Conejo Council PTA hosts school board candidate forum

Megan King ’19, Caelyn Pender ’19 & Milla Wu ’19

Conejo Council PTA hosted a forum for the Conejo Valley Unified School District school board candidates at the Civic Arts Plaza Scherr Forum on Sat., Sept. 15.

Six of the eight candidates, in order of seat — Mike Dunn, Cindy Goldberg, Patrissha Rose Booker, Angie Simpson, Bill Gorback and Marlon Delano Williams — attended the forum. Candidates Amy Chen and Jenny Fitzgerald were unable to attend.

Fitzgerald had a “prior family engagement,” according to the Thousand Oaks Acorn. However, she had a representative, Shannon Diffner, who gave her opening speech but was not permitted to answer questions.

Each candidate was sent a letter by certified mail inviting them to participate in the forum.

“I did not receive the invitation,” said Chen at the Sept. 4 CVUSD board meeting. “I was just informed by a fellow candidate that it should have been delivered by certified mail. I’m sure if you check with the post office you will see it was never delivered and never signed for. So, in light of this information, I would be happy to attend. Please feel free to resend the letter or just email me the specifics and I will be happy to RSVP.”

In a statement made by Rocky Capobianco, president of the Conejo Council PTA, to The Arrow, he explained that “I met with two representatives from the Thousand Oaks post office.  They informed me and provided documentation with proof of attempted delivery to Dr. Amy Chen’s residence on three different occasions, beginning Aug. 22.  They also informed me that not only did she not accept the letter after three attempts, she made no arrangements to pick it up from the post office.”

Despite Chen’s desire to attend, the PTA denied her attendance because she missed the Sept. 1 deadline.

“We did not exclude anyone,” said Capobianco. “All candidates were invited. Our Conejo Council PTA established rules, protocols and a deadline. This was not a unilateral decision and there was no ‘arbitrary exclusion.’  We followed the rules that were set forth.”

Introduction

The candidates were seated at a table at a seat number they randomly drew when they arrived. They gave their opening statements in this order; the candidates rotated answering questions first by order of seating.

In current CVUSD board member Mike Dunn’s opening statement, he said that he felt that the forum was discriminating against Chen.

“I appreciate this opportunity to speak to you. I cannot participate in a forum that is discriminating against an immigrant, Asian woman, Dr. Amy Chen,” said Dunn. “Amy is an inspiration and should be heard. I ask that the PTA be reasonable and suspend the rules so that Dr. Chen could participate in our forum. I ask that the other candidates also oppose this discrimination.”

During Booker’s opening statement, she expressed that she was offended by Dunn’s comments because she is also an immigrant. Mike Dunn left the stage during her statement and sat in the back of the room by the door without making comments for the rest of the forum.

“I’m a descendant of slaves and I am an immigrant to this country, so I don’t see how discrimination should have come up,” said Booker. “I’m very offended by the comments that were made. I am an immigrant — Africa.”

The forum continued with five candidates.

Summary of ideas

While answering questions, Goldberg stressed that she has “a proven track record” of working in the community. Some of her goals are to “[rebuild] the trust of the community,” “advocate for more voices” and do a “better job meeting parents where they are.” She also explained her desire to reach out into the community. She stated that the district needs to “stop keeping best–kept–secrets secret” about programs and opportunities in the district in order to increase enrollment.  To help address the mental health problems in the district, Goldberg thinks CVUSD should bolster the BreakThrough Assistance Program, which helps students facing challenges.

Booker’s responses emphasized a desire to represent low-income and low-performing schools; she talked about how she lived near Conejo Elementary, a low-performing school, and how she wants to work with those parents. Additionally, she believes that the lack of affordable housing is a problem, both for families with students and for teachers who have to commute from far away to teach in the CVUSD. Booker said that she would have no problem talking to local officials — she talks to the city council frequently. If elected, she would work to find “common ground” between contentious parties.

Simpson explained that as a CVUSD parent, she will always represent students and families.  She proposed the idea of having a cultural norms document of guidelines to promote a positive and cooperative environment at the board meetings.

“[We have] a lot of potential to do much better,” said Simpson. “[There is an] advantage for new board members to come together … as a team.”

She cites her experience as an athlete, coach and teacher as solidifying to her the importances of teamwork and working toward a common goal.  Simpson also “absolutely” supports the book policy 6161.1, which places asterisks on syllabi warning parents of CDE annotations, and would protect alternative assignments if elected.

Gorback highlighted how he was a trained mediator, especially because of his background as a teacher and counselor. Gorback emphasized how “when we have different opinions, we end up with a gap.” He said he would ask both sides “What can you accept?” and shrink that gap, along with maintaining respect. He also believes that the school board should listen more to the students.

“I think when the students speak, we should have more attentive listening,” said Gorback. “Their opinions are what matter.”

