Q&A With AV School Board Candidates, Part 2

by Steve Sparks, November 4, 2011

(This is the second half of the questions and answers that are the result of my interviews with the five candidates for the three open positions on the A.V. School Board. Each of them was asked for their opinions and thoughts on some of the issues they will face if they are successful in the upcoming election.

The election takes place on Tuesday, Nov 8th. Candidate responses are in the order the interviews were conducted: Dick Browning, Marti Bradford, Ben Anderson, Ernie Pardini and Don Harris. FYI. School Administrators are Superintendent J.R. Collins, and Principals Jim Tomlin (High School) and Donna Pierson-Pugh (Elementary School). The two School Board members not up for re-election at this time are Erica Lemons and Ydira Mendoza.)

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10. Who is responsible for following up on the work done by the support staff/maintenance crew? How would you ensure their oversight is carried out effectively?

Dick B: The transport department is the responsibility of the Superintendent and they have weekly meetings. The secretaries, custodians, ground crews, and cafeteria staff report to the Principals. They report to us if there are problems.

Ben A: I think we need to define ‘clean’ and ‘acceptable cleanliness.’ Perhaps the introduction of a checklist for the job would improve things. One that would clearly inform people what they are responsible for and when those responsibilities need to be completed by. This list should be checked regularly. My professional experience means that I appreciate strong leadership and direction. I answered this somewhat in the first question last week when I said that what I see at the school is the result of a philosophy of deferred maintenance. It doesn't take any more than a quick tour of the grounds and a walk down the main hallway at the high school to see that something is amiss. Cleaning with a dirty mop will not get it done. Seeing the same potato bug in the toilet on Friday that was there on Monday tells me that things are not getting cleaned. The bathroom should not smell of urine almost all of the time. All of these things, while not significant when taken individually, mount up and the overall state of the school hurts me as a graduate. We need more pride in what our school represents and also to take personal pride in our jobs. Doing your job at your leisure will not get it done. Someone must make sure things are being done as it is obvious that they are not - there are so many things I could bring up, too many to mention here.

Marti B: Each Administrator meets with the crews on a weekly basis. Making sure things get done is the issue and that is the Principals’ responsibility. We talk about it in more general terms.

Ernie P: This grounds and appearance of the school is an important issue to me. The Superintendent and Principals should see that this work is being done. It is not happening. I could not use the bathrooms at a basketball game last year. Many people in the community are talking about this. Many of the storage rooms at the school are full of useless and/or broken equipment, out-of-date textbooks, etc. Talking to parents, I hear about many other inefficiencies but cannot prove them at this point. What I can see, I will make sure is corrected if elected. Just look at that outdoor basketball court, right in front of the school – weeds everywhere. Look at the hallways – dirty, and student’s bags and books on the floors. We need some changes there.

Don H: I believe it is the responsibility of the Superintendent and the Principals to see that this work is done and if there are any issues then they should be brought to the attention of the Board. I do know that parents have stepped in to do some work following the cuts that meant that some maintenance and ground-keeping was not done.

11. Who has the responsibility for cost cutting – lights left on, paper waste, supplies missing, etc? How would you enforce this?

Dick B: Once again it is the responsibility of the Superintendent, who reports to us.

Ben A: Inventory controls must be managed efficiently. Let’s take care of the things we have. It seems things are way too loose given the financial situation of our school. That is why the baseball equipment is checked on and locked up by me.

Marti B: This can be a problem and we are aware of it. We have practiced energy efficiency but it is an on-going problem and it needs to be worked on. We do look at supply budgets and try to work on those while trying to provide for our teachers’ needs.

Ernie P: I am not there but I aim to find out about this and will follow up if elected. Perhaps an outsider, a qualified person in this field, needs to advise us where cost cuts can be made.

Don H: All public schools are feeling the pressure. The School Board needs to find the resources to deal with this and investigate and take advantage of technical advances in energy saving. Hopefully the new school renovations will include some of these in terms of lighting etc. We should ask the teachers what their most time-consuming tasks are and where they think savings could be made. We have to rely on people’s willingness to do things right the first time to avoid unnecessary waste and more strain on the system.

12. What do you think of the school’s dress code? There has been an increase in exposed cleavage and boys’ low-hanging trousers at the school in recent years. What are your thoughts on school uniforms?

