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LWV League of Women Voters of California Education Fund

Smart Voter
Alameda County, CA November 4, 2014 Election
Candidates Answer Questions on the Issues
School Director; Oakland Unified School District; Trustee Area 6

The questions were prepared by the League of Women Voters of Oakland and asked of all candidates for this office.     See below for questions on Community Involvement, Student Success, Educational Equity, Staff Quality and Diversity

Click on a name for candidate information.   See also more information about this contest.

? 1. How do you plan to get parents and the community more informed and involved in educational policy and programs?

Answer from Renato P Almanzor:

Although I have worked closely with education and community organizations involved in educational policy and programs for the last 15 years, in the last six years I have been providing leadership development to nonprofit executive directors who work with low-income communities and communities of color in the Bay Area. We relate as partners in transforming our region already, and as an OUSD Board member I would be extending the depth and breadth of our work. These organizations include parent groups, youth development organizations, community organizers, as well as education, economic development, and environment organizations.

Answer from Shanthi Gonzales:

The district has historically relied on tools such as robo calls to reach out to families. While a handful of schools employ family outreach staff, most do not, and as a result, many families experience the district as very aloof and many parents have expressed frustration to me about the poor communication from the district. I believe the solution to this is for the district to work with families much earlier, in a much more hands-on way, through home visits. When we show up to the homes of families, it sends an unmistakable message that family involvement is important. It also helps the district to learn more about the challenges facing the families in the district.

We also have to conduct the business of the district in a way that is inviting and inclusive, for example scheduling meetings according to the availability of parents, not just school officials. We have to provide child care, meals, and translation as necessary.

I will also hold regular office hours that will be posted on my web site so that everyone in my district knows where and when they can meet up with me to discuss their concerns. My hope is that this will make it easier for families to communicate with me and get their questions answered.

? 2. What will you do to raise the incentives and motivation for students to study, stay in school, and choose a skilled trade or a college career?

Answer from Shanthi Gonzales:

This starts with ensuring that every child has something (and someone) at school that makes them feel included. Because each child is different, and will be engaged and motivated differently, we must have a rich curriculum and a wide range of extracurricular activities that includes art, music, debate, drama, computers, sports and the rest of it.

When we eliminate programs to save money, we are also inevitably eliminating the very thing that motivates some children to want to attend school. In my case, I was a bookish chubby kid, and if not for my school libraries and the computer lab, and the caring people who worked there, there would have been many days I would not have wanted to go to school. So this is critical.

We have also taken an important step with starting linked learning academies at Oakland's high schools, but these opportunities are not evenly distributed. We have to ensure that no matter where an Oakland student attends school, they will have the opportunity for in-class and out of class learning that gives them the chance to practice what they learn and to develop some relationships in the field they want to go into.

We also need to expand programs like Gateway to College that help our at-risk students to not only finish high school, but also earn some college credits while they do it, so they get a head start on whatever is next for them.

Answer from Renato P Almanzor:

I ascribe to the notion that the more significant 3 R's today are rigor, relevance and relationships. Briefly, this framework assumes that students are "agents" or "protagonists" in their lives and learning. As educators, delivering a quality educational experience requires creating the conditions that foster students curiosity and path toward achieving their promise and potential. So raising incentives and motivation for students is really about ensuring that we offer a curriculum that is rigorous (i.e., offers new knowledge and ways of thinking base on students' curiosities, wants and needs), relevant (i.e., they can understand within their life context, encouraging application or adaptation for their success and contribution to community), and relationship-centered (i.e, deep learning does not happen in isolation. The courage to learn something new and challenging requires an environment where learners believe that they can meet high expectations, will be supported and respected when mistakes/failures occur, and will be asked to offer support to others). In that environment, students choose pathways for college, career (e.g., skilled trade), AND community engagement.

? 3. What is educational equity? Using your definition, how will you address the most critical issues of inequity facing Oakland public schools, and how will you attempt to resolve this issue as a school board member?

