First School Board Debate Draws Sharp Contrasts on Valley Oak and Truancy Policies

The first school board candidates debate of the 2007 Election cycle took place at Davis High School. It was organized by the Davis High Democrats and Students for Freedom. The debate was moderated by a representative from each of the sponsoring clubs. There were about 25 students in attendance, a very good showing for just the second non-full week of classes. Not only was it heavily attended by students, but the questions, for the most part written down on placards were also submitted by students.

So you might think there would be odd-ball questions under this format, but judging from the questions that the moderators asked, the questions were fairly standard and in fact not completely different from those asked by someone like myself.

Frankly there were some issues that all of the candidates brought up on a continual basis. For example, all the candidates want to forge a consensus and work at collaboration. They want to bring all sides together and talk. Not that there is anything wrong with that, but given the fact that all sides want to do it, it does not seem to draw much distinction between the candidates.

The general consensus among several of the candidates was that these were all committed individuals running for the school board who wanted to improve and serve our schools. There seemed to be mutual respect within the group of candidates. Will this feeling of good will continue or will tensions rise at some point, hard to know.

All of the candidates also spoke to the issue of the achievement gap in general and non-specific terms, to the point where one of the follow up questions finally asked what specifically they would do about it. Even here, the answers did not diverge greatly. Joe Spector talked about this as an issue “about helping those who don’t have access to education not about skin or minority status.” The key to him was early intervention, broadening access to programs for all students and a mentoring program.

Bob Schelen probably gave the most divergent answer using some of the studies to argue that the achievement gap is not about economics but rather it is about race. He said no one knows just why this is the case but his goal is to follow through on the achievement gap task force’s recommendations particularly in looking to hire people of color and from diverse ethnicities. And if they find that people of color do not want to come to Davis and teach, then it is the board’s responsibility to change that.

Susan Lovenburg argued that the achievement gap exists before students even start school, therefore early intervention is a key. She mentioned the need to continue community discussions now to empower teachers and administrators to work together collaboratively to find out what is working well and what isn’t working well.

Finally, Richard Harris talked about the unconscious bias training and also the Japanese Lesson Study training. He liked the Japanese model because he felt it got teachers out of teaching in “silos” and into the community. The idea here is to bring in parents and having them watch the teachers teach. (Here’s probably a better explanation of Japanese Lesson Study than I can provide).

The two strongest areas of disagreement occurred during discussions of the closing of Valley Oak and the relationship between the High School and Davis Police, particularly the new practice of truancy sweeps that is about to become the biggest issue in this entire community.

On Valley Oak, if that is your main issue, there is a clear choice. If you believe that Valley Oak needed to be closed Susan Lovenburg and Richard Harris believe as you do. If you were opposed to the closing, the Bob Schelen and Joe Spector are on your side.

Susan Lovenburg spoke about the process of the Best Uses of School Task Force and how she went from supporting the nine campus option to supporting the closure of Valley Oak. According to her it was not for financial reasons but rather because it was the “educationally best decision for those students at valley oak.” Leaving Valley Oak open would have created a school that was over 50 percent title one and she did not think this was the way to support the students remaining at Valley Oak.

For Richard Harris, it “really came down to money.” He supports the decision based on declining enrollment. He said “it’s done, that’s the decision and we’re moving forward.”

Joe Spector on the other hand, “feels really lousy about it.” He said he had worked in and around Valley Oak for a number of years, felt it was extremely effective school. He used numbers on the chalk board to suggest that declining enrollment is a more tenuous assumption by demonstrating the increase in students in 06-07 compared to 05-06. He also strongly supports the charter and believes it is a way that the district can bring in students.

Bob Schelen pointedly called “closing of valley oak a mistake.” He said it is the only majority-minority school in our district. He said, this “sends the wrong message to close only school with majority-minority school in district.” He disagreed with Susan Lovenburg that having a majority title one school was a bad thing. He believes this is the only school in the core area and therefore with talk about infill development, this could actually be an area of growth. With the school closed he believes a Charter School is a great opportunity to keep Valley Oak open and he is looking at alternative types of programs to be housed there as a result.

The other major issue of concern for the students that brought about sharp differences is the newly emerging issue of the increased use of police presence to insure that kids are attending school. The students believed that they are being pulled over if it looks like they are out of class even if they have a legitimate reason to be out of class. There was much discussion about this last night at the school board meeting and this will be a major story that we will be covering heavily in the next several days.

In the meantime, the school board candidates spoke on the issue. Richard Harris admitted that he did not know a lot about it but said that the law is the law and he did not think that police were doing this as a punitive matter. He also suggested that he is in favor of a lot of responsiblity until you prove you cannot handle it.

