Lauren Gill running for Area 5 School Board

Interviewer: What is your current occupation?

Gill: I work for Pearson Education. I work to help students make the transition to college, find their sense of belonging and persist there on a pathway and then transition into a career and meet their life aspirations.

Interviewer: Why are you running for the School Board this year?

Gill: I am running because I’m the child of educators, and I was raised to leave things better than I found them. I’m running out of gratitude for the public education that put me on a path to success and for the terrific education that my two children, one a typical learner and one an IEP student, received here at CVUSD. 

Interviewer: If you are elected to the school board, how do you hope to represent your area’s concerns?

Gill: My job as a trustee candidate…has been to listen to the concerns and wishes and hopes of students and families and members of the school community, about how they would like our schools to serve their own children and our collective children of the community better. I’ve gathered those into three basic priorities and those are: one, being a supportive path to success for every student. We need to make sure that we honor the individual abilities of every single student and make sure that every student finds the affirmation and the support they need to succeed. Second thing, postgraduate possibilities. My work at Pearson has informed a way that I think about how K-12 supports students in their transition to higher education and in some cases doesn’t do the best job possible, so I would like to have at every grade level, intentional exposure to the kinds of experiences that students will use to understand what it is that they care to do with their lives. And then the third thing we need to have [is] a physically resistant district, one that has close ties to the community. I’ve been talking… about ways that we can align the School Board with City Council much more closely than they are currently, and find other ways to knit the various governing agencies, school board and others together with the nonprofits so that we have the most rich network we can have… for students and families in the district.

Interviewer: Those seem like really great points to address the communities concerns. Have you had experience working with CVUSD schools or the district before?

Gill: I have not professionally, but as a parent of two students, one a typical learner and one an IEP, I understand how special ed services are delivered in the district, and where we do really well and where we have opportunities to improve and become more inclusive. I served on an executive board of one of those boosters with parents who are very different than me but had in common a desire to support our kids in whatever way we possibly could. I’ve spoken before the school board many times and I have spoken before the city council as an advocate for high-quality curriculum. I was very vocal about pushing back on attempts to restrict the core lit program and try to push away books by authors who are black and brown and represent communities that we need to see more widely represented so that our authorship looks like our student body.

Interviewer: How do you think this experience that you’ve had as a parent and advocate will help you in running for school board?

Gill: It has given me a direct understanding of what we do really really well in the district and where we have some opportunities to improve. I think we have a phenomenal group of very skilled, very caring individuals at every level of the district, but I’m also aware that in a system that has historical inequities… we have those same flaws in our school district. We still have those systemic inequities and we need to see them very clearly for what they are, and then we need to dismantle them and create a more equitable, inclusive, affirming education for all of our students.

Interviewer: Do you have any thoughts on preserving respectful school board meetings?

Gill: I think that it’s very important that we model the behavior that we expect our students to aspire to and it’s a really honorable thing to serve the public. I can promise you that if I have a seat behind that dais, we will have cordial, respectful, productive, collaborative discussions and we will get work done.

Interviewer: What are your thoughts on distance learning?

Gill: Because I work in higher ed for Pearson, I am very engaged with figuring out how distance learning is working at the college level as well as trying to understand how we’re doing it well at the K-12 level. There are absolutely populations and communities of students who have not been served well by remote learning and those are our youngest learners — the students that are just learning to read. Students whose housing is unstable, foster youth students with disabilities, our bilingual learners, have really struggled, and we need to find a way to restore them to the fullest possible environment where they can learn well and repair whatever damage has been done by these past months. But on the other hand, there are some things about remote learning that we’ve learned and we can use that learning in the future. When teachers record small chunks of content in videos and closed caption them, that’s a help to any kind of learner, but in particular, it might benefit students with disabilities, students with perhaps auditory processing difficulties or visual difficulties. Having the ability to go back and watch that little chunk of material over and over again and look at the words as they’re hearing [them] could be really, really beneficial. There’s some nuggets that we’re going to take out of this remote learning journey that we’re on that will be helpful to us going forward and I think that we should mind this experience for all the good that we can take out of it.

Interviewer: The areas that need some improvement, what are your thoughts on that?

Gill: I mentioned the youngest learners and the students are most vulnerable. I strongly encourage the district to bring those students back first. I think a phased, go-slow approach is going to benefit all of us in going back to school. The guidance from the state and from the governor about a month ago confirmed that districts have that ability to bring back their more vulnerable populations first, ahead of others. I think it’s important that we do that and then provide additional support like tutoring. I think that going forward we’re going to need to have more of that as we sort of, you know, repair and restore students to the fullest learning experience after this, after these difficult few months.