Williams talked about the negative effects of social media and how it is bringing down student morale, proposing media education “to avoid certain traps.” In response to the core literature discussion, he mentioned students didn’t need to be exposed to certain content that is “out in the world [which] we don’t need to put in our minds.” He also supports parental involvement, as he believes “parent involvement in schools is a huge part of student education.” He continued to express that “[it takes] a whole city to raise children.” To promote a more cooperative board environment, he believes that “we all have to work together, find a common solution [and] accept each other’s viewpoints and other ideas … to support discussion.”

Questions

Each candidate answered 16 questions, 14 of which were questions submitted by audience members.  Each candidate had one minute to respond to each question.

The first question, posed by the Conejo Council PTA, asked about what candidates thought the number one challenge facing the CVUSD is and how they would respond to it. Goldberg discussed “rebuilding the trust of the community” because with “no trust and communication, everything breaks,” and she wants to “share what we do” because CVUSD has “a lot of great things.” Booker intends to focus on “all schools performing at their best” and “more involvement from low-income neighborhoods”; she also emphasizes student involvement.

“The voices of the students need to be heard,” said Booker.

Simpson mentioned the current “uncertain financial times.” She feels a “need to approach parents and students as consumers” as well as “stop declining enrollment to keep programs.” Gorback wants to address the “divisiveness” and “lack of civility” and establish a sense of respect on the board.

“[These problems] lead to other problems like declining enrollment,” said Gorback. “I believe I can bring unity [to the board].”

Williams believes that the school board “can’t do anything” about the “declining enrollment of schools” because the “city is aging” and there are “not a lot of new families coming into the city.” He expressed how declining enrollment might be a positive development because a smaller classroom size enables more students to receive “extra help and aid in the classroom.”

One of the questions posed by the audience asked which areas of the schools need the most improvement and how this improvement would be facilitated. Simpson explained that there is not just one area of schools that needs improvement; improvements need to come to each school site individually.

“Improvements need to come at the site level,” said Simpson. “[We need to] preserve [school board] communication with site leadership.”

Gorback emphasized “communication between schools” and that CVUSD “should make a special point to make sure [that] underrepresented groups be welcomed.” Williams explained that “our priority is to educate students,” so the district needs to make sure that “teachers have support in class.” He wants to create “more classified positions so teachers are not swamped with schoolwork.”

“[That way], students…are coming to school knowing they’ll be receiving the education their parents sent them there for,” said Williams.

Goldberg discussed the need to improve communication between school sites.

“We often operate as silos,” said Goldberg. “That area is something that needs to be bolstered.”

Booker discussed Conejo Valley Elementary School and the attention it needs to be able to improve.

Another audience-suggested question asked about how candidates would increase the student voice in the district. Goldberg brought up how she thinks this is the “piece that’s been missing.” She would “love [to create] a student advisory council,” hold forums, “meet [students] where they are” and “get out and ask them [their opinions].”

“The voice that’s missing is the most important voice,” said Goldberg.

Booker suggested that there “should be student commissions” where “all voices can be heard.” She recommended having “one board meeting a month where only students can make public comments.” Additionally, she wants to make sure the student representation is diverse.

Simpson expressed how her favorite part of campaigning thus far has been “interviewing with the school papers.” She wants to take time out in comments to address student concerns and “ask how [students] are doing and be a caring voice.” Gorback would like to see a “member from each [school] cluster on the school board” as well as “more attentive listening.”

“That’s why we’re all here — the kids,” said Gorback. “Their opinions are what matter.”

Williams emphasized the importance of “being involved” with and visiting schools. He also wants to “have students sit up on a panel.”

Closing Statements

In Booker’s closing statement, she explained that, although she is not well-versed in every aspect of the board, she has a passion for making peoples’ voices heard and speaking for those unable to speak. She also stated her support for Amy Chen.

“I support women of color running all across Ventura County,” said Booker. “I don’t know what happened, but I’m sorry another woman of color was not on the stage with me today.”

In Simpson’s closing statement, she said she believed that the school board isn’t merely “a rubber stamp” that should just “trust the experts.” She wants to make sure that community “tax dollars are spent wisely” and that “the tough questions have transparent answers.” She is open to all ideas and wants to build bridges within the board and community. She wants to ensure transparency and professionalism among board members.

Gorback said in his closing statement that he wants to expand students’ rights to learn and ensure that teachers feel valued.

Williams thanked the PTA for allowing him to participate and encouraged students to stay in school and pursue higher education.

Goldberg said that she is a true believer in public education and that, in the CVUSD, there is lot to be proud of and a lot to work on; CVUSD should innovate while maintaining traditions. She wants to ensure that “we are exceptional without exception.” She emphasized the importance of not jeopardizing the social and emotional well-being of students.

The PTA posted a full video of the forum on their website, conejocouncilpta.org, and on YouTube.

Thrive Conejo is hosting another school board candidate forum on Thurs., Sept. 27 from 6-8 p.m. The forum will be located at the Lundring Event Center at California Lutheran University, and all eight candidates are expected to attend.

 

** Candidates are listed in the order they sat at forum and/or answered questions**

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