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Teachers endorse school board candidates

Achievement gap and alternative learning top issues at candidate forum

In only the second contested election since the 1990s, seven candidates for the Mountain View-Los Altos School District board made their pitches to district teachers Tuesday.

Teachers made their way over to the Los Altos High School library, just hours after the school let out for the day, for a candidate forum hosted by the District Teachers Association.

Incumbents Joe Mitchner and Debbie Torok lauded the district's efforts to reach out to minority and at-risk students and the upcoming formula designed to help disadvantaged students. But some candidates challenged the board for being too passive and came out in favor of a more active, hands-on approach to district governance.

By the end of forum, after some discussion among attendees, representatives from the District Teachers Association voted to endorse Mitchener, Dana Bunnett and Sanjay Dave for the school board over candidates Torok, Kevin Kramer, Doug Moore and Fiona Walter.

Boosting students

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Candidate Dave said the district needs to look at new ways to give low-income students equal opportunities for success. He said schools need to provide programs for students who might not decide to go to a four-year university after graduation, and advocated for an expansion in programming classes as well as vocations classes, like automotive and woodworking. He said these programs also bring together high- and low-performing students -- an important part of the high school experience.

"We need to get high and low achievers together, because that's the real world," Dave said.

Mitchner, the current board president, said school board members have been very successful in closing the achievement gap because they've made it a priority as a district, and because of the time and effort put in by district teachers. He said the district hired liaisons to connect families with the schools, including families who don't speak English, and touted the success of the AVID program, which focuses on getting underrepresented minorities college-ready.

Incumbent Torok said the partnership with Equal Opportunity Schools helped the district seek out underrepresented students with high potential to do well in advanced placement (AP) and honors classes, and encourage those students to take on the more challenging courses. She said the district needs to support what's in the Local Control Accountability Plan, a new funding formula that will address the needs of low-income and minority students.

As a director of the nonprofit Kids in Common, candidate Bunnett told teachers at the forum that the achievement gap and the "opportunity gap" is a passionate topic for her. She said the effort from the district has been good, but she feels a sense of urgency for the students going through high school right now.

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She said she believes strongly in the AVID program, and that the district needs to encourage students who have the opportunity to be the first in their family to continue their education after graduation.

"Every first-generation student that's going to be the first in their family to go to college needs to be reached out to and told they can go to college," Bunnett said.

Candidate Kramer said the district and the school board are responsible to bring up test scores for under-performing students, and said they need to look at other schools that are doing better, in terms of closing the achievement gap, and find out why they're doing better.

Candidate Doug Moore said that Latino students in Mountain View have been getting a "bad deal." He said the AVID program is great and needs to be expanded, but other school districts are getting Latino students into top colleges at a much higher rate than the Mountain View-Los Altos Union High School District.

He said new board members would bring fresh ideas to fix these programs, and suggest the district would need Latino representation on the board if they want to get serious about closing the achievement gap.

Getting graduates ready for the real world

When asked to describe the ideal skill set of a graduate from the district and how the district should hone those skills, some candidates said they supported more "middle ground" classes between normal courses and AP courses, while others advocated for more alternative programs, and opening up as many options for graduates as possible.

Torok said it's important to keep students on track for the A-G requirements -- course credits needed to be eligible for admission into University of California schools -- and offer up as many different classes as possible to broaden their horizons. She said the district also needs to continue to enhance STEM courses, and increase the accessibility of technology both on and off the campus.

Bunnett said the greatest gift they could give students is a life-long love for learning, and that students should leave high school with compassion, commitment to the community and creative problem-solving skills.

She said an annual school climate survey for district teachers, students and families that asks personal questions could give interesting feedback on whether the three groups are aligned, and show trends that reveal the district could be headed in the right direction.

As an executive at Yahoo, Kramer said part of his job is to hire and fire people for a living, and he has a good idea of what skills to look for in graduate students. He said students need to be able to communicate, cooperate and have the ability to get work done. To get there, Kramer said the district should offer middle ground courses and more flexible schedules, and should look into offering more online classes.

Moore said the district needs to educate kids to be leaders, not followers, and needs to encourage students have civic awareness. He said the district would need to find ways to reduce unnecessary stress in the classroom, and work to reduce the disparity between normal classes that are a little too easy, and AP classes that are very difficult.

On a personal level, Dave told district teachers he graduated high school without much direction, and stumbled upon stuff until his early 30s.

"To students, it sometimes doesn't make sense altogether why they're learning the stuff they are," Dave said.