Dick B: The current code is the result of efforts by the faculty and students but, to be successful, it must be enforced by the faculty. I think it is reasonable and not awfully strict. The Board is not arbiters of dress. I do not support uniforms and it has not been proposed to the School board, although if it were I would consider it, I guess. We would certainly hope that the issue of students exposing themselves improperly would be addressed and the policy on this is pretty good. As for the teachers, I would hope they are in keeping with county standards,

Ben A: It is not unenforceable as some might say. I personally like the idea of some sort of school uniform. It ‘levels the playing field’ in terms of class and wealth. For now, if the policy is not adhered to by a student, and the faculty have tried to enforce it with a warning, then I say the parent has to come and collect their kid from school and we put the onus on the parents. I believe we would see results if that were done. At the moment we are way too lenient on this. Individual expression is o.k. but there are so many other ways to do that at the school.

Marti B: Our dress code is a new one and I know a few parents were concerned about this a few years ago. Compared to other schools ours is more comprehensive than most. Enforcement is the key – some parents support us, others don’t. The teachers are trying to be consistent. As for a uniform - I don’t think we could ever get it introduced here.

Ernie P: I am not sure what the current code is. ‘Neat and clean’ is my thought on how the students should dress. No underclothing should show. The teachers surely know the dress code and should enforce it. If that does not work then the parents should be contacted and, if that fails, then the School Board should get involved. I do not believe in school uniforms. I am reminded of back in 1971-72, when I was at the school, I was the student body President and we staged a boycott at the school for a few days in which the bulk of the students took part. My parents disagreed with some of what we wanted but supported my right to protest. We wanted white t-shirts for boys and pants for girls - the dress code back then said white t-shirts were not allowed - they had to be colored and with a pocket, and the girls could not wear pants and their skirts could only be a couple of inches above the knee. We also wanted a smoking area for the kids. Really; and an open campus at lunchtimes. I was the student representative on the School Board and following the protest and meetings we got everything we asked for.

Don H: I am not sure what the high school dress code is but we can have no gray area on this. The policy must be enforced. I do see some validity in school uniforms in that they provide everyone with an even playing field. I would encourage self-confidence and self-esteem to be from within and not from the clothes worn.

13. What role do you expect the School Bond Oversight Committee to have?

Dick B: To review all of the expenditure of Board funds and to verify that they are properly used. This is for school construction and it is inappropriate that it be used for anything else other than that. They can report developments to the public accordingly if they wish.

Ben A: They should have some authority on how the money is spent by the Board but I sense that they do not. A couple of members have expressed concern about this and their role looks like being more one of reviewing rather than overseeing. The Committee should certainly have power over the new Supervisor’s Committee consisting of the Supervisor, Principal Pierson-Pugh, the architect, and the chairman of the Oversight Committee.

Marti B: Their job is to review what the School board has done in terms of expenditures. It is a good group, very energetic, and they have been attending our meetings, asking good questions, and adding a lot.

Ernie P: To make decisions as to where every penny is spent and to justify it publicly. I hope the School Board has to get the Committee’s final approval on their recommendations. The public must be aware of all of the spending – I am a real stickler about transparency and keeping the public informed. The minutes should be made public on the website and kept up-to-date.

Don H: They need to insure that the areas where the money is spent match the plans we have voted for. They also need to be present and aware of the opportunities, to help in the decision-making, and to have some accountability.

14. How would you improve the outreach of the school to the parents, to allow them more input and the staff to get increased feedback on the concerns of the parents?

Dick B: One of the best ways for parental involvement is to invite them to come and see the kids at the school. To sit down and talk is more difficult for some of the parents. There has been an effort to invite parents equally across all groups of the community and the School Board did select a board member from the Hispanic community last year.

Ben A: The Board must have a genuine interest in what the parents actually think. Many parents may not wish to speak at School Board meetings and so other avenues of communication should be explored and some thinking outside the box on this may be the answer. A Face Book page might be a useful tool, or adding something to the school website. Perhaps a packet could be sent out in the first week of school explaining the School Board system and its accountability. I know of examples of parents wishing to say something, or being upset at the behavior of a staff member, but feeling they have nowhere to go. They believe that the administrators will put the issue aside and that the Board will not follow it up effectively... A parental advocacy group is necessary at this point – we cannot continue to lose the confidence of the community. If the current Board believes that we do have that confidence, or that there is no dissatisfaction out there, then they are not listening or paying attention to what is going on. How some Board members can believe that they know what the community thinks when they are surrounded by just a small section of that community is beyond me. To do efficient outreach, there needs to be a lot more done and some fresh ideas arrived at.

