve educational outcomes and reverse declining enrollment
OPEN OUR SCHOOLS
None of us expected that our kids would still be sitting in their rooms doing their schooling on the computer rather than back at school with their teachers and friends.
Six private schools in the Conejo Valley have now safely reopened their transitional kindergarten through 6th grade classrooms for in-person instruction. This is because the Ventura County Health Department has now deemed it safe to reopen our kindergarten through 6th grade classrooms using a waiver process. The county health director cited as his reasoning the information put out by the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that have both indicated that for kids, the risks of school closure are greater than the risks of COVID-19.
Among the risks of school closures are severe learning loss; disparities in educational outcomes particularly for low-income, minority students and students with disabilities; lack of social interaction taking a toll on child social and emotional well-being; increased levels of depression, thoughts of suicide, social anxiety and sexual activity; increase in child abuse and less reporting of child abuse; potential lack of proper nutrition; lack of physical activity
Over 12,000 families responded to our school district survey, conducted in May. 78% of parents indicated that they want their kids back on campus this fall. I believe that because the board is elected by parents and the community, we need to respect the wishes of parents while also continuing to offer online learning, especially for teachers and students with health concerns.
The law requires that the school board "offer our children in-person instruction to the greatest extent possible" (EC 43504).
We also need to join together to get permission to open our middle and high school campuses. Until we receive this permission, we need to regularly survey parents to find out how we can improve.
The District has already received millions in federal stimulus dollars to implement all state required measures to safely open our schools. It’s time to do the right thing and let kids and parents decide if they wish to safely return to campus.
IMPROVE EDUCATIONAL OUTCOMES
In addition to opening our schools, we must focus our resources on improving student educational outcomes and decreasing the ever-widening achievement gaps in math, science and English Language Arts, for all students at all grade levels.
As far as enrollment, CVUSD has lost over 1000 students between last year and this year. This is roughly the size of 3 of our elementary schools. Declining enrollment has been an issue for the District for well over a decade. In 2016, the District hired a firm to conduct a study and it was determined that roughly ¼ to 1/3 of all school age children in the Conejo Valley do not attend CVUSD. Since 2005 our District has almost 5000 fewer students.
For every 1,000 students we lose, it equates to a $10 million loss in funding. The success of our District impacts all of us, whether we have kids in the schools or not. Property values are positively impacted by our schools. Many families choose to move here because of our school district. We must reverse our declining enrollment trend by effectively resolving parent concerns and providing the flexibility and programs that bring students back or convince them to stay.
2. How do you plan to address equity and access issues among the students in the district?
First, I want to address the inequities going on because of school closures. The District has many students with disabilities as well as other at-risk students that are struggling with online learning and receiving important services. The board is now permitted to allow these students the choice to receive in-person services and instruction. We cannot drag our feet on this. We must do what is best for the students.
I will continue to advocate at our board meetings for my fellow board members to join me in offering the option for TK-12th grade students with disabilities to return to campus without delay.
Another glaring inequity in our schools right now is that some families can afford to supplement their children’s online learning and others cannot. The achievement gap is growing wider and wider. I received an email from a parent in the district and she stated:
“I urge you and the District administration to apply for the waiver and reopen campuses. It is very discouraging that the District itself is allowing inequities to exist among the children who reside in the Conejo Valley. Children of private schools in Thousand Oaks are beginning to return to campuses and there has been a bit of an exodus of students from public school to private school because virtual learning cannot replace that which is given on campuses. I personally know elementary-age children who think it would be better to be in Heaven at this time. How does a parent respond to that? “I’m sorry, we don’t have the money to sent you to a school that will advocate for your well-being.” The longer the District waits to apply for a waiver, the more significant the inequities in learning, mental and emotional stability will be felt by the children in the Conejo Valley.”
