Candidates for OUSD Board Discuss Challenges for Schools

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    The Orinda Union School District’s Board of Trustees functions as the legislative body of the district and establishes policies and goals by which the school district is operated. Five citizens are elected to serve overlapping terms of four years each. They are elected at-large by the registered voters of the district and generally meet on the second Monday of each month. 
    Currently, three of the five board positions are up for election. Five non-incumbent candidates will vie for the available seats: Michelle Chang, Edda Collins Coleman, Linda Delahunt, Eve Phillips and Mary Kateri Shogan.
    The Orinda News asked the candidates the following questions:

1) What are the major challenges for our public schools in the next five years? (250 words or less)

2) Enrollment at OUSD schools differs widely with Sleepy Hollow experiencing a downturn in enrollment while Wagner Ranch is at or slightly beyond capacity. What suggestions do you have to ensure enrollment at each campus gives students the best opportunity and resources to learn? (200 words or less)

3) Despite repairs using bond funds, many OUSD campuses need additional repairs/updating. How would you maintain campus facilities with the limited funds available? (200 words or less)

4) What strengths, skills or special qualities do you bring to the position? (150 words or less)

Michelle Chang

Michelle Chang

Challenges
    The major challenges for OUSD in the next five years are:
    • Maintaining high academic standards
    • School funding
    • Teacher shortages
    • Learning loss
    • Mental health challenges
    We need to continue to supplement our school funding to maintain our high academic standards. Our schools are funded below the level needed to fully fund the needs in our schools so we must rely on our families to supplement our limited budget. We should partner with businesses and look for other funding opportunities, such as grants, to relieve some of the financial burden on our families.
    We have been able to recruit and retain teachers in Orinda because of our reputation of excellence and teacher support. We will need to continue to provide support and other innovative ways to recruit highly skilled teachers from the ever-shrinking pool of teachers in California.
    We need to work to make sure all students and all staff feel safe, comfortable, included and thrive in our schools. Due to the pandemic and other events in our world, such as school violence, students have suffered learning loss as well as mental health challenges. It is imperative we work to evaluate individual needs of each student to address learning loss as well as mental health needs and provide support they need to be successful. We must also work to address the mental health and wellness needs of our school staff so they can continue to provide an excellent education at our schools.

Enrollment
    It is important to find out why we are seeing a downturn in the enrollment at schools through careful examination of enrollment data, trends at neighboring districts and survey data. This data will allow us to look at trends, make enrollment predictions and plan accordingly. Once we discover the root causes of this shift in enrollment, the board can work with the superintendent to address the root causes, equalize enrollment across our schools and support schools that have changing enrollment patterns.
    Making our schools more visible to our community may help with enrollment. Some ways to support this are:
    • Schools as community hubs
    • Consistent sharing of all the great things happening in our schools through social media and other platforms
    • Welcoming our community to participate in our schools through volunteerism and events
    • Partnering with community organizations to hold meetings/events
    When schools have a strong presence in communities this encourages participation and may impact enrollment as great schools make great communities. Having our schools highlighted will help those in our community to champion our schools to recruit families who send their children to schools outside of OUSD to join our wonderful school communities.

Campus Facilities
    In order to maintain campus facilities, it is imperative to follow a Facilities Master Plan. This plan should prioritize the highest needs first. It should also establish a contingency fund, which could use other sources of funding besides bond funds, for emergencies.
    As a board, we should work with our superintendent to ensure projects run on budget and within the specified time. We should consistently survey staff and families about what they think needs to be done to maintain our facilities. Community input is very important and we must make informed decisions from what we hear. We are the stewards for the community’s funds so as a board member, I will scrutinize facilities contracts to ensure proper work is done and Orinda’s dollars are well spent.
    As a board, we should work to continually support our bond measures with our superintendent, consider future finance measures if necessary and keep our community apprised of how their money is spent to maintain our facilities. It is important to be completely transparent so our community has faith in our work and will be supportive of upcoming bond measures that we set forth to support our 
schools.

Your Strengths
    My 24 years of experience as a teacher, principal and central office leader allows me to be a reality check on policies at the board and in the district.  I know how things really work in classrooms and in schools. I have current experience and relevant skills.  I want to bring my knowledge and skills to support Orinda schools in any way our schools and community feels is needed.
    I am a mom, school volunteer and educator. I was a teacher; founded an afterschool program; was a founding school principal (received a California Distinguished Schools Award); now support principals and their school sites. In my current role, I also collaborate with all departments in our district to strategize, create policies, and make decisions. I believe I am the only candidate who is currently working in public education and am best situated to discover the answers to our educational needs.