Marti B: There are parent teacher conferences twice a year at the Elementary School at which programs and problems are discussed. Parents are encouraged to attend these. We have the SITE council at which parents, teachers and Elementary School Principal set goals and discuss P.T.A. fund-raisers. At the Junior High and High School, the parents, teacher and student meet twice a year, and we call parents if problems arise. We do not have layers of administrative staff, everyone has many hats to wear, and it is a struggle but we’re doing the best we can. We have very few discipline problems and many people comment on how polite and well behaved our students are.

Ernie P: To share information with the parents is important and so it is a good idea to give public notice of the Board’s minutes, either through the school website or the newspaper, or both. If elected, my phone number will be public knowledge. I will certainly be available to all parents. I am adamant about making school business a matter of public record and knowledge. We should have nothing to hide and everything to gain by acting this way.

Don H: There is a parent/teacher conference twice a year. As an active parent, I make my own opportunities rather than expecting the school to provide more than this. As a School Board member, I would reach out through the school website. I am working on this as a parent but there also has to be face-to-face meetings. There is no silver bullet for communication and several fronts have to be approached – via the telephone, the website, written correspondence – a variety of fronts that can be kept at low cost. E-mails are sent out by the Elementary School Principal in both English and Spanish. If it isn’t already, then it certainly should be the same at the High School.

15. Why should people vote you on to the school board?

Dick B: I have a lot of experience in education and education in this Valley in particular. I bring a lot of knowledge and understanding to the School Board and the District. This translates into a strong educational program and benefits the students. We are in the midst of a big construction bond program that I am involved with and I’d like to see it through these early phases. I have been able to make a number of contributions so far. I am very aware of school procedures and methods and am able to bring my expertise to the schools’ operations. I will continue to do that if elected.

Ben A: I am a known quantity. I’m honest and ethical. I look forward to serving my community and school, both of which are a big part of who I am. I am very willing to be held accountable. You will see me around the school. I will endeavor to work on the bond between the school and community that many feel is not there. Whether that is right or wrong is irrelevant – many perceive it that way. I genuinely care deeply about this school. This is my home and I want the best for where I come from, where I lived growing up, and for the kids of Anderson Valley’s future. I bring new energy, fresh ideas, enthusiasm and optimism – these qualities can be seen in everything I have done so far at the school.

Marti B: Obviously I am experienced. I was considering not running but felt I did not want to walk away from the modernization project. I made a commitment to the community and want to see it through. I feel like I am good at being a School board member and can be effective. I believe in community service and this is a good spot for me for four more years. It is an honor. I enjoy supporting our staff and I am impressed as we continue to make real academic strides forward.

Ernie P: Because I am committed to seeing that our kids have the best chances of success in life that we can possibly give to them. I believe that the public and parents need and want to be more involved. I am willing to put in time and work to do what I believe a School Board member should do – seeing that the administration and the faculty do the jobs they are paid to do. The public will have an open door to me for any of their concerns... I feel an obligation to do this partially because of my past. I want to try and prevent the students from making the same mistakes that I did. I have a unique perspective that some people might think is clouded by my past. I think it is the opposite – I can see what can be done differently to avoid the errors. I am 100% committed to the students and to giving them a fair start in life and the rigorous challenges they will face. We need somebody with new ideas, unbiased opinions, with views that come from often being in and around our community. I appreciate that there will be some uncomfortable decisions to make but I am fully prepared to do that and to serve the school and community to the best of my ability.

Don H: I am a pragmatic decision-maker, a good listener, and someone who is not afraid to make difficult decisions. I do not expect this position to be a cakewalk. I was President of Lana’s Nursery School and am a current member of the Site Council at the Elementary School, and I wish to expand that involvement and be an active participant in her education and that of others at the highest level I can, both as a parent and in whatever else I can do. As the ‘new kid on the block’, I do not have a ‘history’ of alignment with other groups or of being biased one way or another. I am approaching this as a parent and I truly believe this is a great place to get an education.

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Now please go out and vote on Tuesday, November 8th, 2011I hope to return to my usual format next week with a guest interviewee from the Valley discussing his or her ‘life and times.’ Meanwhile, if you would like to read the ‘stories’ of other Valley Folk, visit the archives at www.avalleylife.wordpress.com.

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