Campbell Patch: What sets you apart from the other candidates?
Juliet Tiffany-Morales: I bring the perspective and experience of an education evaluator and researcher to the Campbell Union School District governing board. I am a research analyst for the Center for Education Policy at SRI International. Since 1999, I have researched and evaluated a variety of education policies and programs, many of which have implications for our district.
I travel around the state, visiting schools and interviewing teachers and administrators to evaluate programs as well as to understand and report on the impact of state and federal policies. During those visits, I learn about best practices and the challenges districts are facing around the state. I bring back what I learn to help inform our board decisions.
I also serve as co-chair of the education committee for the Silicon Valley Leadership Group (SVLG). The SVLG has brought together 375 leading Silicon Valley businesses to address issues in 10 policy areas including education. Serving on the education committee has given me the opportunity to work with business leaders and learn about their concerns with public education as well as their priorities for improving public education.
I am also a parent of two children who attend our district’s dual-immersion elementary school which gives me first-hand experience with the education children receive in our district as well as district parent involvement and communication efforts. As a CUSD board member since 2008, I also understand the differing needs of our 12 schools. I visit the schools each year to observe the programs and efforts we are supporting and to hear principal, teacher, and school personnel perspectives. As a Spanish-speaker, I have met with our Spanish-speaking parents to discuss their concerns and to encourage them to get involved in their children’s education.
My experiences as a district parent, an education research analyst, a member of a leading business group, a school board member, and a Spanish-speaker allow me to evaluate the decisions we make as a board from a variety of perspectives. The perspectives and skills I bring to the board complement the different perspectives and skills of current board members resulting in a balance of critical perspectives that has served our district well.
Patch: What are your top three priorities you will address if elected?
1. Preparing students for 21st Century Skills
Businesses in the Silicon Valley are clamoring for employees with critical thinking and complex problem solving skills as well as the ability to work collaboratively with others. We need to prepare our students to be successful in this new environment. It will take a combination of new tools and teaching strategies in our classrooms as well as the support and involvement of our community to ensure that we are preparing students for future success.
2. Fiscally responsible leadership
Current economic times are tough and our board has made difficult financial decisions that have kept our district solvent while continuing to provide high quality education. We will continue regular reviews of our expenditures, investigate ways to become more efficient, and support innovative efforts to shield the district from unpredictable state funding.
3. Inspiring learners and caring citizens
Making sure that our children have 21st Century skills is important but it is equally important for schools to inspire our children to learn and to help our children develop into caring citizens. Our schools can inspire our children to learn by offering opportunities to explore their interests in the sciences, social studies, and the arts as well as language arts and mathematics. Making those opportunities appropriate to the varying levels of our students is critical so that all our students are able to take advantage of the opportunities and find something that excites and inspires them.
Our district has begun to forge partnerships in our community to offer these opportunities and we must build on those partnerships to ensure that our students have access to the necessary tools (e.g., technology, musical instruments, visual arts materials) as well as access to unique experiences (e.g., working with scientists, engineers, musicians).
Developing caring citizens is also an important goal for our schools. CUSD participates in Project Cornerstone and Positive Behavior Intervention and Supports (PBIS) to create safe school environments and to build positive relationships and skills so that students make healthy, positive choices. Our district must continue to support programs that give our students the tools they need to develop into caring citizens.
Patch: How will you help close the achievement gap in your district's schools?
Tiffany-Morales: Closing the achievement gap is a priority for CUSD. Teachers in our district have received extensive training and support to build strong foundations in literacy in the early grades as well as to help struggling students.
In addition, a variety of computer programs that target specific student needs in language arts in mathematics are available to our struggling students. Each year the computer programs as well as the training and support for teachers are evaluated to determine which approaches work best for which students. We will continue this ongoing review to refine our practices and we must also look to strong coordination among the schools, the afterschool programs, and summer school to address the achievement gap.
While supporting programs for struggling students, we need to ensure that all our students are challenged and engaged. We can only claim victory in closing the achievement gap if all students improve. Key to all our district’s efforts to close the achievement gap is analyzing our student outcomes and evaluating the effectiveness of our programs.
Patch: How can you provide fiscal responsibility as well as transparency to the board's actions?
Tiffany-Morales: Keeping our district fiscally sound has been challenging given the state’s financial crisis and our board will need to continue to keep the district’s fiscal health at the forefront of budget decisions. Our board has only adopted budgets that the district can afford and as a result we have maintained our district’s positive certification—demonstrating that the district can cover expenses for the upcoming school year as well as the two subsequent school years.
To ensure that our community has opportunities to learn about district issues and to hear board discussion around those issues, our public board meetings include presentations from our schools as well as district administrators on a variety of topics. For example, the school site councils at each of our 12 schools submit school site plans for board approval at public board meetings. School site plans are aligned to district priorities and outline what schools will be doing to meet those priorities. The plans also include how much the school will spend on each effort. In addition to reviewing and approving school site plans, the board reviews a variety of data each year. Board members attend an annual data study session that is open to the public, where we review student results and assess the progress of our schools toward their goals. Principals from each of the schools present to the board annually, providing an analysis of the successes and challenges the schools have had in implementing the efforts laid out in their site plans. District administrators also present their analysis of the effectiveness of programs and activities in our schools at board meetings throughout the year.
I am pleased that the review and approval of school site plans, presentations by principals and district administrators, and board study sessions all occur in open, public meetings; the community is welcome to attend. I also recognize that other means of communicating with our diverse community are necessary. The district’s new effort to post board meeting materials online is one effort to communicate more effectively with our community. In addition, CUSD hosted a community meeting in October of this year to discuss the current state of the district and schools. Approximately 100 people attended and we were energized by the questions and excited by the enthusiasm to get involved. We will make this an annual event.
Patch: How will you better involve the parent community?
Tiffany-Morales: When our board hired Superintendent Andrew a few years ago, we prioritized candidates who understood the importance of building community and getting parents more involved. Superintendent Andrew has strengthened existing parent involvement efforts like the Superintendent’s Parent Advisory Committee and is building new opportunities for parents to get involved, like the State of the District meeting that occurred in October.
New committees are being created as a result of the State of the District meeting, with parents and community members signing up to get involved. We need to continue to reach out to parents to evaluate current parent involvement efforts and to identify future needs while ensuring that district policies support parents to get involved in their children’s education.
I will continue to meet with parents and community members to listen to ideas and concerns and to bring those ideas and concerns to the district to help district administrators continually improve parent involvement efforts.
Patch: What do you think is your district's biggest challenge?
Tiffany-Morales: The biggest challenge for our district is dealing with the unpredictability of state funding which makes planning very difficult. Beyond state funding, our district’s biggest challenge will be transitioning to the new Common Core State Standards and a new state computerized test without additional state funding for new textbooks, training for teachers, or the purchase of technology hardware and network upgrades necessary to implement computerized testing.
While the transition will be challenging, our district sees the new standards and assessments as an opportunity to focus on building skills and knowledge that are overlooked by the current standards and tests, such as critical thinking and real world problem solving. Our district has already begun to prepare for the transition by providing teacher training on the new standards and by establishing innovative partnerships to teach 21st Century skills.
Our new district initiative – Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics (STEAM) – will bring together parents, teachers, administrators, professors, industry experts, and board members to forge new opportunities for students to learn core academic concepts of STEAM through real-world applications. I am excited to participate in this committee.
For more of Patch's November 2012 Election Coverage, click here.