10 Reasons You Need To Vote For Your School Board Rep

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By Tanya Anton, creator of GoMamaGuide.com

Dear Parents,

You’re busy, your kids keep you running, your work is never-ending, and after this last round of “political theatre” (for lack of a better way to put our current state of the union), you’re crispy, burnt, over it.

I get it. I really do.

But here’s where you can take that outrage and “election fatigue” and actually make a difference. Locally. Where every single vote really DOES matter. (The previous BD4 race was narrowly won by a margin of about 2500 votes.) Where parents in the previous election, whose kids have the most at stake, were ABSENT from the vote! (About 2/3 of voters were over the age of 55 and didn’t even have children in the school system.)

Parents, we’ve been letting OTHER PEOPLE decide the future of our kids’ education! We need to pay attention now and STEP UP!

In LAUSD, seven elected school board members run a $7.6 BILLION dollar annual enterprise impacting the future of about 650,000 of our kids. Three of those seven seats are to be decided in the March 7th election next week. The victors this time will be seated for an unusually long term of 5 ½ years, meaning they will be making decisions through June, 2022. There is a lot at stake.

The decisions your school board rep makes will impact our collective kids and schools directly in many ways you might not realize. Here are TEN reasons why you NEED to vote for your school board rep on March 7:

1. Choosing Your School: In a buffet of school options you can have “choice,” as long as it’s a district-union choice. Our current board member, at times openly hostile to charter schools, would have everyone go back to their neighborhood schools. That’s fine in some neighborhoods, but what if your local school has been failing kids for decades? Is unsafe? Or simply is a model that doesn’t work for your particular child? (It happens.) If you believe that every family has the right to choose which program works best for their child, whether that’s the neighborhood school, a magnet, a charter, language immersion, gifted program, specialty academy, or a combination of those options throughout their K-12 journey, then you’ll need to vote for a candidate who actively supports ALL public school options.

2. Discretionary Funds: Did you know that each board member has access to a cache of discretionary funds to be allocated to schools and projects in his/her board district? They also wield extraordinary influence on prioritizing bond expenditures. How is it that Venice High gets a $111M modernization makeover, while Westchester High (WESM) continually sits in a state of disrepair? Or Emerson Middle gets over $18M of a $25M BD4 CIPR fund, while other area schools get virtually nothing? Ask your board member.

3. Co-Locations: Setting aside the charter debate for a moment, it’s the local board member who works behind the scenes coordinating with the Charter Schools Division to determine where charters and other school programs (pilots, language immersions, new themed programs) will be housed and co-location offers made. How is it that some areas are dense with co-locations, while other half-empty campuses NEVER have to share? Why do some charters get offered a space that just a few months earlier was “not enough space” for a different charter? Why can expansion bungalows be dropped easily for some programs yet “impossible” for others to receive? Why is this entire process shrouded in secrecy, everything from current enrollment numbers, zip codes of attendees, campus maps with classroom allocations, to a neutral oversight process? And further, if there are such ballooning waitlists at certain in-demand programs, while other programs are limping along at a fraction of what their campus once held, why aren’t the in-demand programs being expanded and replicated to serve more students?
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4. School Improvement Oversight: We talk about stricter oversight for charter schools and there’s a lot of finger pointing, but that works both ways. We need stricter oversight for ALL schools, and that includes the district ones, especially the middle and high schools that have been failing kids repeatedly without ever being revitalized or shut down. Perhaps it’s time to consider a change in approach and new leadership.

5. Open Door Policy: It sure sounds good in a stump speech, but does your board member actually take your calls? Meet with your school? Communicate proposed plans openly and work with you on issues your community is concerned about, ie. does he REPRESENT his constituents? Or will he ignore all questions, show disdain for your concerns, and compare your “presumed affluence” to other more distressed areas, in effect silencing your concerns as altogether unworthy. Or abstain from voting because he doesn’t agree with his constituents? Our current board member keeps talking about “ALL kids,” but I know he’s not talking about MY kids, or the MANY kids, (his actual constituents), across this vast board district because these kids are somehow less important to him.

6. Budget: Make no mistake, this district is facing a fiscal cliff of unmet pensions with decreased revenue from steadily declining enrollment. Despite the passing of Prop 30 and 55, (the sales tax increase), if the looming budget is not addressed by this board and we face the inevitable shortfall, there WILL be class size increases, reductions in staff, reductions in custodial, counselors, nurses, librarians, supplies, and reductions in the kinds of programs that enrich and expand learning for our kids. We need a board member who will take his fiduciary responsibility seriously and come up with solutions. You can’t “bake sale and gift wrap” your way out of millions of dollars of deficit.

7. Labor Negotiations: When your board member is in the pocket of labor unions – he gave a 10% raise to teachers and clerical while ignoring fiscal realities, admin has increased 20% despite declining enrollment, he fought measures to track teacher performance, or to make it easier to remove a bad teacher (it’s virtually impossible) – we know where his priorities are.

8. Allegations of Privatizing/Special Interests: Charters have been accused of being part of a union-busting “privatizing” agenda. However most of the not-for-profit charter schools around here would be thrilled to receive even a fraction of the monies they’ve been accused of getting from those “billionaires.” It’s an effective accusation but a false one. On the other hand, the same “special interest” argument can be levied at the unions. Just follow the funds. The unions raised dues in order to have a larger political war chest, and The California Teachers Association is by far the largest and most well-endowed lobbying arm in California, outspending Big Oil and Big Pharma in order to protect its agenda. Despite all that spending and organizing, many public schools have done a dismal job educating kids, and any attempts to revitalize them are met with skepticism and intractable job protection gridlock. Regardless of where you stand on this issue, it’s a misleading, go-nowhere argument that divides families and hurts kids. Let’s get leadership who promotes the school models that are working, replicates best practices, and puts an end to the divisive rhetoric that harms families. ALL children deserve a great education.

9. Magnet Conversions: In an effort to compete with charters, your neighborhood school has just been converted to a STEM/STEAM magnet, the edu-flavor du jour. There goes your community school. Now you need to apply through eChoices with everybody else and pray you get into the new commuter school, or scramble to find other options if this model doesn’t resonate for your child. Your current board rep thinks this will fix your neighborhood.

10. Broken Pathways: Unless you can afford to move into a few select affluent neighborhoods, most of us do not live where the zoned pathway from elementary to middle to high school (“feeder pattern”) is optimally functioning and high-performing academically. So while the majority of elementary schools are doing a consistent job of educating kids, when you start to look to middle school and beyond, parents begin to panic at the slim pickings. This is where you see a large drop in enrollment as families leave the district for other school choices. More needs to be done to build and support the revitalization of feeder patterns especially at the secondary school level. Slapping up new magnet programs, or lowering the bar to qualify for graduation is simply not enough.

I hope this motivates you to get out and vote for fresh leadership on March 7. Our collective kids’ futures depend on it.

And be sure to VOTE next Tuesday!

 

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Introducing Speak UP!

My work over the last decade with GoMamaGuide has been mainly to educate and assist parents in navigating the array of public school choices in Los Angeles. But choosing a school is only the first step. I’ve also encouraged you to stay active and involved no matter what kind of school you end up in, to speak up if something doesn’t feel right, and to work together to come up with solutions.

Speak Up logoBuilding on those ideals, I am excited to announce a new collaboration with Speak UP, a grassroots movement of parents and families who want a more powerful voice in shaping education policy in California.

Despite having the greatest numbers AND the greatest vested interest in our kids’ education, parents in California have historically NOT had a meaningful role in education policy decisions and have NOT engaged in the electoral process – even when the results have a direct impact on our children.

*In 2013 barely 1 in 5 registered voters cast ballots in the school board election, and fewer than 4 out of 10 voters were under age 55.

Parents, we’ve basically been ABSENT from the vote. We intend to change that!

We believe parents can be a powerful force for change if we unite and use our collective voice in our schools, communities and at the ballot box. We invite all parents from all types of schools. Our only “special interest” is our collective children.

If you believe that parent voices matter, please become a Speak UP member
(it’s FREE to join) and take our survey so you can help drive our agenda. We’re also looking for parent leaders and ambassadors to work closely with us in your communities.

Let’s spread this movement. Join us today!
http://www.speakupparents.org

Facebook page: /SpeakUpUnitedParents
Twitter: @SpeakUpParents

And no, I’m not abandoning you, I’ll still be offering all things GoMamaGuide. 😉

PS Smart Tip: Get Informed and Participate

ItsYourSchlDon’t be one of those 90-some % of the population who don’t take the time to find out who their school board leaders are, then complain when they vote to cut your school’s budget, beloved teachers, or music and art programs. Or co-locate your school. Or relocate your school. Or close you down. Or convert your school to another kind of school altogether, without your input.

We sometimes tend to think THEY did this to US, not realizing that WE-the-people put THEM in the seat of power to begin with. And there are WAY more parents of school-aged children than unions or special interests in this town. It’s just that the majority of school parents have typically been mute when it comes to local voter turnout.
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These are OUR schools, and our local school board reps are OUR elected officials. Don’t let someone else decide it. Know who you’re putting in the driver’s seat of your child’s school experience. Ask questions. Participate. Learn. Vote.
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Did you know that school board reps have discretionary funds for school improvements, upgrades or pet projects? Did you also know that as an ally, your school board rep can look out for your school in a myriad of ways? Take the time to get to know the candidates and make the smart choice for your child’s education. Regardless who you vote for, the main thing is to actually vote.

