ON THE ISSUES
"I am dedicated to serving my community. As a San Juan School District constituent and father of two, I feel a responsibility to create an environment for younger generations to thrive. We need to invest in our kids from pre-k education through college and career readiness. If elected, that will be my focus."
The ability to return to school safely is now possible. SJUSD will not be prepared to have all students on campus until January. If SJUSD was better prepared, schools would have been able to open as soon as public health officials and experts gave clearance.
That being said, our teachers deserve praise for quickly adapting to distance learning. I hope the district will provide options for all families whether they want their student on campus five days a week, 2-3 days a week, or at home full-time.
Moving forward, I will advocate for consistent communication with parents from the district on school schedules, learning platforms, and expectations for students. Further, the circumstances related to COVID will force us to reevaluate our budget. I will make sure students, families, and staff our prioritized throughout the budget process.
Counseling, College, and Career Readiness
Every high school in the district should be graduating seniors who are ready to attend college or enter a career of their choice. In 2019, San Juan Unified had a graduation rate of 78.8%. Among socioeconomically disadvantaged students, only 72% of students graduated. The numbers are much worse for Foster Youth, English Learners, and students with disabilities. The district does offer resources. Students who participate in programs such as AVID and CTE, for example, have very high graduation rates. We can do more to help all of our students graduate and achieve success. I plan to support the existing programs, but I also want to implement programs designed to help students chart out pathways to college or vocational careers.
Further, the district must make sure each campus offers all classes required by the UC and CSU and provide adequate counseling for students to make decisions. My goal is to hire more counselors for our high schools to help students meet their goals. All students should have access to counselors and career advice that assist with internships, applications, financial aid, scholarships, and college visits.
Listening and Engagement
Choices about our kids future should not come from the Superintendent or SJUSD Board alone. I am committed to hearing community concerns and factoring into all of my decisions. If elected, I will always have an open mind, ear, and door to anyone looking to help or provide feedback on board decisions.
SJUSD currently has pre-kindergarten educational offerings, but two of the three programs have age requirements that may exclude a sizable portion of kids. The district offers Head Start, a state Preschool/Head Start Full Day Program (a fee-based early learning academy), and a transitional kindergarten (TK) program. I would like to expand the offerings to include younger children in more programs.
I also want to start a scholarship or fund for the fee-based early learning academy so that all families, regardless of income, have access to the program. Studies show that early childhood education not only increases scholastic achievement but also corresponds to a higher quality of life. Giving our kids a leg up starts early, and I will do everything I can to help SJUSD deliver a more robust pre-k education program.
The world is changing and our school district must reflect the growing diversity of our society. As a black father raising two biracial children, I want to make sure their teachers and representatives reflect not only their appearance but their experiences as well. School board members, in addition to other duties, are responsible for helping establish the district’s budget and weighing in on hiring decisions. I will advocate for decisions that focus on making SJUSD a more equitable place.
Although SJUSD has Equity Task Force, created by the Equity and Student Achievement Department and a Project Equity focused on hiring a more diverse staff, the district is still plagued by troubling statistics on campus climates. For example, African-American students rate significantly lower on district surveys in the areas of Sense of Belonging and School Culture.
If elected, I will strongly support hiring more teachers, staff, and administrators of color. Pairing diversity in hiring with retention and training efforts will ensure SJUSD educators can provide the best possible experiences for our students.
In SJUSD, the Department of Equity is looking to address barriers to college. According to the California Department of Education, only 41% of SJUSD high school students graduate prepared for college or their career. The numbers are even worse for English Learners, Foster Youth, and students with disabilities. I plan to improve these numbers by advocating at the state level for every high school in our district to offer the A-G courses required for UC and CSU admission. Our high schools should also connect students with internships and other experiences that make their applications stand out. Finally, high schools should host career days or offer courses to prepare and inspire students to think about their lives after graduation, whether that involves direct entrance to a career or more schooling.
Our students’ learning experience should be like their world: dynamic, engaging, and diverse. We have many students of color, and many more with mixed ethnicities, backgrounds, and friend groups. They expect from us the opportunity to learn about an array of cultures and experiences. I want to create a foreign language program at elementary and middle schools in SJUSD. This will serve two purposes: First, as a way to show our non-native English speakers and bilingual students that their language is valued, and second, to deliver early exposure of different languages and cultures to the general student population.
Additionally, we know that not all students learn and retain information in the same way. One teaching style may resonate with one student but not the other. Of course, this means we must empower our teachers with the resources they need to grow their professional skillsets. I would like to explore opportunities to use technology in classrooms and on campuses. Programs exist where teachers and administrators have access to data that allows them to personalize instruction for students from a school-wide or single student level. As we are reimagining the way school looks during COVID, there may be an opportunity to fundamentally change the way we deliver education.
School should not only prepare students educationally but also to function in the world as well-rounded, responsible, and critically-thinking people. The way schools handle discipline is one of the most direct ways schools can influence social awareness and emotional intelligence. SJUSD, through both its stated values and actions, should take an active role in serving the whole person as opposed to just the educational component of the student.
I plan to further reduce the need for suspensions and expulsions in the first place. San Juan High School has seen positive results from its peer judicial council, which works on a Restorative Justice model. I would like to see this model adopted for our middle schools, so students build trust and communication skills among their peers. Conflicts and misbehavior should and will be taken seriously but my goal is to educate and foster growth in our students, not simply punish them.
Restorative Justice empowers students to resolve conflicts on their own through a variety of methods. The ultimate goal is to build community trust, reduce conflict, and avoid suspension, expulsion, and incarceration.
The tools of suspension and expulsion are designed to remove students who have caused harm from a learning environment. But suspensions and expulsions are not issued even-handedly. Unfortunately, Black students are more likely to be suspended or expelled than other students for the same conduct. Further, when students are suspended or expelled, they are less likely to graduate, more likely to be suspended again, and more likely serve time in jail. Often, time away from school is the first step into the “school-to-prison pipeline.”
Students should be growing not only in the classroom but as good citizens and neighbors. We should build on the successes our district has had with Restorative Justice by further engaging teachers and students in the process.