LAUSD did a study during the school closures in the spring. The results indicated that Latino and Black students "suffered deep disparities in online learning." The study indicated that the current crisis has taken a devastating toll on Black and Latino families because many of the parents work in essential jobs as front line workers. This leaves the children at home to get themselves online for school. https://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=&cad=rja&uact=8&ved=2ahUKEwiUl5CjhePrAhUEKH0KHfo6DpUQFjAAegQIBBAB&url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.latimes.com%2Fcalifornia%2Fstory%2F2020-07-16%2Flatino-and-black-students-hard-hit-with-disparities-in-their-struggle-with-online-learning&usg=AOvVaw3JiQQzOtaTCISEE20mJ57T
In addition, in our district many students do not having good internet access. Those families that can afford high speed internet are at an advantage over those using District hotspots. Someone in our community offered our District the opportunity to provide every student in our District with high speed internet access for free. So far, the District has not taken these people up on the offer.
We must prevent a two-tier educational system from immerging during our current crisis. We cannot turn a blind eye to the fact that students that can afford certain advantages outperform students that cannot afford them.
In addition, our school accountability report cards in 2017-18 and 2018-19 show that there are deep disparities among students in at-risk populations.
For example, in 2017-18 in the Thousand Oaks High School area only 30% of Latino students met or exceeded the standards. Only 12% of students with disabilities met or exceeded the standards.
In 2018-19 we improved but still only 54.26% of Latino students met or exceeded the standards and 17.5% of students with disabilities. http://www.conejousd.org/SARC-SPSA
I will continue advocating to focus resources on improving student educational outcomes and decreasing achievement gaps, especially in math, science and English Language Arts, for all students at all grade levels.
3. How do you plan on addressing drug abuse and vaping issues in the District?
Drug abuse and vaping are both huge problems in our community. Ventura County has reached a crisis level number of people addicted to heroine.
ADDRESS UNDERLYING ISSUES
The first question we must ask ourselves as decision and policy makers is what is going on with our children that is causing them to turn to drugs? Are there voids our students are trying to fill? Have the students experienced abuse, trauma, neglect, lack of nutrition, bullying? Do they have learning disabilities such as ADHD and smoking is a sort of self-medication? What feelings are students with drug habits experiencing that are so painful that they are turning to drugs to suppress and cover their feelings? How is social media playing a role in the depression our students are experiencing? What are the impacts of the lockdown? What can we do to help our students overcome their addictions? What can we be doing to prevent students from trying drugs in the first place?
A person can easily become addicted to heroine the first time they use it. Kids need to know.
We first focus on the students and do all that we can at school to encourage them to look forward to a bright future. We must help students to learn coping skills and conflict resolution that effectively allow them to deal with their challenges while continuing to focus on their education. The challenges students are currently facing should not cause a lasting negative impact on their future opportunities to succeed in their chosen careers and educational aspirations.
Every student needs to feel safe and accepted at school. We need to provide a safe environment for learning and give kids the opportunity to discover their passions. Students need to be mentored and encouraged by special teachers, counselors, coaches, music directors and others. I know that some of our schools have programs where students who are sitting alone at lunch are invited by other students to sit with them. No student should feel isolated.
The best thing for students is to develop self-efficacy in an area of interest. The students need to think about the future. How do they envision their life in 5 years? What are their goals. They need opportunities with our local businesses to job shadow and discover their passion. We need to provide more access to Career Technical Education programs for students that prefer to work with their hands and are spatially gifted. Our students with creative and artistic gifts need to be provided opportunities to explore their emotions and talents through art.
SCHOOL PROGRAMS TO EDUCATE STUDENTS
I also support bringing programs into our schools that provide students the opportunity to hear from impactful speakers. For example, I helped facilitate Every Fifteen Minutes at a Catholic HS in Indiana. This is a program to give students insight into the repercussions of driving drunk and ending up in an accident where fellow passengers in the car are killed. The student body also heard from a man that was driving drunk, crashed into a tree and his best friend was killed. The parents of the boy that was killed asked the court not to give the young man the full jail sentence and instead asked that the boy go to jail for a certain period of time and then speak at high schools to tell his story to influence students not to drink and drive. Programs like this can be very effective.
