[Editor’s note: One in a series of six candidate Q&As for the Santa Barbara School Districts Board of Education. Click here for the main story. Click here for Susan Deacon’s Q&A. Click here for Ed Heron’s Q&A. Click here for Jacqueline Inda’s Q&A. Click here for Kate Smith’s Q&A. Click here for Charlotte Ware’s Q&A.]

NOOZHAWK: What is the single biggest problem facing our schools, and what is the best way to solve it?

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Annette Cordero

ANNETTE CORDERO: I believe the most pressing problem is the achievement gap. If we do not successfully address this gap, the other issues are almost moot. To do this, we need to be willing to examine this issue openly, honestly and courageously. We will, no doubt, need to change some long-standing practices, such as how we place students in classes, how we counsel them, how we discipline them, when and what interventions are put in place, who teaches which classes, and whether and to what extent we will continue to tolerate segregated classrooms. We must also expand and support our career technical education offerings to create greater opportunities for engagement.

NOOZHAWK: La Cumbre Junior High, Santa Barbara Junior High and McKinley Elementary schools have all been labeled “Year 5” schools in program improvement under the No Child Left Behind Act. Technically, this means the schools could be closed and re-opened as charter schools, and the principal and most of the staff could be replaced. The district is allowing those schools to continue their ongoing improvement plans without a drastic change in direction this year. Is this the right course of action?

ANNETTE CORDERO: I do believe this is the right course of action. We know there are faults in NCLB, including the fact that schools can significantly improve their test scores and still be designated program improvement schools. La Cumbre, for example, has been steadily improving under new leadership, and I would suggest that drastic changes have been made. Likewise, McKinley received a new principal this year and our assistant superintendent is working closely with him to ensure a clear plan for improvement. Our work with these schools does not suggest that drastically restructuring the school and the staff is the best way to achieve the desired results.

NOOZHAWK: Throughout California, the percentage of students in GATE (Gifted and Talented Education) hovers around 5 percent. In Santa Barbara’s junior and high schools, the proportion is more like 20 percent. Should steps should be taken to lower the percentage?http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rudolfo_Anaya

ANNETTE CORDERO: I am not nearly as concerned with the percentage of students in our GATE program as I am about the fact that the demographics in GATE do not come close to matching the demographics of our district. This is something that I have been outspoken about for many years. I feel it is more important to ensure that qualified students are not being denied access by our policies and processes, than to worry that too many students are being exposed to challenging and engaging instruction.

NOOZHAWK: Should the elementary and secondary districts’ open-enrollment policy be maintained?

ANNETTE CORDERO: I believe this policy has led to some significant problems at individual school sites. We know that “white flight” and what is called “bright flight” do occur. We know certain schools have become de facto magnets without ever being so designated by the district. We know that many parents opt not to send their children to their “home school” based on inaccurate or outdated perceptions of the schools. We also know that these choices impact the schools’ ability to provide the best academic opportunities for the remaining students. Despite this, I believe it would be extremely difficult to, now, reduce the range of choice for families.

NOOZHAWK: Would you support a districtwide school uniform policy?

ANNETTE CORDERO: At this time, I would not support such a policy because I do not feel there is broad support among our district’s families for this. While some schools have chosen to adopt a uniform for their students, others have chosen to maintain the nonuniform option. I believe this combination is working.

NOOZHAWK: Would you support a proposal to ban certain forms of gang apparel and styles?

ANNETTE CORDERO: This is almost impossible to answer without knowing what the school was proposing and why. To impose a ban on dress styles under a “gang” identification, the school would need to comply with the Education Code, which requires very specific descriptions of both the attire to be banned and the evidence that it is clearly gang-related. My willingness to support a ban of this type would depend on the extent to which a school were to meet the appropriate criteria.

NOOZHAWK: What are your thoughts on the district’s proposal to hire two gang-intervention specialists, also known as outreach workers — at a salary of $49,000 each?

ANNETTE CORDERO: Well, of course, the proposal is no longer suggesting a salary of $49,000, but rather much less. And the salary is now to come from remaining grant funds. Given this, and my belief that these positions are needed to continue the success that was seen this summer with a pilot program, I voted to approve these positions.

NOOZHAWK: The district is being asked to pitch in $64,000 annually to keep the truancy program alive. Historically, the program has been funded by Santa Barbara County, but the Board of Supervisors has said it would cut the entire program unless individual districts pony up. Would you vote yes or no on spending that amount?

ANNETTE CORDERO: At this time, I would not support the district’s financial support of this program without some important revisions. Parents have complained almost since the inception of the program that they felt intimidated and confused by the program. Many have also raised concerns that there is too great an emphasis on enforcement and not enough on support. While I believe there are actually numerous benefits to this program, the fact that there is such contention among the population it is designed to help suggests that we need to review it carefully before expending district funds.

NOOZHAWK: Do you support using one of two unused parcels of district-owned land to build price-controlled housing for teachers?

ANNETTE CORDERO: In concept, I do support this idea. However, there are many appropriate uses for these properties and we have yet to determine which of them would be the best use.

NOOZHAWK: Do you generally agree with the direction in which Superintendent Brian Sarvis is taking the schools?

ANNETTE CORDERO: I have confidence in the leadership of Superintendent Sarvis. I believe he has helped steer us through some difficult periods and decisions and worked to improve ineffective and inefficient processes. As in all cases, there is, of course, room for improvement, and the board regularly shares any concerns with Dr. Sarvis through our annual performance review.

NOOZHAWK: What’s your favorite book?

ANNETTE CORDERO: It is impossible to choose just one: Bless Me, Ultima by Rudolfo Anaya; Rain of Gold by Victor Villaseñor; The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare; From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg.