Jeffrey Starkweather On the Issues
Issue statements by candidates are quoted from public media statements either direct or edited for brevity.
The Covid-19 pandemic: virtual versus in-person attendance
It appears the administration has planned well with the hand they have been dealt. They have done a good job quickly pivoting to meet last-minute county requirements. Distance learning seems to be going as well as it can under trying circumstances.
We need to ensure that our curriculum considers past and current racial, ethnic, and class discrimination and disparities, while also promoting the values and ideals of the Declaration of Independence. It is clear, our elementary schools should be more demographically integrated. This can be addressed with voluntary positive solutions. One approach could be developing magnet schools offering distinct choices at different elementary schools, such as dual-language immersion; music, dance and arts; environmental studies; and science and high-tech. Demographic diversity is a strength both for student success and as a means to recruit others to grow our student population. Research shows that both privileged and disadvantaged students perform better in diverse schools.
Management of loss of enrollment and revenue
We need to have a bold strategic plan to address our increasing loss of students. One-fourth of the children of school age living in the Ojai Valley do not attend our public schools. Many of those parents cite our low standardized test scores as one of the key reasons they are not sending their children to our public schools. Leaders on the school board must organize a community-wide assessment and conversation as to why we are losing students, then come up with a long-range plan to turn this around.
There are many strategies that could improve our schools and make them more attractive to parents in the valley and beyond. One idea is to have all our schools provide top-notch education and experience in drama, music, dance and the visual arts. What better place than Ojai to try this strategy? If we can increase student enrollments in this manner, we will have more money for higher teacher salaries, expanded programs, and improved offerings in the arts and academics. This will in turn attract more students and more education dollars. That’s a virtuous cycle. At the present we seem to be only managing student decline with ad hoc budget gimmicks and program cuts, like the recent attempt to reduce the number of class periods at Nordhoff High School. That is called a vicious cycle. Parents, residents and community leaders are ready and willing to get behind an effort to proactively develop and implement a bold turn-around strategy.
I always support school capital bond referendums that will increase local school funding. I support State Proposition 15, which would require most commercial and industrial properties to be taxed based on market value, rather than purchase price. I will probably vote for the Measure K bond, but I am concerned that it’s not clear how it would attract students or improve educational outcomes. I am puzzled by the lack of marketing to explain its educational benefits. I would not have voted to put Measure K on the November ballot. At this time, with the Covid-19 pandemic, it’s hard to ask those facing hardship to pay more in property taxes. Moreover, this bond referendum is not part of any strategic plan developed with community wide input for improving our schools and expanding student enrollment. Remember, the proposed Measure K would not go into effect until 2022. So, waiting to develop a strategic plan backed by the entire community would only delay the funding by one year.
I believe all students from all backgrounds can and should thrive academically in our public schools. This is why I want to promote an approach to education called ‘deeper learning.’ This encourages students to combine academic knowledge with effective communication, writing and collaboration skills, with student-directed exploration and learning that enable them to connect what they learn to real-world problems and possibilities. This is especially important for students from working-class and minority backgrounds who are often tracked into highly structured, ‘teach-the-test’ learning approaches, which seem boring and unrelated to their lives. All of our students need educational experiences that ignite their passions, inspire their creativity and empower them to reach their full potential.
Do you support the lease of the district office property?
Yes, but we need community input in envisioning the best use of this property. We should include affordable housing that can provide for our district teachers and staff. We need to continue the Skate Park lease, preserve the bus stop and possibly expand downtown parking.
What would you do to improve district cirricula?
We should take advantage of three things that make Ojai a unique place to live and work — a world-class arts community, a wonderfully preserved natural environment and a community wide commitment to environmental protection. By using the proposed city climate park, our many nature preserves and natural forests as outdoor environmental education classrooms, we could become one of the top environmental public school districts in the state. Likewise, if we were to come together through a bond referendum and private funding to build a performing arts center at Nordhoff and arts spaces at all our schools, and if we had support for a parcel tax to fund top-flight arts instruction that worked collaboratively with our local arts community, we could also become one of the best performing arts education programs..
Is accountability of School District leadership to parents and community currently sufficient? Explain
The role of the school board is to be the voice of the community in setting the direction and governance of our schools in collaboration with the superintendent. There are five governance responsibilities of the board: establishing strategic direction and objective student success outcomes; providing policy direction and approval; stewardship of school funding, oversight and accountability, and community leadership. Seeking input from parents, teachers, staff, community leaders and residents, the school board, in collaboration with the superintendent, develops a long-term strategic plan, sets objectives and develops strategies for achieving them, such as increasing student enrollment.
While professional educators are in charge of the day-to-day operations of the schools, board members with long-term ties to the community are needed to promote important changes in the schools, as well as raising funds for important initiatives. To do that successfully, they need to engage in shared leadership that recognizes others beyond the administration have a role to play in shaping decisions of the district. We need increased “buy-in” from all public-school stakeholders, including parents, teachers, local businesses and nonprofits, local officials, and residents.