Edda Collins Coleman

Edda Collins Coleman

Challenges
    There are numerous challenges ahead for public schools in the next five years. The top five are: keeping our children safe, teacher shortages, funding, competition and technology. 
    • Safety: Our children are facing crisis after crisis, whether it’s participating in intruder drills to protect themselves from gun violence, isolation from the pandemic challenging their mental health, or other stressors like peer pressure, fire and earthquake drills.  
    • Teacher shortage: The pandemic has increased burnout and early retirement among teachers across the country and Orinda is no different. Teachers are critical in ensuring our student’s education and future success — we must continue growing, recruiting and retaining qualified educators. 
    • Funding: The funding allows us to have the resources needed to provide a world class education – from quality books to technology to safe schools and excellent teachers. 
    • Competition: Students need to be competitive on a global level which requires us to create an environment to do so. When students enter the workforce, they’ll work for a range of companies with global reach that will expose them to different cultures. It’s critically important that students of today are trained and equipped to encounter what they will face on a global scale.
    • Technology: Access to technology is critical to STEM; it prepares students for higher education and for the workforce. Technology provides access to information, increases student engagement, fosters connection, collaboration and helps teachers improve their lesson plans to facilitate personalized learning.  
    The challenges are interrelated and require a collective will and leadership.

Enrollment
    We must understand the data of the demographics, neighborhood boundary needs, historic enrollment v. enrollment projections and the demographics of where families live. In maintaining OUSD’s academic excellence, we’d need to examine class size, the campus, technology, other educational infrastructure as well as parent surveys to understand why families choose one neighborhood or school over another. 
    We must keep in mind that smaller class sizes contribute to the betterment of learning. Studies show that smaller class sizes allow for greater individualized instruction, teachers are able to get to know their students better which lends itself to more personalized feedback and improves learning opportunities. When class sizes are too large, student achievement can be negatively impacted with distractions, difficulties of managing students and reduced participation. Smaller environments contribute to positive student-teacher relationships and an overall positive experience.
    Once possible reasons for over/under subscription are understood, we’d work to create resources ensuring each school has what it needs to provide the best opportunity for each student by conveying a common vision, language and shared understanding of what every OUSD elementary school offers so that parents have confidence and see validation of better resources and opportunities at each campus in Orinda. 

Campus Facilities
    I’d recommend restructuring existing agreements and negotiating maintenance contracts to better address proactive maintenance of campus facilities. I’d then institute a robust contract management process and procedures to monitor, measure and record the maintenance suppliers’ performance and hold regular performance meetings to drive accountability. And, lastly, I would seek out federal funds in various agencies to augment the necessary repairs and update our aging infrastructure. There are a number of federal agencies ready to partner with local school districts to ensure our aging infrastructure can handle enrollment projections and prepare our students for academic success. With the right infrastructure, our schools serve as a shared foundation for economic, environmental, and public health success for Orinda’s various neighborhoods and city government. By ensuring the highest quality education and environment for our district’s students through our public schools, we in turn benefit all Orinda residents.

Your Strengths
    As a mother of daughters (8th, 4th, and pre-school grades), I’ve volunteered as a field trip driver at Del Rey, a Girl Scout Troop Leader, in the Wagner Ranch library and as an OIS Parents’ Club Board member.
    I’ve served on an interview panel for principal at an OUSD elementary school, and I’m on the District’s Parent Equity Committee where I worked to retool OUSD’s mission and strategic directions.
    A graduate of Georgetown University with a Master’s in Communications and Hampton University with a Bachelor’s in Political Science, my 20+ years in policy and communications will provide significant value in building consensus and promoting collaborative engagement for OUSD. As managing director, I advise organizations during pivotal moments and as they communicate with Congress, the Executive Branch of government and navigate the regulatory landscape. I have a vested interest in the success of all of our children in Orinda.

Linda Delahunt

Linda Delahunt

Challenges
    I think the major challenges for our public schools over the next five years are as follows: decreasing enrollment and a shift of more families choosing private school options in our area, facilities that are in an ongoing state of disrepair, staff recruitment and retention, 
retaining funding for STEAM programming, art, library, maximizing instruction time while ensuring that staff has adequate opportunities for collaboration and professional development, keeping class sizes small for K-3 and providing expanded educational curriculum for our students who will be entering a job market 
that will have significant more reliance on automation/technology. In particular, the evolving job market requires an emphasis of teaching critical thinking/analysis, how to trust information sources, learning how to code/build apps, online citizenship/safety. 

Enrollment
    I think we should re-evaluate the way we have districted the schools and determine whether some of the overflow of students at Wagner Ranch could be re-allocated to Sleepy Hollow. I think we should also allow transfers for students permissively if schools have additional capacity to accept new students.

Campus Facilities
    I think there are many untapped opportunities for fundraising from the community we could utilize for some of these facility repairs/updates. A lot of community members are happy to donate when they know where their funds are directed – for example the HEPA air filter fundraising during the pandemic and some of the fund-a-need projects that have taken place at individual campuses. I also think we can increase communication to voters about the site repairs that additional bond funds would support; I feel voters would be supportive of additional bond funding if they knew the funds were earmarked for specific site repairs that are delineated in advance of bond fund voting. 

Your Strengths
    I will provide leadership to sustain OUSD as an exemplary school district.
    I was awarded my Doctorate in Educational Leadership in 2002 from the University of the Pacific.
    I am a graduate of UC Berkeley, a member of CAL Alumni, the Rotary Club of Orinda and I have spent 38 years in California schools as a teacher, principal and district administrator. My contributions also include policy work while employed as an Educational Consultant for the California Department of Education.
    Additionally, as GATE teacher for Sleepy Hollow, I wrote Gifted and Talented Units utilized by the District for many 
years.
    My husband, Michael, and I raised our two daughters in Orinda and also have three grandchildren living in Orinda. I believe my personal skill set and deep roots in the community puts me in an excellent position to address the complicated issues facing our schools.
    Please contact me at 925.323.8367.

Eve Phillips

Eve Phillips

Challenges
    I will focus on three key interconnected issues: academic excellence, finances, and student mental health.
    First, academic excellence. Many of us moved to Orinda for its excellent public schools, and we all benefit from our community’s focus on education. However, maintaining that excellence requires supporting students in their learning whether they need extra assistance or opportunities to excel. And that student support requires providing administrators and teachers with the flexibility, training and resources to deliver those learning experiences.
    Second, finances. OUSD’s per-pupil funding is among the lowest in the state. Most of our funds come through a per-pupil formula from the state, funded by income, sales and property taxes (and thus impacted by the long-term ramifications of Proposition 13), with most of the remaining (~25%) of the funding from local parcel taxes and ONE Orinda (parents clubs). Altogether, this district must work within a tight budget which impacts everything from classroom updates to teacher salaries. Finding ways both to spend money wisely and locate additional funding will be critical.
    Finally, student mental health. While of concern pre-COVID, the pandemic resulted in serious impacts to student social-emotional growth and behavior. To its strong credit, the district is hiring more counselors to support students. However, these issues will continue beyond recent events. We need to recognize that every student’s mental health impacts their ability to learn and grow, and schools can play a very important supporting role.

Enrollment
    I believe it is critical that we offer comparably great academic experiences at each of the four elementary schools, but recognize each campus has various differences (including in student capacity) and should be allowed to excel in their respective ways. I see three steps in driving equity, all of which are already ongoing: align initiatives where possible among the schools; find ways to share in unique campus resources; and sensibly reassign students as a last resort.
    For alignment, the creation of ONE Orinda to merge district fundraising and allocation was key to address inequities at the different campuses, such as on types of technology used. Other resourcing topics to align by the board and parents clubs can include teacher aids and after school programs. For celebrating unique aspects of campus, special resources like the Nature Area at Wagner Ranch should be accessible by all students.
    Changing lines used to assign students can be a possibility, with a focus on new Kindergarten students without siblings already attending an elementary school, and these discussions are ongoing. Notably, however, changing assignments can impact neighborhood camaraderie in addition to the logistics of family and bus schedules, and should be considered carefully.

Campus Facilities
    As noted above, OUSD does not have extensive financial resources. To address needed repairs in campus facilities, we must look at both opportunities to prioritize and potentially push out less critical repairs and investigate new funding sources beyond those currently available. Significant amount of physical construction is happening on our campuses as we speak; for new projects and repairs, I would expect to work with the board and staff on necessary requirements and priorities, with a focus on those that impact student safety and learning.
    With limited financial resources, we also must look elsewhere. We can explore additional grants which can potentially support certain types of one-off expenditures and look to staff for continuing to find funding sources that match our needs. We can also look to the community for additional bonds but need to make sure we are clear in what that funding would support, and are listening to the community in their priorities for our schools as well.