PS Smart Tip: Transformation Begins With Visualization

Exhale Stress and Worry… Inhale Joy, Inspiration and a Vision of The Highest

Take in a deep cleansing breath and visualize your children among other children, in happy nurturing environments, excited to be amongst good-hearted caring people, with inspired lessons and wonderful opportunities for learning. Hold this vision for your children, your school, your community.

Collectively these are our schools. And we are creating them, shaping them, as we lean into and visualize the need. And as we fill them with our collective love and care and nurturing, they will soar. And despite the economic downturn, despite all you might hear in the press, many already are. And many more are opening, transforming, filling the need for something new. Because of all of us, together, holding the vision, asking for and creating change. For our collective children. For our future. Because we love them. Because we care.

Because we are all inter-related; not one apart from the other.

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So let’s hold the highest vision of possible school, and in joy, bring it into fulfillment.

And trust with all this school stuff, it’s gonna be alright!

Because it is.

PS Smart Tip: What If We Don’t Like The Teacher We Got?

(I received this question at the start of the school year but it bears repeating.) 

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Unfortunately, many schools adopt a hands-off policy when it comes to teacher-student assignments, and frown upon parents campaigning and angling for a specific teacher. When the teacher assignment list goes out, it is usually final. You really are at the mercy of the classroom your child gets, or talking to the principal to see if there is any way you could make a change, but only if it’s based on some tangible, specific circumstance or need.
If school hasn’t started yet and you don’t really know what the teacher is like, (ie. your fears are based on rumors or gossip), perhaps take a wait-and-see approach to find out if your child does OK with the teacher. Sometimes the situation will surprise you and your child actually ends up adjusting to and liking the teacher after things settle down into the routine of school life.
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If things still don’t feel comfortable, maybe you could volunteer in the classroom to offer support where needed and keep an eye on the situation. If you do happen to hear something disturbing coming from your child or witness an egregious incident, start taking notes and log what is happening with dates and times. Then go with your notes to the principal to discuss a solution. If need be, go to your local district superiors and file a report.
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In any case, this might be a first in a long line of potential life lessons you can help guide your child through. We’ve all had to deal with a boss or co-worker who doesn’t communicate well or has a tricky personality. Learning to be adaptable, learning how to get a long, managing differing expectations with different personalities are all life skills worth learning.

PS Smart Tip: Being Pro-Active

No school is perfect, and no school can provide all things to all people. But many times we as parents are the first to see or hear things, either directly on campus or through our children, that could use a tweak, a solution, or an all-out revamping. Now is not the time to sit idly by and expect someone else to solve it.
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Ask questions, talk to others, take a quick meeting with your teacher to find out their perspective and discuss possible solutions, and if you don’t get resolution, talk to the principal. Perhaps you’ve got ideas and some strategic planning or creative problem-solving will fix the issue. Sometimes just letting others know there is a problem that needs addressing is enough to get something adjusted or changed. Sometimes we can solve things in-house, and sometimes we have to take it all the way to our School Board Rep or Superintendent or even the press.
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We tend to forget that these are our schools, our children, our tax dollars. Although others might be “in charge,” when all stakeholders work together collectively and collaboratively, that’s where real community can be built and positive change can take place.

PS Smart Tip: Don’t Keep It To Yourself!

This one’s for kids: if you find you either need extra help or extra work in class, ask for it. It does no good to suffer in silence if the work’s either going over your head or you’re downright bored in class. People can’t read your mind. Find the courage to speak up – either to your teacher or ask your parents to talk to the teacher – and you will get the help or extra work you need.

This goes for all kinds of issues, problems or sticky situations. Don’t keep it all inside and get frustrated. Reach out and talk to someone about it…a teacher, a TA, your parents, your friend’s mom, your favorite coach, and together you can come up with some next steps and possible solutions. Today’s tip is all about being pro-active to get the support you need.

PS Smart Tip: Avoid Homework Meltdowns

Establish good study habits early in the school year. Set a daily expectation for your children to come home, get a snack, and get their work done BEFORE they can goof off, play with their friends or get “screen time.” Sit with them to keep them focused and on track. Be available to answer questions or go over it with them if they need to, but don’t do their work for them.

Setting the intention that “the sooner you get your work done, the sooner you can play” gives them an incentive to take care of their school business first, teaches them how to set priorities, and also lets them know it’s not ok to procrastinate. Delaying homework until after dinner or before bedtime can lead to sloppy work habits, or a full-blown power struggle with the added stress of a ticking clock.

