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Orange County, CA November 2, 2010 Election
Smart Voter

Questions for the Candidate

By Judi Carmona

Candidate for Board Member; Placentia-Yorba Linda Unified School District; 2 Year Short Term

This information is provided by the candidate
What follows are a summary of responses to questions I have been asked in the course of this campaign. I welcome voters in the PYLUSD to read this information to have a better idea of my positions on important issues facing our district.
1. Why are you running for the School Board? To help meet the need for serious budget cuts in 09-10, the district decided to offer an incentive for early retirement to senior teachers in the district. While I was still very much enjoying my job, the incentive made excellent financial sense to me. I am passionate about our school district, so I am seeking a new and meaningful way to serve the students, teachers, parents, and administrators and decided to run for a position on the school board.

2. What do you see as the Board Members responsibilities? The school board is responsible for developing policies to ensure proper management and control of district affairs, equitable allocation of district resources, and supporting the mission of educating our students to help each reach their full potential. This work involves the inclusion of all stakeholders: Parents, teachers, district support staff, administrators, and community members.

3. School Districts facing budget cuts have reduced instructional days to balance their budgets and reduce layoffs. Do you have a better option? I have wrestled with this very question. As an educator I have always felt we need more days in the classroom, not fewer. But balancing this against addressing the needs of the whole child by being able to offer participation in the excellent visual and performing arts programs, physical education, athletics, and early intervention programs, and the answer to a balanced budget becomes less clear. The district has been very proactive in dealing with budget shortfalls in the last several years, but in 09-10, hard choices had to be made. In my estimation, the decision, which was agreed upon by administrators, teachers, and classified staff, was the best option of all the difficult choices.

4. How can the achievement gap between schools in the poorer parts of the district and schools in better off communities be addressed? I am proud to have been integrally involved in the development of our district's Response to Intervention Program. As an Invention Instructional Specialist, it was my job to help the schools develop their programs to address the learning deficits of their students who are At-Risk of falling behind their same age peers. You can find these students at every school in the district. Through this program and the early identification of students who will benefit from an intervention program, we have been able to see improvement in scores of our children across the district. Well-constructed RtI plans, strong leadership, and effective instruction will continue to lead to significant gains in student achievement district-wide.

5. How would you propose to implement a better teacher to student ratio in the classroom? This is a very difficult question. Do we ensure a less than 20 to 1 ratio in the first and second grades, even if it means our algebra students will be in a class of 38 or more? Very often, the easy decision seems to be to add more kids to PE classes, but that is not fair, either. The planning of the master schedule at middle and high schools and the allocation of students to classrooms at the elementary level will be made by fair-minded administrators with input from their teachers.

6. What skills, qualities and accomplishments make you the best possible candidate? Among the candidates running for the two year position, I hold a particularly unique perspective. While all of us have been parents of students in the district and, most likely, have served as classroom or school volunteers, I am proud of the years in which I have served as a teacher in schools from one end of the district to the other. As a special education teacher I have worked with elementary and middle school students with learning disabilities. In my last position in the district as a TOSA (teacher on special assignment), I worked closely with administrators and teachers planning sessions to meet their professional development needs and helping to form intervention programs for At-Risk students. I hold a Master of Science in Education degree and am proud to have been named the PYLUSD Teacher of the Year in 2004.

7. Do you have a position on the full inclusion of special needs children in the regular classroom? Yes. I believe fervently in all students being placed in the Least Restrictive Environment that will allow them access to a learning program appropriate for them. For many students, this may be a general education classroom with accommodations or special resources. For others, it may be more appropriate to receive their Individualized Education Program in a special classroom. The placement of students with disabilities can only be made by a team which includes their parents, teachers (both general and special education), and administrators. Together, this team will make the decision about the appropriate placement for each student to maximize their learning potential.

8. The recent school boundary changes have had an impact on balancing enrollments and K-12 continuity. How would you improve the current situation? I would improve the current situation in three ways:
1. The district has an Open Enrollment period when transfer requests within the district can be accepted. The timeline is being changed, but the policy is sound.
2. Periodically, we see demographic shifts in the neighborhoods surrounding our district schools. As the population in one school attendance area ages up, we may see a shift in another school with younger families moving into the attendance area. When this happens, a dialogue must be opened considering all the factors, and if this is done seeking public input in a transparent process, the right decision can and will be made.
3. Our district has developed Career and Vocational Programs at each of our high schools. Students following a particular career interest will help balance the numbers at each school.