There are many other programs such as reality parties to demonstrate to parents what goes on at some parties.
In addition, I do not think it is right to have a vaping shop across from Newbury Park High School. This normalizes vaping and gives kids greater access. Vaping is dangerous.
4. What are some solutions that you see to improve safety in our schools?
SAFETY MEASURES DURING COVID-19
First, with our current situation, we need to implement all state required safety measures to provide a safe school environment for our students, teachers and staff that choose to return to campus when they are reopened. As I stated earlier, the District has already received millions in federal stimulus dollars to implement all required safety measures. We must use these dollars wisely for the safety of our students and staff. Safety measures include temperature checks, cohorts and smaller class sizes, face masks and face shields, handwashing stations, hand sanitizer, more effective filters on our air systems, classrooms cleaned between classes, and all other required safety measures.
HIRE MORE CUSTODIANS
We need more custodians. Our custodial staff is stretched too thin for the cleanliness required at our schools. Our schools need to be cleaned at level 1 for custodian standards. Level 1 cleanliness standards result “in a ‘spotless’ and germ-free facility as might normally be found in a hospital or corporate suite. At this level, a custodian with proper supplies and tools can clean approximately 10,000 to 11,000 square feet in 8 hours. ”
Currently our custodians are required to clean at least twice that many square feet in addition to the kitchen, set ups and tear downs when needed, work orders and even moving things for teachers.
SCHOOL RESOURCE OFFICERS (SRO)
We need our resource officers now more than ever to keep our campuses safe. These officers are there to handle safety and crime prevention on our campuses. Students need to meet these officers and learn about how important they are to maintaining safe schools.
MEASURE I BOND MUST BE USED TO ENSURE OUR CAMPUSES ARE SAFE
It is important to ensure that we are using our Measure I Bond dollars wisely to make our campuses safe. For example, roofs, stairs, windows and electrical work all need attention, not just big projects.
In addition to physical safety, students need to feel academically safe to respond truthfully during class discussions. Bullying of students with differing opinions is never appropriate. If our children are to succeed in society, they need to learn respect for all opinions and that it is never appropriate to bully someone because of their values or beliefs. There is a tendency to twist students’ words or assign meaning when that was not intended. This is also bullying and a form of gaslighting.
5. How do you handle input from stakeholders that have conflicting viewpoints?
PROVIDE AN EXAMPLE
Board members should be providing appropriate examples of how to respect differing opinions on the board.
LISTEN RESPECTFULLY TO ALL VIEWPOINTS
It is very important as a board member to listen carefully to all viewpoints and worldviews and not to try to twist or distort the intentions of others. Personal attacks directed at board members are unproductive and create divisions and tension. We should sincerely focus on issues.
It is important for board members and the community to deliver their comments in a respectful manner that provides a good example for our students of how to advocate appropriately for their perspective to be understood.
BE FACTUAL WITHOUT MISREPRESENTING THE PERSPECTIVE OF OTHERS
Falsehoods are sometimes spread by political groups within our community about the perspective of parents that come to the board meetings advocating for their children. It is not helpful or healthy to twist the intentions of parents or board members and assign false narratives. I think everyone’s time would be better spent focusing on what they feel is best for their own children and not taking away options from others. Very often, there is a reasonable solution that can meet the needs of everyone.
EXAMPLES OF DIFFERING OPINIONS IN THE COMMUNITY
Once we receive the waiver to reopen our TK-6th grade classrooms, some families may choose to return their children to on-campus learning and some families will choose to continue with online learning. It is important that online options are available, especially for students and teachers with health concerns. When both options are provided, more families will have their needs met.
Another example is our book policy regarding books assigned to students to read for class. Prior to the policy being changed about two years ago, parents and students were given a simple heads up about certain books that contain graphic child rape or other violence. These are not the books that parents remember reading when they were growing up. These books describe child rape in graphic detail that has the potential to be disturbing to students.