Interviewer: To the vulnerable learners, such as those who don’t have access to necessary technology outside of school, how would you address that issue?

Gill: The district handed out somewhere around 6,000 devices, and there were internet hotspots developed, there were areas in parking lots of the school, and while I applaud those efforts, I think it’s terribly sad that a student would have to sit in a parking lot to try to do their homework. It’s not adequate. We need to be better prepared for another circumstance like this that might fall to us and make sure that we secure the necessary funding to build the infrastructure so there is no longer a digital divide. 

Interviewer: What are some of things you believe the district should be doing to support students and specifically teachers?

Gill: What a lot of students are telling me is they were stressed and anxious before the pandemic. We have to extend, first of all, an education that removes any stigma from anyone who is seeking mental health resources. I think that we need to extend those mental health resources to the entire school community without question, and that certainly includes teachers — teachers who are in some cases, doubly challenged in meeting the needs of their students, teaching through the screen, and they might have their own families and own children sitting and trying to learn remotely beside them while they do their work. I want to see tremendous support for our teachers to take care of our students and absolutely everyone in the school community.

Interviewer: What type of resources are you thinking about specifically targeting mental health issues that you were just mentioning?

Gill: If we’re able to shift resources, for example, taking resources that we might use to have school resources officers on campus. They would prefer that we place those resources into hiring additional counselors, or giving the counselors that we do have, extra training and professional development to be able to be those real mental health resources going forward. 

Interviewer: How do you plan on promoting equity and inclusion on the district level and on our school sites?

Gill: We get bogged down when we talk about equity, and there’s an effort to talk in terms of kindness and respect. While kindness and respect are important, we don’t have a deficit of kindness; what we have is an inequitable distribution of resources like opportunities and access and power. The way to get at the problem is through representation, so we need more folks in positions of decision making to be representatives of all the communities that we have in our larger school community. We need to go to the many wonderful schools of education that we have regionally and specifically [and] recruit black and brown teachers and administrators. And then representation also in the curriculum. When my son was in the eleventh grade… his English syllabus… was exclusively white male authors, and that’s terrible. I emailed his teacher and I copied the English department chair and I said, “Let’s work with paired texts. We can’t change your syllabus, we can’t get rid of all the core texts we have, but we can supplement. We can do paired texts in order to bring some richness in what we have.” I’ve been an advocate for opening up our core lit program and having a much richer selection of voices and we’ve started, but we have a lot more work to do. 

Interviewer: How do you feel about CVUSD’s current set of core literature? Do you think it’s necessarily representative of the voices, or do you have areas of improvement?

Gill: It’s not. To go back to the anecdote about my son, I was reflecting on ‘what are the messages that are being sent?’ If they’re female or black or brown or LGBTQ+, what’s the message they receive when they look at a syllabus that has only white male authors? I don’t want my son, who is a white male, to feel like only people who look like him are capable of creating great art. There’s lots of room to improve and I have been talking with the English department chairs about this over the past few years. What I think is really hopeful in the struggle that we had over the core lit policy is that we adopted an open community celebration. I think flipping that script from a defensive posture to a real celebration is an important part of the whole bringing the whole school community together in this idea of making our literature program and our curriculum, in general, more representative and richer. 

Interviewer: On school sites, there’s a lot of discrimination that takes place, and some of it doesn’t get reported. How do you hope that administrators and people are able to create a school climate where students don’t feel scared to report such instances?

Gill: Representation is one way to repair the situation that we have. When we bring people to the decision-making table, who represent a whole lot of perspectives and backgrounds, it’s less likely that one prevailing narrative will hold sway. We need to redistribute the power and the decision making amongst a wide group of folks. I was very very pleased to see the equity task force formed. One of the things I hope to be able to contribute to as a trustee is to bring a precision of language to help us see things that we’ve become so used to, we don’t see them any longer. If we talk instead about a justice gap, and we talk about groups of students who have been underserved, it becomes much clearer that we’re talking about a systemic problem of inequity, and we, the decision-making body, the grown-ups, are obligated morally and legally to fix it. Just using language in a more precise way, can help people see the problem a little more clearly and be ready to provide some solutions. 

Interviewer: This next question is regarding the English language learner program throughout the district. What are your thoughts on the current ELL program throughout the district and do you have any ideas to improve upon these programs?

Gill: I don’t know a tremendous amount about exactly how that program works. What I do know is that there is a disparity between the way we talk about bilingual learners and the way we talk about white students who learn a second language, and I would like to eliminate that disparity and remove that bias. One thing that we have done recently in the district that I think is a great idea, is expand access to the bilingual state seal of biliteracy. It is such a tremendous asset to be bilingual or multilingual and the state seal recognizes that. I don’t know a tremendous amount about exactly how the English language learner program works, but I do understand that there is bias attached to the way we talk about English language learners or bilingual learners and I’d like to see us eliminate that disparity. 