9. What do you feel is the most pressing issue facing the PYLUSD today? Unquestionably, it is the severe fiscal constraints under which California schools must operate. We have a state legislature that cannot pass a budget and our schools special education programs are underfunded by the federal government. In the current economic condition, the situation seems to be worsening. In 10-11, the district will again be forced to make hard choices on how to spend the meager funds available from the state.

10. What personal values will you bring to the Board of Education? My diverse experiences from parenting children who attended schools in PYLUSD,volunteering in schools, sports, and scouts, my work in the business world in personnel management, and experience as an educator has prepared me to look at all situations from multiple perspectives. I pride myself in being a very fair-minded person with the ability to consider all sides of an issue before making a careful decision. Additionally, I am very community centered. Volunteerism has always been important to me, as has giving back to my community. My current work in setting up training sessions for parents to enhance their role as a partner in education is a part of that. Finally, I am a collaborator. I always enjoy working with the various stakeholders in finding the best solutions to a problem.

11. Please share details of your financial contributions. The information regarding the financial contributions for all the candidates running for all offices in the State of California, is public information. All the papers I am filing with the Orange County Registrar of Voters are available for review at that office.

12. What goals do you have during the first year you are in office?

  • The most important goal I have initially is to read, study, and learn all that I need to know to supplement the knowledge I already have about the district after having been an employee for over 20 years.
  • Second, I have been very fortunate to work with teachers and principals at all of the schools in the district, but I want to visit each of the schools and would look forward to meeting the parents who serve on the PTA and School Site Councils.
  • Third, I would be interested in attending a DELAC and an SCAC meeting and introducing myself to the representatives from each school.
  • Fourth, I know our district has developed Vocational Ed programs at each of our high schools. I wish to visit each and talk to the teachers and students who are participating in these excellent training programs.
  • Finally, I hope to continue to plan and provide trainings for parents, something I have done in the past several years of my job.

13. Why would a voter want to vote for you over one of the other four people who are running? I know each of the individuals seeking the two year term must be very goodhearted people who fervently want the best for the children in our district. I, like them, have been a community and school volunteer and have invested many, many hours in providing service to scouts, sports, and school activities. Beyond being a parent, I am able to offer the perspective of an experienced teacher. I have taught at schools from one end of the district to the other and am familiar with the challenges that are faced at each school. I have worked as a Special Education teacher and understand the perspective of a parent who has a special needs student in the district. My own sons were in Honors and AP classes, so I also understand the perspective of the parents whose children are in GATE, Honors, and AP classes. Finally, I have made a personal commitment to providing high quality professional development to parents to increase their effectiveness in helping extend the learning day at home. I believe that these all work to create a very unique perspective which I would bring to the board.

14. What is something that voters would be interested to learn about you personally? I have co-written (with Linda Viscusi) six books for general and special education teachers on working with special education students and parents. These books have been used by educators in many different school districts in Orange County and south Los Angeles County. Though the last book was published about 9 years ago, we continue to get requests from schools who wish to purchase more for their new teachers. I am very proud that we have been able to help teachers all over Southern California.

15. Do you have any new ideas for balancing the budget? I have one idea about which I am very excited. During these tough fiscal times we have had to cut most summer school programs except for high school credit recovery and special education year-round programs. I believe that expanding our summer school program with highly innovate enrichment programs would be something of great interest to parents. By making them fee-based and highly engaging to students, we could bring in revenue which might even help offset the costs of summer school intervention programs for the students who need those. Classes in higher level technology skills, science lab classes, cooking, art, and other imaginative and innovative sessions would be very attractive and would help students maintain some academic skills during the long summer. A second idea is to expand the potential outreach for online learning. Our district has already begun working in this area and doing more to develop and promote online classes could be an excellent way to generate revenue.

We need to think very creatively when trying to find ideas for saving our current resources and generating revenue.

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