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2010 Santa Barbara School Board Candidate Q&A with Kate Parker

NOOZHAWK: What motivated you to run for the Santa Barbara School Districts Board of Education? Explain your decision process.

Kate Parker
Kate Parker

KATE PARKER: When I ran for the school board and was elected in 2006, I was a parent who had been very involved in my eldest child’s school as a classroom volunteer and then PTA president. After I went off the school’s PTA board, I was asked to be a school board liaison and attend board meetings to report back what was going on at the district. I did that for two years and through district, state and national level research, I learned so much about the larger picture of public education issues in our district and across the country that I ultimately felt I could make a positive difference for children if I ran for the board myself.

Four years later, I’m excited about the progress the Santa Barbara School Districts have made and the new ideas we have in the pipeline. I know that my continued leadership will help take our schools to the next level more quickly, and I want to help make that happen.

NOOZHAWK: What unique experience or expertise do you have that is making a difference on the Santa Barbara school board?

KP: As a board member, I have four years of experience with public education policy, $100 million-plus budgets, district history, and current initiatives that make me uniquely able to understand where we’ve been and where we need to go to continue improving our schools. I’m a librarian at a local private boarding school, so I see what works well and what does not in both the private and public education systems. I also have three children, two in the Santa Barbara Elementary District and one in the Santa Barbara Secondary District. I’m the only sitting board member and only candidate who has children in both of the districts that the Santa Barbara school board serves, and that gives me an extremely helpful parent perspective.

NOOZHAWK: Public school funding in California is in a perpetual state of crisis. How is the Santa Barbara School Districts prepared to withstand continued budget pressures from the state? What can the district do to strengthen itself financially at the local level?

KP: The two most important things we did and are doing to address the state budget crisis were to implement a district Fiscal Solvency Plan that is under constant review and to hire high-quality leaders for our Business Services department who are innovative and forward-thinking. Our goal on the board is to make sure we quickly address any structural deficits that crop up. We can’t have a situation in which our spending outpaces our revenue or we’ll quickly run through our reserves and be right where the state of California is: in a mess!

As we’ve had to make cuts again and again, the board has always put classroom instruction above all other priorities. Unlike many other districts, we’ve been able to avoid teacher furlough days up to this point, and we also were able to put forward a parcel tax that our community passed to actually improve music, art and other enrichment programs that help provide a well-rounded education to our children.

I do see light at the end of the tunnel. When the city of Santa Barbara’s Redevelopment Agency ends in about five years, it will stop siphoning money from our schools, and we will be in a much stronger financial position. In the meantime, I know we will be looking at creative ways to bridge that time span, since we don’t expect the state fiscal situation to improve any time soon. Our partnerships with local nonprofit foundations have been particularly helpful in bringing forward positive programs to our district despite budget cuts, and I would work to see those continue and expand.

NOOZHAWK: What do you see as the most pressing issue the Santa Barbara School Districts will face in the next five years?

KP: I believe that the most pressing issue is raising achievement levels for our low-income and English learner students while continuing to challenge all students to achieve their best. With upcoming changes to the No Child Left Behind Act, the new national Common Core State Standards, testing programs under revision, and a spotlight on teacher performance, all coupled with cuts in California education spending, this is definitely a dramatic time in public education, and ground zero is right here in our neighborhood schools.

NOOZHAWK: Do you support Measures Q and R, the combined $110 million school bonds for the Santa Barbara elementary and secondary school districts? Why or why not?

KP: I absolutely support Measures Q and R. I’ve been very concerned about the state of our school facilities since before I came on the board, and I’ve only gotten more worried as we’ve had to cut school maintenance funding to protect classroom instruction. Having updated, safe and fully functioning campuses is not only important for our children’s education, it reflects positively on our community as a whole. I strongly feel that it’s important to not be afraid to ask local voters what they want for our schools and that this is the right time for facilities bonds to be on the ballot.

NOOZHAWK: Assess the overall academic performance of both the Santa Barbara elementary and secondary districts. What are the specific strengths and specific weaknesses of each district. How would you improve them?

KP: The two districts have made solid academic progress over the past four years, but the elementary district in particular has not kept up with the state’s rising achievement levels. Locally, it’s the district with the most low-income and English learner students, and it requires an intense focus on instruction that helps at-risk children. Fundamentally, I believe we need to continue to improve our teacher professional development program, return to smaller class sizes, extend the school year and institute a high-quality summer school curriculum to see our students start to catch up. I also believe that we need to quickly move successful pilot programs from individual schools to the entire elementary district. For example, McKinley and Franklin schools tested a highly effective assessment program last year — that needs to move district-wide this year.

In the secondary district, our junior high schools are our shining stars. There’s terrific principal collaboration, innovative and effective teaching, and all of our junior highs are performing well above the state average and continuing to move up. The high schools are also moving up but have more difficulty with much larger student bodies, staffs and campuses. To improve high schools, I would first make sure that each school is working on creating a positive school climate and culture, then I would focus on systemic support for students, particularly ninth-graders as they make the sometimes bumpy transition to high school.

I strongly believe that there needs to be cross-department teamwork with teachers — every teacher from PE to art needs to know what the reading, writing, math and science goals are for their students and to collaborate so that what’s going on the entire school day supports these goals within each separate discipline.

There are opportunities at the high schools for smaller learning communities (we have several successful examples of these that are working to enroll more under-represented students), and for more complete and relevant career technical pathways. Our high schools also need to have the overarching assumption that all students have the ability to go on to college and must complete the A-G academic requirements, whether it’s through a career technical course of study, an academy, or through the comprehensive high school program.

NOOZHAWK: Earlier this year, Santa Barbara School Districts trustees authorized the merger of the GATE and Honors programs. Do you support the new arrangement? Why or why not?

KP: Yes, I do. I’d been watching the various district discussions about Gifted and Talented Education since before I came on the board, and I knew that we had a system that was so confusing and arbitrary that I didn’t know how I could defend it if the U.S. Office of Civil Rights or the ACLU came knocking at our door.

Essentially there are five feeder elementary districts that all identify children as GATE in different ways — a child who is GATE at a 93117 ZIP code may very well not be GATE at a 93105 ZIP code. The secondary district then accepted these GATE children in GATE classes, even though some might be lower-performing than students who were not GATE-identified. The teachers were usually not GATE-trained, and the coursework did not look different than coursework in what were called Honors classes in 95 percent of the school districts in California. If there were spaces available in a GATE class, then forceful parents could advocate for their non-GATE-identified children to enroll, while students with less involved parents were left out, even if their test scores and grades were the same. It all made no sense.

The new system opens access to all students who are capable of high-level work, provides teacher training, and is in line with what other districts do. We’re monitoring it closely to be sure it’s implemented well and to make adjustments as necessary.

NOOZHAWK: Assess the Santa Barbara School Districts’ special-education and child-care programs. Are they serving these students and their families adequately? Why or why not?

KP: In the past two years, the board has asked for extensive and ultimately very helpful outside reviews for our Special Education and Child Development programs. In both cases, we’ve had many terrific teachers in place, but instruction and programs have been uneven. For special education in particular, there has been constant leadership turnover, which really exacerbated problems in that department. We’ve begun implementing recommendations from the reviews, and I’m really excited about the progress we’re making, particularly in special education. We only received the child development report three months ago, so implementation of those recommendations is still in its early stages.

NOOZHAWK: Describe one new program that the Santa Barbara School Districts can pursue that will provide greater learning opportunities for all students, including English learners and special-education students. How will it help?

KP: Before we talk about adding on programs, I think we have to continue our focus on and refinement of core classroom instruction because that’s what will ultimately have the greatest impact on all of our students. To me, that means implementing a more rigorous hiring process to ensure that we’ve hired the best teachers in the first place, then making sure that there’s weekly time for teachers to talk with each other about best practices and problems that have arisen and have a review of current student work.

The district and site staff need to continue to identify areas where teachers need further training; we’ve instituted a wonderful Teacher Professional Development Week that occurs the first week of summer vacation and provide many other training opportunities during the summer and on weekends, and I want those programs to continue to expand.

Finally, we need to have administrators hold teachers accountable for implementing what they’ve learned in their classrooms. Once we’ve maximized student instruction, then we can talk about other ways to provide greater learning opportunities for all students, including the possibility of longer school days, longer school years, and summer school classes that have options for everybody, from remedial to gifted.

NOOZHAWK: What are the best — and fairest — ways to assess teacher performance?

KP: Administrators need to have an excellent evaluation instrument that asks the right questions (we updated ours last year and are continuing to refine it), they need to have regular and frequent classroom walk-throughs to see what teachers are doing — both formally and informally — and they need to look at how well students are learning in a class by looking at the progress they’re making on regular assessments.

NOOZHAWK: Is there too much emphasis on student test scores? What can the Santa Barbara School Districts do to broaden its assessments of academic achievement?

KP: There is too much emphasis on year-end test scores, and there are a number of ways we can and do look at broader academic achievement. First of all, we need to look at an individual student’s academic growth over time; that will be easier when the California Department of Education fully implements its long-delayed new student information system.

We also need to talk more about student engagement in the classroom (Are they interested in school? Is it relevant to them? How are they responding to instruction during the year and not just at the end of it?) and their access to high-quality instruction in music, art, PE and other curricular areas that are fundamental to a good, balanced education. We do publicize drop-out rates, but with enough staffing, we could put together more comprehensive School Accountability Report Cards that include college attendance rates, parent satisfaction levels, the results of school climate surveys, and more.

NOOZHAWK: Is the Santa Barbara School Districts doing enough to provide its students with technology training? Name an initiative that it does well.

KP: No, it’s not. We have K-12 technology standards that we adopted as part of our 2008 Technology Plan, but they are not taught consistently across the district. There are individual classes and course pathways at the secondary level that are great (video/tech production or the MAD Academy at Santa Barbara High, for example), but we need to place a greater emphasis on the technology standards being taught from pre-school onward. These standards also need revising because they have a heavy emphasis on keyboarding and desktop publishing, when we need to include spreadsheets and Web 2.0 interactive educational capabilities as part of our expectations.

NOOZHAWK: If you could change one thing in the Santa Barbara School Districts, what would it be?

KP: Less bureaucracy and red tape! Many of the hoops that we make teachers and administrators jump through are imposed on us by the state and federal governments, but the restrictions on funding, all the paperwork staff has to fill out, and everything in between leads to a lot of frustration and delays in implementing terrific programs for kids.

NOOZHAWK: What is the Santa Barbara School Districts’ greatest asset?

KP: Its teachers, by far.

NOOZHAWK: Which teacher has had the biggest impact on your children, or yourself? How?

KP: My children have had many wonderful teachers, but they’re young and neither they nor I are ready to define who has had the biggest impact on them yet! In my own case, I give special credit to two teachers, Mr. Don Reimel, who taught me Algebra 1 at Carpinteria Junior High School and Mr. Patrick Collins, who taught me AP Art History at Cate School. In both cases, these teachers took me from being disengaged and struggling to being confident and capable through their patience, nonjudgmental support, and absolute belief that I could do it when I wasn’t so sure myself!

NOOZHAWK: How can voters learn more about your candidacy?

KP: They can go to my Web site, they can e-mail me with questions at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address), and they can attend public forums (there are ones coming up on Oct. 14 and Oct. 19).

NOOZHAWK: Would you support our plan to have the Noozhawk logo affixed to the tops of the mortarboards worn by the Class of 2011 at their high school commencements? If in official school colors, of course.

KP: We’d have to revise our board policy on advertising and promotion to do that, and to be fair, we’d probably have to have the Independent logo on modified tassels, the Edhat logo on the front of the gowns, the News-Press logo on the back, everyone would have to wear shoes with the Daily Sound masthead on them ... and in this day and age we’d still be leaving off other blogs and publications and would risk offending the community.

I have a better idea: How about Noozhawk college scholarships? Then the Noozhawk Scholarship recipients could be read out at the Senior Awards assemblies every year! Love it!

Click here for more information on Kate Parker’s campaign.

Related Articles

» Click here for Monique Limón’s Noozhawk Q&A.

» Click here for Loren Mason’s Noozhawk Q&A.

» Click here for Dean Nevins’ Noozhawk Q&A.

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