The prior book policy was much like our district policy on R-rated movies. Before a student can watch an R-rated movie at school, the parents must give permission. With the former policy, when a book was assigned to students that contained graphic child rape or other violence, there was advanced notice and an alternative book option provided. The simple heads up was meant to be respectful of parents and their right to decide what is best for their own child. We know that one in 10 students under that age of 18 has been the victim of sexual abuse. I believe that parents know their children and their experiences best. Parents know their children's sensitivities.
Detractors of this policy believed that giving parents a heads up about books containing graphic child rape was book banning and censorship. But there were never any books removed from reading lists or the library. Those desiring the heads-up regarding books with graphic content, were not trying to censor or ban books, but just wanted information to make wise choices. One group wanted the heads up, another group did not want to permit this. The group not wanting to allow the heads up told the other parents that they could read all of the books in advance and no heads up was needed. This is unrealistic for some families. Both groups could have their needs met by giving the heads up, but still allowing the books to be used in the classroom. This is what the former policy accomplished.
Online bullying is a huge problem for kids and can cause depression. I understand that online bullying can also negatively impact a student’s ability to focus and thrive at school. We need programs in our schools that teach students what it means to bully someone online. We also need to teach students what to do if they are being bullied online and how to get help.
Unfortunately, some adults in our community do not provide a positive example to students. As a board member, I have personally experienced online bullying and harassment (such as fake twitter accounts mimicking my real account created solely to mock and disparage me). For this reason, I truly understand how students feel that are bullied online.
Students need to understand that spreading false information online about someone is bullying. Mean-spirited personal attacks meant to damage someone’s reputation should never be tolerated. I have tried to be a positive example to students who are being bullied online by not allowing bullies to invade my personal online/social media accounts. I believe students should ensure that they can go onto social media without being bombarded with nasty comments or tagged by online bullies. We are all one community, which is generally a very kind and friendly place. Whether it is students in school or local political races, online platforms should not be so contentious and nasty that after a disagreement is over, it hard to heal.
6. Do you agree or disagree that public schools should put a greater emphasis on critical thinking over testing?
I believe both critical thinking and testing ability are important to student success and that they are not mutually exclusive.
Our Board Policy 6144 Controversial Issues indicates that:
“…Teachers should not spend class time on any topic that they feel is not suitable for the class or related to the established course of study.”
“The Board also expects teachers to ensure that all sides of a controversial issue are impartially presented, with adequate and appropriate information. Without promoting any partisan point of view, the teacher should help students separate fact from opinion and warn them against drawing conclusions from insufficient data. The teacher shall not suppress any student's view on the issue as long as its expression is not malicious or abusive toward others...”
It is very important that students learn to think critically for themselves.
It is never appropriate for a teacher or other students in a classroom try to prevent all perspectives from being presented on a topic. Students should be taught how to think, not what to think. It is important to allow all students to safely express their opinions in the classroom.
Here is a quote from my oldest daughter who is now twenty-six and working in NYC in her dream job. This is about one of her high school teachers at NPHS – my youngest son is lucky enough to currently have the same teacher.
“I loved Mr. LaRocca because his class was super interactive. We often did debates and he always made sure to stay neutral during them. He never told us which political party he affiliated with and encouraged us to figure out for ourselves what we believed as far as politics went.”
Testing is also a very important skill for students to master. Students need to be held to a high standard. Low expectations are a disservice to students if they are to succeed in today’s economy.
The value of students learning to demonstrate their competencies on an exam cannot be underestimated. Test taking is a learned skill and, with effort, can be mastered. There are many coping skills students with testing anxiety can learn in order to overcome it. Examples of coping skills include learning to calm one's nerves by picturing themselves in a favorite place right before the exam begins. Students can also learn to use breathing exercises to calm their nerves. Earplugs can be very useful if a student is easily distracted during an exam or becomes nervous if other students begin turning in their exams early.
Once students learn to think critically and to be able to effectively demonstrate their abilities on exams, they will be much more prepared for their future.