Interviewer: Into the Healthy Youth Act, I know that CVUSD is planning on beginning the health textbook updating process this November. Do you have any thoughts on how we should incorporate the Healthy Youth Act curriculum on the primary and secondary level?

Gill: I think it’s really important that we do this well. We’re out of compliance with the law at this point, and there’s been some resistance to moving forward, not just in the area of health, but across-the-board in terms of making sure that our curriculum is the most up-to-date, scientifically accurate and inclusive. That has to do with the fact that the previous board majority kind of slow-walked anything that they felt was controversial and certainly the Healthy Youth Act fits into that category. We need to make sure that the curriculum we adopt is medically accurate, scientifically accurate, age-appropriate, inclusive and respectful. Just one example, we now have a vaccine against the human papillomavirus, which causes ovarian cancer, and you can’t read about that, it’s so recent. That should be big news, but you can’t read about it in a 20-year-old textbook because it happened so recently, so it’s very important that we approve a curriculum that is in fact medically accurate, inclusive, and age-appropriate. 

Interviewer: Speaking of HPV, how do you feel about comprehensive sex education? 

Gill: It is absolutely vital for students to know how to protect themselves and to protect each other and the consequences of not doing it well are severe. I participated in a community town hall at CLU and presented about the California Healthy Youth Act and AB 1266 — what exactly the laws require and don’t, and what they’re intended to do. There are terrible statistics about suicide and in our community. In our school community, we have had conversations about being fully inclusive of LGBTQ+ students who are particularly disproportionately harmed by transphobia and homophobia, and suicide rates are a key indicator of the size of the problem and the urgency with which we must fix it. 

Interviewer: Speaking of LGBTQ+ students, what do you think a safe school campus looks like for those students and what programs do you think could be implemented in training to keep them safe?

Gill: I think we have to make sure that everyone on a school campus, teachers and staff, have the training to be fully inclusive and affirming of the identity that students name and claim for themselves and that means from TK all the way through 12th grade. 

Interviewer: What would that look like on the elementary level in your best case scenario? 

Gill: I’m aware that we have parents of LGBTQ+ students and teachers who are asking the district please to provide professional development and training around gender identity because it’s needed. I would make that a priority to have it happen as quickly as possible. 

Interviewer: What is your opinion on Conejo Valley social-emotional specialized programs such as the self-contained classes for students with certain disabilities?

Gill: I think that inclusion is very, very important. My IEP student was segregated as a special education student far more than he should have been. As a result, he did not feel as though he was college material, and we don’t want to graduate any student out of our district who doesn’t feel that they have the full range of higher education possibilities open to them and supported for them. Students need to be learning together with their peers as much as possible. It’s always going to be a continuum because individual students have individual needs, and we have to make sure that students with complex needs get the services and support they require to learn well. 

Interviewer: How do you feel that the CVUSD is doing with helping students with, say learning disabilities or ADHD that are more in the category of 504 plans?

Gill: I think that we have very very skilled committed professionals in our district doing the absolute best job that they possibly can do. I also know that the legislation that controls the funding at the federal level and also at the state level is not adequate. So the law that governs special education, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, which was passed back in the ‘70s, is designed to cover 40% or nearly half of the funding for special education services. Congress has never funded it beyond 15% in decades. While as a trustee, I can’t make Congress do its job, what I can do is advocate with our local and state and federal elected officials for full and fair funding for our district, to make sure that we have the resources we need to put behind the professionals who are doing the utmost by our students. 

Interviewer. A lot of students experience anxiety surrounding grades and I think there’s a lot of pressure in our district and schools individually to take as many AP classes as you can and struggle as much as you can over that for college. I was just wondering what your opinion is on that?

Gill: I have the utmost respect for students who push themselves hard, I’m sure you’re all in that category, but I do think there’s a balance to be struck between the intrinsic value of learning and the joy and learning and from what students have told me. I’m aware that the SAT and the ACT are in the process of possibly going away, and I think that’s a good thing actually. I think those are exclusionary, discriminatory tests that are not at all predictive of the value of your learning and the way that you’ll perform in college. I hope that signals a movement toward a bit of upgrading, not a lessening of the richness or rigor of the academic experiences, but a fuller expression of what those mean and how they equip you and change you so that we get back some of that joy that is inherent in learning. 