He said the district needs to provide students with the foundation they need to compete in the global economy, including the fundamentals of language, written and verbal communication, civic duty and math skills. He said the district and the school board have the responsibility to assess whether or not students are leaving high school with those skills, and recognize that not every student is college-bound.

Walter said graduates need to be ready for whatever comes their way, and while the district is a college-bound high school district, the school board needs to support students who don't choose that path. She said would advocate for more parent engagement, and get them involved in what's going on in the district rather than just communicating good news and press releases. Like Kramer, Walter would support more middle ground classes that give students another option.

Mitchner said giving students more classes and different ways of learning is an important addition to the core academic skill set students need for graduation. He boasted that the district has added more classes and program in the last five years than any time before, and Middle College, Freestyle Academy and Alta Vista are all programs that offer alternative ways to learn. Going forward, he suggests the district should look at new, online learning opportunities, such as with Khan Academy.

"A well-rounded graduate ready for whatever might come their way means being open to new, innovative approaches to learning," Mitchner said.

Mady Miraglia, vice president of the District Teachers Assocation, said she was happy that all the candidates were willing to show up, and felt that each candidate had their merits. She said the candidates also expressed that they would like to work closely with the teachers in the district, beyond just going through the "proper channels."

Opportunity to shake things up

In closing comments, Kramer noted that the election gives the community the chance to create a "new direction," and bring in board members that are active and engaged. Moore said a turnover in board members would re-open communication with board members and teachers, and urged teachers to seize the opportunity.

"We haven't had a real election since 1994. You don't want to wait another 20 years for another opportunity," Moore said.

At the forum, Moore told teachers that over the last eight years, the school board has voted 478 times. Of those votes, he said all 478 were unanimous -- indicating the board took a very passive approach to governance. Kramer said the statistic Moore raised at the meeting leads him to believe that more active management is needed at the board level, and that board members need to have a more engaged relationship with parents and teachers.

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Teachers endorse school board candidates

Achievement gap and alternative learning top issues at candidate forum

by / Mountain View Voice

Uploaded: Thu, Sep 11, 2014, 1:32 pm

In only the second contested election since the 1990s, seven candidates for the Mountain View-Los Altos School District board made their pitches to district teachers Tuesday.

Teachers made their way over to the Los Altos High School library, just hours after the school let out for the day, for a candidate forum hosted by the District Teachers Association.

Incumbents Joe Mitchner and Debbie Torok lauded the district's efforts to reach out to minority and at-risk students and the upcoming formula designed to help disadvantaged students. But some candidates challenged the board for being too passive and came out in favor of a more active, hands-on approach to district governance.

By the end of forum, after some discussion among attendees, representatives from the District Teachers Association voted to endorse Mitchener, Dana Bunnett and Sanjay Dave for the school board over candidates Torok, Kevin Kramer, Doug Moore and Fiona Walter.

Boosting students

Candidate Dave said the district needs to look at new ways to give low-income students equal opportunities for success. He said schools need to provide programs for students who might not decide to go to a four-year university after graduation, and advocated for an expansion in programming classes as well as vocations classes, like automotive and woodworking. He said these programs also bring together high- and low-performing students -- an important part of the high school experience.

"We need to get high and low achievers together, because that's the real world," Dave said.

Mitchner, the current board president, said school board members have been very successful in closing the achievement gap because they've made it a priority as a district, and because of the time and effort put in by district teachers. He said the district hired liaisons to connect families with the schools, including families who don't speak English, and touted the success of the AVID program, which focuses on getting underrepresented minorities college-ready.

Incumbent Torok said the partnership with Equal Opportunity Schools helped the district seek out underrepresented students with high potential to do well in advanced placement (AP) and honors classes, and encourage those students to take on the more challenging courses. She said the district needs to support what's in the Local Control Accountability Plan, a new funding formula that will address the needs of low-income and minority students.

As a director of the nonprofit Kids in Common, candidate Bunnett told teachers at the forum that the achievement gap and the "opportunity gap" is a passionate topic for her. She said the effort from the district has been good, but she feels a sense of urgency for the students going through high school right now.

She said she believes strongly in the AVID program, and that the district needs to encourage students who have the opportunity to be the first in their family to continue their education after graduation.

"Every first-generation student that's going to be the first in their family to go to college needs to be reached out to and told they can go to college," Bunnett said.

Candidate Kramer said the district and the school board are responsible to bring up test scores for under-performing students, and said they need to look at other schools that are doing better, in terms of closing the achievement gap, and find out why they're doing better.

