Sofya Bagadasaryan On the Issues
Issue statements by candidates are quoted from public media statements either direct or edited for brevity.
Health and Safety
The loss of even one child, teacher, or staff member to COVID-19 is one too many. That is why I support the decision of our district to suspend in-person education for the fall semester or until we have this crisis under control. When the time comes, we can ensure physical safety via social distancing and the use of masks.
Our district needs more school social workers for the mental well-being of students and teachers. If the district’s budget has no room for funds for counselors, then I would use my research and advocacy skills to secure outside funding. Other solutions that do not require money involve peer support groups. Current counselors can work with youth interested in pursuing social work/psychology careers to start such groups. This would serve the double purpose of having the groups be student-run and also give student facilitators a line item on their resumes. Peer support for teachers and staff can also be accomplished in the same way.
Freedom from bullying is a key factor in feeling safe as well—both physical and mental/emotional. Our district has a policy on bullying, but I believe it needs to be more extensive and it must include specific steps that children, parents, and teachers can take when these instances happen. We do not need a one-size fits all policy such as zero tolerance, but there can be guidelines in place for certain known types of bullying (e.g., cyber-bullying, racism, sexual harassment). Restorative justice is an evidence-based program that can be helpful in many cases in bringing bullies and those bullied (and parents) together toward healing and justice, but these are for certain cases to which the model applies. There must be consequences for when this cannot apply or when it does not work. In addition, there needs to be a community advisory board that parents can go to if they do not feel safe pursuing cases with the teachers or administration. Current policy allows for the creation of such a board and I would work to establish one with the community.
It is important to have supports in place for teachers and families. A tangible example is help with getting access to faster WiFi. There are CARES Act funds available via the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund and the Governor's Emergency Education Relief Fund. We need to look at how to best allocate those resources for families and teachers in need. With my experience in budget management, I can ensure that resources are being expended in a fiscally sound manner.
Our district faces a number of challenges related to achievement gaps in meeting standards and graduating high school. Based on data from the California Department of Education, there are gaps in general but also along socioeconomic lines. These are challenges that most school districts face and it is important for us to look at interventions that have been shown to be successful in order to help all our students. With my background in child welfare, I am knowledgeable about what works and doesn’t work when addressing these gaps. Components of successful programs include: high quality early childhood education, strong health and nutrition services, hands-on classroom experiences that promote active learning, high quality after-school and summer enrichment programs that can help with homework and studying, and parent/community engagement.
College and Career Preparation
In terms of college, students should have access to the types of AP classes they need to be successful applicants to universities. Students who want to be competitive but do not necessarily qualify for such courses can be given other options such as programming that involves service-learning. Opportunities such as these can be created in collaboration with our surrounding community. Other students who would like to enter the workforce have access to vocational training classes but these programs could be expanded to include coursework at local vocational training institutes/colleges that lead to certificates. We should also make connections to our business, health, and social service community. We can thus provide internship opportunities for students. I will be able to help build these collaborations.
Part of readiness for college/career includes financial capability and asset building. I will help create a robust program for students at all levels. For example, many families have fruit trees and vegetable gardens in their back yards and sometimes there is a surplus in the harvest. I would like to create a program where families can sign up to share that harvest. Students (with chaperoning by parents) would go around to neighbors in a specified area and collect any fruits and vegetables they would like to share. There would be a small fee that the students would collect from those who would like a “basket” in return, which would contain a variety of the different the fruits/vegetables gathered. Students would be learning about budget management through this process. Extra fruits/vegetables could be donated.