Interviewer: What are some changes that can happen in the day-to-day life of a student so that it’s not dreading getting out of the car at 7 a.m. ?

Gill: I’ve talked with a lot of teachers about their efforts to pursue upgrading to a certain extent, to offer meaningful feedback than numerical or letter grades on an assignment that really help you understand how you can go further. I hope that we can open up a whole school community, and maybe have some of those teachers who have mastered techniques, mentor other teachers who are really interested in pursuing those ideas.

Interviewer: What would be your top priority for district spending, and where do you think the district could better allocate its funds?

Gill: I mentioned that the IDEA is not funded at the level that it ought to be. We’re probably facing some difficult budget years, but regardless, we can’t let loose of continuing our efforts to make sure we’re meeting the needs of every student. When it comes to prioritizing funding, those are the areas where we can repair the historical inequities that we have in our district: the students who have disabilities or are bilingual learners, our black and brown students, our LGBTQ+ students, our economically disadvantaged students, and of course, there’s a lot of crossover among those groups. I think we have to start there in terms of prioritization, but we also talked earlier in the conversation about the fact that we’re going to need mental health support for all of our students and teachers and staff, as well. 

Interviewer: How would you address low funds given to custodial services and cleaning supplies that are going to start becoming a lot more important if schools start reopening?

Gill: That first round of funding that Congress approved did help us. The science keeps helping us to understand the challenge that this virus represents. Early on we talked a lot about surface cleaning because we were concerned about students and everyone being vulnerable to contact, catching the virus through contact. We now know that that’s negligible. The emphasis on custodians is changing a bit, and we’re much more concerned with things like ventilation. [The district] upgraded all the filters in our HVAC systems and tuned everything up. I’m confident having reviewed all of the district’s and school sites’ plans that we’re going to get back to in-person learning and keep everyone safe. We will need extra resources if we’re going to continue in-person learning on a safe basis, so it will be a priority to advocate for those funds.

Interviewer: You mentioned Measure I money in the beginning. What was that for? 

Gill: Measure I is the funding that was created when the taxpayers voted on a bond measure. It’s used for physical plant and infrastructure. It’s what’s responsible for when we build something new or repair our physical plants or buildings or properties. Some of that funding went towards upgrading our new ventilation system and purchasing the high-quality filters. It also was used to upgrade our server capacity and digital infrastructure, which meant that while we struggled a bit, we were much better positioned having done some of that work in the past year or two. When the pandemic hit, we would have been really vulnerable had we not invested the funds there.

Interviewer: Why do you think CVUSD has seen declining enrollment for the past several years, and how do you hope to combat that?

Gill: We haven’t. Enrollment year-to-year has been relatively stable. It’s a larger problem than what’s happening at any of our schools. We’re holding our own better than area districts, so that means we’re doing some things really well. The problem becomes one of housing affordability, and ‘can new, young families move into the district?’ This is something that I’ve spoken about before the city council, and it’s one of the reasons that I’ve had conversations about aligning the school board and City Council closer together because these are the things that are interconnected. As far as enrollments, we are vulnerable to decreases if we don’t fix our affordable housing issue. 

Interviewer: Do you have any plans to further boost the plans of student voices in our district?

Gill: Yes, I absolutely do. Student voices have been very important in my campaign. We are in the process of organizing in another Listen-and-Learn session. I’m very very pleased that we have a student member of the board, and… a Student District Advisory Council. Those are important building blocks we can add to and expand upon. Since I’ve been listening very very closely and learned such a great deal during the campaign, I absolutely will be relying on you and your peers, should I be fortunate enough to be elected.

Interviewer: What is your position on lowering the voting age?

Gill: I am all in favor of lowering the voting age. You should have agency over the way you learn and the way decisions are made about your lives, so yes.

Interviewer: A lot of emphasis on your campaign has been listening to your community members. Can you describe how you have facilitated that through your Listen-and-Learn sessions? How have you been taking the community’s concerns into account with your campaign?

Gill: I have missed canvassing and having the doorstep conversations that I had in the 2018 cycle, but we’ve made the best of it. I’ve used social media. I am sitting in my campaign office, which is my garage, which is open to the air, and you might notice that people are wandering in because it’s open and people come by. When you show up, I put on my mask, and we have a conversation about whatever it is that is on your mind. I’ve learned a tremendous amount, and I am completely humbled and honored by the trust that people have placed in me to share their hopes and wishes and concerns for what happens in our schools. It’s been my favorite part of the campaign, and I absolutely will continue doing it. 

Interviewer: If elected, would you want to continue with your Listen-and-Learn sessions? 

Gill: Yes, I will be accessible and accountable to all of you. I’m looking forward to it. 

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