Your Strengths
    I believe I can uniquely represent students and parents to maintain our district excellence, as evidenced by:
    My experience as an elected member of the Orinda City Council, evidencing both leadership (such as the prompt resolution of the Miner Road sinkhole) and a reputation for listening to citizen input and driving transparency of decision making.
    My endorsements from a broad range of elected local officials, including all five of the current OUSD Board plus representatives from the Orinda City Council, MOFD, BART, and Contra Costa County, who can help me navigate cross-agency issues from fire safety to teacher housing.
    My personal commitment to education, from Miramonte High School valedictorian through to my degrees from MIT and Stanford.
    My profession as a tech executive, with specific experiences in educational technology and digital mental health, that are highly relevant to issues faced by the District today.

Katie Shogan

Katie Shogan

Challenges
    The major challenges likely facing our schools in the next five years include teacher shortages, funding shortfalls and facility maintenance. The national teacher shortage impacts all districts across the country, including OUSD. Teachers are the most critical component of a student’s educational experience, and educators directly impact academic outcomes. As such, it is imperative our schools are able to retain and attract highly qualified and talented teachers and staff.
    Secondly, our public schools are likely to continue to face funding challenges. OUSD receives less state funding per pupil than most districts in the state of California. The annual resource gap is closed through substantial local funding. We are very fortunate to have the support of our community, however, the inadequate state funding will continue to be a challenge for our schools.
    Lastly, facility maintenance and upgrades are critical for both safety and student learning. Modernized schools allow students access to relevant technology and are most conducive to current teaching methodologies. Maintenance work and improvements must be made with limited funding. In addition, conducting construction projects during the school year poses operational and logistical challenges. If elected, I will work with OUSD and fellow board members to address these challenges, as well as other priorities that may arise.

Enrollment
    It is important that our elementary campuses serve a similar number of students so that resources are shared equitably, and students benefit from similar learning environments. OUSD administrators and the Board of Trustees have been discussing and researching the impacts of redistricting, particularly to increase enrollment at Sleepy Hollow and decrease the number of students attending Wagner Ranch. This was discussed at length at the Board of Trustees meeting on September 12.
    I am supportive of thoughtful redistricting. It is important to do adequate analysis of housing trends, and to consider policies that allow families who are already enrolled in a particular elementary school to stay at that site if they prefer. Any boundary adjustments should be made with sufficient advance notice and thorough communication to families. Redistricting has been addressed in the past and will surely continue to be necessary from time to time. I do not think boundaries should be changed frequently, as it can be disruptive to students, families and staff. However, if enrollment is especially unequal, as is currently the case at Sleepy Hollow and Wagner Ranch, the issue should be addressed.

Campus Facilities
    Facility maintenance and updates are essential for student safety and important to student learning. Limited funding makes necessary campus improvements very challenging. At the September 12 Board of Trustees meeting, the administrators and board discussed the development of a comprehensive deferred maintenance plan to carefully prioritize needed work. Capital improvements will be organized by need, with safety issues addressed first. I very much agree with this approach.
    With long-term planning, smaller improvements can be made over time with existing annual capital improvement funds. Bond funds are supporting larger projects and significant improvements are underway. However, both minor maintenance and large construction projects require funding beyond the current budget. It is necessary to identify additional, one-time sources of revenue, which was mentioned at the September board meeting. The conversation and work will continue at the district level, with a quarterly report scheduled for November. As a Trustee, I will join this ongoing discussion, working to prioritize facility needs and identify possible funding sources. 

Your Strengths
    I have the experience, perspective and skillset to be an effective board member and successfully guide the district in its work of providing all students with an excellent education. My professional background is in the education sector. I hold an M.Ed. in Education Policy and Management, and I have experience as a California public school teacher, administrator and school board member. Through this work, I have gained insight and expertise that makes me prepared to assume a position on the board. I have also been deeply involved in our schools and community as an active volunteer and OUSD parent. I understand the many facets of our unique education system and am committed to our town and its families. I am a diplomatic and impartial leader, and value data-driven decision-making, collaboration and strong communication with all stakeholders. If given the opportunity, I look forward to serving the Orinda community.

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