Prenatal Boost: The Friends of Playa Vista School

by Tanya Anton | GoMamaGuide.com

Ripple EffectBack in March 2009, I spoke to a group of what I affectionately call “stroller moms” – or moms with toddlers – in Playa Vista, who, like so many of you, were concerned about their future public school choices. Being residents in the recently formed Playa Vista development, they knew there was talk of a new LAUSD school for their community on the horizon, but without it being built yet there were so many unanswered questions.   

What kind of school would it be? What kinds of kids would it serve? Would it meet the needs and high expectations of its residents or should these parents be weighing their odds elsewhere?

With so many unknown variables, you can imagine how hard it would be to feel confident about your neighborhood school, especially when it wasn’t even built yet.

But rather than get discouraged, I shared my experience of working on behalf of a school before my daughter was even old enough to attend, so that by the time she got there we were already part of the revitalization effort. I encouraged these moms to get involved now while the school was being planned, and instead of just taking what was handed to them they had the opportunity to meet and connect with the movers and shakers of the development, the city council, the local district, the district’s Facilities department so they could have a voice in steering decisions, decisions that would directly affect their families. Most importantly, I suggested they think about starting a booster club and begin to organize and fundraise ahead of time so that by the time the school opened in 2012, they’d already be a strong and viable force. It was an inspirational night and I felt the energy in the room, but like so many of my talks, I don’t always hear how things turn out for folks.

This past month (July 2011) I went to see my husband’s band, Venice, aka Pine Mountain Logs, play an outdoor concert in Playa Vista Park. As I walked near the bandshell with my daughter, I noticed a table selling drinks laid with an assortment of papers and info. As I leaned in to get a better look, I saw the “Friends of Playa Vista School” logo and posters and beamed ear to ear like a proud mama. There they were out there galvanizing the hundreds of community members on behalf of their school, the school that wasn’t even born yet. They did it, I thought. They actually did it!

The Friends of Playa Vista School had formed a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, created a board and several committees, built a website, email list, and Facebook group. They were out surveying their community members, gathering support and actively engaging participation. They were organized and already advocating for their future neighborhood school. As I read about the school I learned they’d formed a partnership with LMU’s School of Education, Center for Math and Science Teaching, and College of Science and Engineering. The school will have a math, science, and environmental focus, and the facility itself will be a model of environmentally sustainable design with solar panels, recycled water, geothermal heating and cooling, and is slated to become a LEED Gold Certified school, one of only four in LAUSD with this status and the only one on the Westside of LA. The Friends are advocating for it to become a non-traditional Pilot school with certain autonomies from LAUSD, and through perseverance they were able to remove it from the Public School Choice (PSC) 3.0 open bidding process that typically happens to new schools, meaning they’ve maintained control of their school. Nice work ladies! Brava! I couldn’t be more proud.

To read more about Playa Vista Elementary School (PVES or CRES#22) go to:
www.playavistaschool.org
Join their Facebook page: FOPVES
View the school’s sustainable design plan

The lesson we can all look at here is taking an unknown stress-filled challenge and instead of getting stuck there, turning it upside-down into empowered involvement. It’s amazing what we can do on behalf of our collective children when we’re motivated. It requires faith, vision, effort, organization and outreach. But we don’t have to do it alone. Once we become empowered to do something, we become the central catalyst for improvement and change, and then we inspire others around us and it spreads. Inspiration is contagious and ultimately, transformative.

Rather than spiral downward into disengagement and helplessness, we have the choice to spiral upward into empowerment, connection and transformation. 

I know it can seem impossible, one mom against the big giant public school machine, especially in this economy. But take a look around you. What one little piece can you see at your school that speaks to you, that you see potential in, or have a desire to transform? What steps could you take? How can you become a catalyst for positive change? Share your story. We’re all in this together.

© 2011 by Tanya Anton, GoMamaGuide.com All Rights Reserved.

PS Smart Tip: Summer Strategies

testing It might be summer break but your kid’s brains don’t have to turn to complete mush. Quiz them on their addition or multiplication tables during a car trip. Give them a summer writing journal and a few creative prompts. Offer some simple math problems to solve while shopping at the grocery store, or have them pick a topic of interest to research over the summer. Even many family board games can deepen math, spacial, and/or strategy-building skills.

Another no-brainer to keep their brains sharp: keep them reading! Most public libraries offer summer reading programs with built-in incentives and free prizes. Check out:

LAPL Kids Summer Reading Club
LAPL Teens Summer Reading Club
Santa Monica Kids Summer Reading Club
Santa Monica Teen Summer Reading Club