Candidate Doug Moore said that Latino students in Mountain View have been getting a "bad deal." He said the AVID program is great and needs to be expanded, but other school districts are getting Latino students into top colleges at a much higher rate than the Mountain View-Los Altos Union High School District.

He said new board members would bring fresh ideas to fix these programs, and suggest the district would need Latino representation on the board if they want to get serious about closing the achievement gap.

Getting graduates ready for the real world

When asked to describe the ideal skill set of a graduate from the district and how the district should hone those skills, some candidates said they supported more "middle ground" classes between normal courses and AP courses, while others advocated for more alternative programs, and opening up as many options for graduates as possible.

Torok said it's important to keep students on track for the A-G requirements -- course credits needed to be eligible for admission into University of California schools -- and offer up as many different classes as possible to broaden their horizons. She said the district also needs to continue to enhance STEM courses, and increase the accessibility of technology both on and off the campus.

Bunnett said the greatest gift they could give students is a life-long love for learning, and that students should leave high school with compassion, commitment to the community and creative problem-solving skills.

She said an annual school climate survey for district teachers, students and families that asks personal questions could give interesting feedback on whether the three groups are aligned, and show trends that reveal the district could be headed in the right direction.

As an executive at Yahoo, Kramer said part of his job is to hire and fire people for a living, and he has a good idea of what skills to look for in graduate students. He said students need to be able to communicate, cooperate and have the ability to get work done. To get there, Kramer said the district should offer middle ground courses and more flexible schedules, and should look into offering more online classes.

Moore said the district needs to educate kids to be leaders, not followers, and needs to encourage students have civic awareness. He said the district would need to find ways to reduce unnecessary stress in the classroom, and work to reduce the disparity between normal classes that are a little too easy, and AP classes that are very difficult.

On a personal level, Dave told district teachers he graduated high school without much direction, and stumbled upon stuff until his early 30s.

"To students, it sometimes doesn't make sense altogether why they're learning the stuff they are," Dave said.

He said the district needs to provide students with the foundation they need to compete in the global economy, including the fundamentals of language, written and verbal communication, civic duty and math skills. He said the district and the school board have the responsibility to assess whether or not students are leaving high school with those skills, and recognize that not every student is college-bound.

Walter said graduates need to be ready for whatever comes their way, and while the district is a college-bound high school district, the school board needs to support students who don't choose that path. She said would advocate for more parent engagement, and get them involved in what's going on in the district rather than just communicating good news and press releases. Like Kramer, Walter would support more middle ground classes that give students another option.

Mitchner said giving students more classes and different ways of learning is an important addition to the core academic skill set students need for graduation. He boasted that the district has added more classes and program in the last five years than any time before, and Middle College, Freestyle Academy and Alta Vista are all programs that offer alternative ways to learn. Going forward, he suggests the district should look at new, online learning opportunities, such as with Khan Academy.

"A well-rounded graduate ready for whatever might come their way means being open to new, innovative approaches to learning," Mitchner said.

Mady Miraglia, vice president of the District Teachers Assocation, said she was happy that all the candidates were willing to show up, and felt that each candidate had their merits. She said the candidates also expressed that they would like to work closely with the teachers in the district, beyond just going through the "proper channels."

Opportunity to shake things up

In closing comments, Kramer noted that the election gives the community the chance to create a "new direction," and bring in board members that are active and engaged. Moore said a turnover in board members would re-open communication with board members and teachers, and urged teachers to seize the opportunity.

"We haven't had a real election since 1994. You don't want to wait another 20 years for another opportunity," Moore said.

At the forum, Moore told teachers that over the last eight years, the school board has voted 478 times. Of those votes, he said all 478 were unanimous -- indicating the board took a very passive approach to governance. Kramer said the statistic Moore raised at the meeting leads him to believe that more active management is needed at the board level, and that board members need to have a more engaged relationship with parents and teachers.

Comments

BD
Old Mountain View
on Sep 11, 2014 at 2:29 pm
BD, Old Mountain View
on Sep 11, 2014 at 2:29 pm
6 people like this

Please - It is very important to quit talking about the STEM - the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics program and realize we need to change it once and for all to the STEAM program - science, technology , engineering, ARTS and mathematics.

We must invest in ARTS to the same degree as we do to every other discipline!

I hope to get support for this from the community and from the school board -

Thank you -


Dave Williams
Waverly Park
on Sep 11, 2014 at 2:56 pm
Dave Williams, Waverly Park
on Sep 11, 2014 at 2:56 pm
3 people like this

Just for the record, I remember a contested election in 1998.......which is 4 years after 1994.

I get the point about it being a while since this many candidates have come forward but I wanted to get the record straight.


maher
Martens-Carmelita
on Sep 11, 2014 at 2:58 pm
maher, Martens-Carmelita
on Sep 11, 2014 at 2:58 pm
5 people like this

I fully agree with BD's comment above. We need STEAM not just STEM planning.
Without the arts, a society is just a big clan not far removed from the caves.


Dave Williams
Waverly Park
on Sep 11, 2014 at 3:42 pm
Dave Williams, Waverly Park
on Sep 11, 2014 at 3:42 pm
3 people like this

On the 478 unanimous votes over 8 years.

What is the consequence of that?

There are over 20 meetings a year. Each meeting has an agenda that needs approval. Also there is a consent calendar for routine business at each meeting that by policy needs unaminous approval (board members may have items removed from this connect calendar if they want to discuss or don't agree) and there is a meeting adjournment motion that is typically unanimous (unless a board member doesn't want the meeting to end.)

So the math is: 3 procedural motions per meeting for 20 meetings a year x 8 years. That gets me to well over 400 unanimous votes in that period and I ask again what is the consequence?




incognito
Waverly Park
on Sep 11, 2014 at 4:08 pm
incognito, Waverly Park
on Sep 11, 2014 at 4:08 pm
4 people like this

"By the end of forum, after some discussion among attendees, representatives from the District Teachers Association voted to endorse Joe Mitchener, Dana Bunnett and Sanjay Dave for the school board over candidates Torok, Kevin Kramer, Doug Moore and Fiona Walter."

So, the question remains, WHY did the teachers choose to endorse Mitchener, Bunnett and Dave? WHAT CRITERIA did they use in arriving at that decision? Was their choice of candidates unanimous, or near unanimous?

This endorsement could have a big impact on the outcome of a close race. There is nothing in this article that explains how or why the teachers chose which candidates to endorse!

Also, in the 4th paragraph, "By the end of the forum...." all candidates are listed by their full name, except Debbie Torok who is mentioned by last name only. Could you please fix that typo?


my kid & taxes in schools
another community
on Sep 11, 2014 at 5:07 pm
my kid & taxes in schools, another community
on Sep 11, 2014 at 5:07 pm
4 people like this

Neither of the incumbents have gathered any votes yet for this office (Judy H. had gathered many votes - over many years). I'm sure, the teacher's picked, after they read their various interviews and campaign statements and web sites (if existing), those three candidates who could bring the teacher's idea of the needed diversity and breath-of-understanding of the community. Doesn't look like they just considered "most years on the (a) school board" or "the right male/female balance" or "most years in PTAs" or "must live in Mountain View" or "must live in Los Altos" or "Most Strongly support ARTS."

Does this particular group of teachers know how to make their endorsement count? Are they going to run small "MVLA Teachers Endorse" campaign ads in the MV Voice and LA Crier? Are we going to see "Teachers endorse ..." placards in their private car windows? Or will this article (and one in Crier) be "it"?


Sue
St. Francis Acres
on Sep 11, 2014 at 8:40 pm
Sue, St. Francis Acres
on Sep 11, 2014 at 8:40 pm
5 people like this


In terms of teacher recommendations I usually vote for whomever the union doesn't support. The candidates rejected by the union are usually ones that are pushing for innovation instead of the status quo. In the LASD race I heard that Mr. Swan didn't even attend the teachers forum so he is getting my vote.


what other countires do
Monta Loma
on Sep 12, 2014 at 10:26 am
what other countires do, Monta Loma
on Sep 12, 2014 at 10:26 am
5 people like this

Please take note of the comment about reaching out to minority and at risk students. Nothing wrong per se with that except to illegal aliens. In China even a legal resident but not a citizen cannot go to public school at all. Their parents must send and pay for them to go to a private school. Its well past time for America to do the same and only provide education benefits to citizens and legal residents.


my kid & taxes in schools
another community
on Sep 12, 2014 at 11:05 am
my kid & taxes in schools, another community
on Sep 12, 2014 at 11:05 am
4 people like this

Dear Sue from St. Francis Acres: you have a 'non-passing grade' in local civics I'm afraid.

You seem to have confused yourself (and the viewers who may be Voters in the Mountain View-Los Altos High School District) that MVLA high school district candidates - somehow have anything to do with the Los Altos elementary district candidates. So, I hope people realize that you may not quite know what you are talking about! Basic civics error - confusing local governments. And I think I can fairly call your "oppose whatever the Teacher's Union supports" as pretty much "uninformed".