Answer from Renato P Almanzor:

I learned about the stance and practice of educational equity from working at the Bay Area Coalition of Equitable Schools (BayCES, not National Equity Project) and serving as Board President of the San Francisco Coalition of Essential Small Schools. In an nutshell, educational equity for me is holding a critical consciousness, developing policies and practices, and utilizing tools toward equal and excellent results regardless of internal/external, social/cultural contexts; while acknowledging and transforming such contexts. As a board member, this means allocating resources intentional toward those kids and contexts who need it most, having high expectations for our kids, teachers, staff and community for succeeding and developing a powerful and loving community, interrupting current systems that are inequitable while creating systems that are effective and equitable, and creating alliances across our communities because we must do this together.

Answer from Shanthi Gonzales:

Our biggest issue overall is resource scarcity, due to the structural constraint of Prop 13, which hinders our efforts to provide strong public services in Oakland. On the Library Commission in Oakland, I have worked to build strong relationships with other library trustees and commissioners statewide, with the goal of working together statewide to secure more resources for library services.

I will do the same thing on the School Board - work with other School Board members statewide to change Prop 13 to win a split-roll tax that will allow commercial property to appreciate in value, to create additional revenue for education and other public services.

It will be difficult to seriously address equity until we have adequate resources, which is why this is a priority.

In the meantime, we need to focus on the students in Oakland who need the most help. I already stated above that the opportunities that do exist in Oakland are not evenly distributed, for example many high schools do not offer sufficient course offerings to ensure that students who want to go to college meet their A-G requirements upon graduation. Many do not have the option of a linked learning academy or even a sports program.

Ensuring that students who want to go to college can is basic, and we must do more for the students who have the greatest need.

? 4. What can the School Board do to hire and retain high quality teachers and encourage diversity among staff?

Answer from Shanthi Gonzales:

Budgets reflect values, and the low pay of the district's workers, especially teachers, reflects the longstanding emphasis the district has placed on hiring district executives and consultants (who don't work with students) rather than the people who do work with students - teachers, counselors, nurses, librarians and other school staff.

This has not only made it hard for Oakland to attract and retain our school staff; it is also bad for the morale of the district's workforce.

We have to pay people fairly if we want to attract and retain quality teachers, and there are other things we can do better as well. We need to provide teachers with more observation and feedback, especially new teachers, and also more time for lesson planning, collaboration with other teachers and more say in the kind of professional development they need.

With regard to diversifying the staff, there is an exciting program in Oakland that already exists, called Teach Tomorrow in Oakland (TTO). They recruit teachers from Oakland, who already have a commitment to the community, and invest heavily in their professional development. The teachers who enter the district through TTO not only stay longer, but they look like Oakland students. This is so important. Students need more mentors who look like them, and the district needs teachers who know the issues facing the community and the students. I would like to see this program be expanded.

Finally, supporting teachers means supporting principals. It is hard to stabilize a school where the leadership is constantly changing. We need to ensure that principals get the support they need so that they have time to observe teachers and provide feedback, to build trusting relationships in the school community, and to engage families in the vision and work of the school.

Answer from Renato P Almanzor:

there are already a number of efforts within OUSD to address this, and School Board members must be the champions of these efforts. This includes changing the narrative of the Oakland teacher to ensure that, in our city, we can honestly say they are well-compensated, respected, valued and honored. So as a school board member, our role is to ensure that our principles, policies and practices create those conditions for that narrative. In addition, we need to act like it in our negotiations, interactions and own practices. When I taught I knew what it felt like to be honored and supported, and I also knew what needed to happen so that believe occurred in a regular way. I will bring that experience in as well.

Responses to questions asked of each candidate are reproduced as submitted to the League.  Candidates' statements are presented as submitted. References to opponents are not permitted.

The order of the candidates is random and changes daily. Candidates who did not respond are not listed on this page.

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Created: July 23, 2015 14:55 PDT
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