There is not a big Teacher's Union ax to grind in this (MVLA) high school board election. At least as far as I'm aware.

signed, an INFORMED VOTER!
(check the "Santa Clara County" Registrar of Voters for the 'candidates list' pg.39


my kd & taxes in schools
another community
on Sep 12, 2014 at 11:15 am
my kd & taxes in schools, another community
on Sep 12, 2014 at 11:15 am
4 people like this

I was too harshly critical of Sue. She does seem to understand MVLA is not Los Altos School District. Unfortunately - Mr. Swan does not seem willing to even 'talk to the teachers' from the school district he is a candidate for??? I hope that is not the case. There is enough contention in LASD (the Bullis thing) without a board member who is unwilling to talk to the teachers.
I hope Mr. Swan says it isn't so [but then again - that is off topic - this article was about how ALL the MVLA candidates were willing to talk to the Teachers Union forum]. It is good for candidates to talk to all stakeholder - isn't it?


Teacher
St. Francis Acres
on Sep 12, 2014 at 4:07 pm
Teacher , St. Francis Acres
on Sep 12, 2014 at 4:07 pm
6 people like this

Maybe Mr. Swan is very interested in hearing from teachers - but maybe not the teacher's union. Teacher's union and teachers are really two very different things. Teachers are forced to pay union dues. Not all teachers are the same, some are much better at it than others, and it has nothing to do with how much time you spend on it outside of school.

I don't teach in MVWSD, I am a high school teacher in a K-12 district. K-8 districts should be done away with. They are an artifact from the 19th century. We should combine LASD, MVWSD and MVLA into one district AND we should work on tossing out the unions. In general I find that the MVLA board and administration is much more professional and intelligent than our crazy LASD board. MVWSD seems to be more solid but does seem to have at least one member that is off his rocker.

If you want to improve your schools. Stop paying teachers only for years of service and basket weaving ed classes. Pay effective teachers more. Offer stipends for extra work after hours and weekends for targeted projects.


Be Reasonable
Willowgate
on Oct 26, 2014 at 2:33 pm
Be Reasonable, Willowgate
on Oct 26, 2014 at 2:33 pm
3 people like this

Arts are hobbies. STEM collectively represent valuable life skills. Children pick up hobbies on their own, during recess, and in after-school activities. Public schooling should focus on enabling children to succeed, and diverting significant resources elsewhere is a disservice to the low-income students who can't get enough academic preparation at home.


Stunned
St. Francis Acres
on Oct 28, 2014 at 11:43 pm
Stunned , St. Francis Acres
on Oct 28, 2014 at 11:43 pm
4 people like this

@ Be Reasonable - Wow! Arts are hobbies? Does that mean that the arts don't employ people? What a small and depressing world you must live in if you believe that the only valuable life skills are in STEM. I assume that you're not spending any time watching TV, watching movies, listening to music, attending plays, concerts or symphonies, attending museums, reading advertisements or surfing cool websites since all of those activities are made possible to you by those (talented) hobbyists.


Myopic...
Blossom Valley
on Oct 29, 2014 at 12:01 pm
Myopic..., Blossom Valley
on Oct 29, 2014 at 12:01 pm
4 people like this

@Be Reasonable's view reflects a common conceit in this area -- that STEM, and only STEM related domains are of any value. I could just as easily argue that STEM related subjects are basically just vocational training for technology jobs, but that would be equally myopic. The full spectrum of arts and sciences are necessary to develop a well rounded human being. And let's not forget, the genesis of some of Apple's earliest innovation and differentiation was a calligraphy class that Steve Jobs took in college. Not sure Calligraphy is on anyone's STEM curriculum...


I G
Rex Manor
on Nov 2, 2014 at 10:54 am
I G, Rex Manor
on Nov 2, 2014 at 10:54 am
3 people like this

STEM is not "better" or "worse" than other subjects. It just happens to be an area that schoolteachers are not often good at. A college graduate in a STEM field is much less likely to be interested in a teaching career than a graduate in another field. Plus, the idea of "STEAM" is also problematic. Why are arts more important than, say, history or writing?


BvP
another community
on Nov 3, 2014 at 2:51 pm
BvP, another community
on Nov 3, 2014 at 2:51 pm
3 people like this

"I fully agree with BD's comment above. We need STEAM not just STEM planning. Without the arts, a society is just a big clan not far removed from the caves."

Actually, cave people had plenty of art, but not much STEM. Just sayin'.


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