Joe Spector has talked recently with the police chief and assistant police chief about it in trying to understand their perspective on this issue. He said that the School Resource Officer (who some of the students spoke very highly of) was here not for enforcement but for support and he would rather someone like the School Resource Officer than a uniformed officer play a large part in this.

According to Bob Schelen there needs to be good relationships between the school district and the police department. He thinks there are better uses of human resources officer than have truancy sweep. ADA is reason for truancy sweep as way to get money for ADA program. But a truancy sweep can harm relationship between student and police department and make it a combative relationship (something echoes by the student representative on the board last night). Truancy sweep breaks down trust and relations. Apprehensive about truancy sweeps and city police presence on campus.

Finally Susan Lovenburg said this is a new topic for our community. And pointed out this would be discussed at the board meeting last night. This part of planning for declining enrollment, dollar to support educational programs and close achievement gap. She pointed out that there was nearly $500,000 lost to missed classes at the high school alone last year. That said, what was demonstrated last night at the high school PTA meeting, only school administrators would have access to the new information provided in the truancy sweeps. Parent concerns expressed was that this was too punitive. Need to have that discussion about this policy if this is what we want to do. Said “there is a lot of rumor about this, let’s see what happens.”

Two other questions that I will briefly mention here, there was a question about support for a confidential teen clinic on class. Bob Schelen was the only one really supportive of this. Both Joe Spector and Susan Lovenburg suggested this was outside of the mandate of schools. Richard Harris said he was in favor of information but not services on the campus and felt there were plenty of off-campus resources.

Then Richard Harris was pointedly asked whether he would run for higher office and how he would fund his green school plan which he again laid out in some detail. Mr. Harris told people that he is not planning to run for higher office and was forceful about it. He felt there were a number of ways to fund the green school plan which he ultimately thinks will save a large amount of money. Specifically he suggested capital facility money to purchase solar panels that will eventually save the district money.

Joe Spector said he had no plans to run for other officer. Bob Schelen said it would be disingenous to say, if the opportunity presented itself, that he wouldn’t consider running for other offices. He did not plan to at this time. That said, you never know what is going to happen. He never knew he would run for school board either. Susan Lovenburg said six months ago she had no plans to run for school board. However, as she got involved in volunteer activities she developed a passion. Things change and she wanted people on the school board who reflected her values. She said she has no plans to do more than that, but also that she had not had plans to do this.

Overall a good debate and good questions from the students who were very attentive. As I suggest, the truancy issue is going to be a huge one coming in the next few days. In fairness, no one knew a lot about this issue even at the current school board level, however it is informative to see the initial reactions of the candidates involved.

—Doug Paul Davis reporting

Author

  • David Greenwald

    Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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168 comments

  1. This election will be won by those whose supporters are willing to work for their election. For ALL of Davis’ kids, let’s get up out of our TV chairs, canvass our precincts and talk to our neighbors in support of Joe Spector and Bob Schelen.

  2. This election will be won by those whose supporters are willing to work for their election. For ALL of Davis’ kids, let’s get up out of our TV chairs, canvass our precincts and talk to our neighbors in support of Joe Spector and Bob Schelen.

  3. This election will be won by those whose supporters are willing to work for their election. For ALL of Davis’ kids, let’s get up out of our TV chairs, canvass our precincts and talk to our neighbors in support of Joe Spector and Bob Schelen.

  4. This election will be won by those whose supporters are willing to work for their election. For ALL of Davis’ kids, let’s get up out of our TV chairs, canvass our precincts and talk to our neighbors in support of Joe Spector and Bob Schelen.

  5. “The questions that the moderators asked were fairly standard and in fact not completely different from those asked by someone like myself.

    Myself is a reflexive pronoun. It is used when the subject of a sentence is acting on the object: “I pinched myself” or “She took care of herself.”

    In the sentence above, you should replace myself with I, the subject of the implied clause: “The questions that the moderators asked were fairly standard and in fact not completely different from those asked by someone (who is) like I (am).”

    Your sentence structure is still awkward. I would change it to this: “The questions the moderators asked were standard, no different from ones I would have asked.”

  6. “The questions that the moderators asked were fairly standard and in fact not completely different from those asked by someone like myself.

    Myself is a reflexive pronoun. It is used when the subject of a sentence is acting on the object: “I pinched myself” or “She took care of herself.”

    In the sentence above, you should replace myself with I, the subject of the implied clause: “The questions that the moderators asked were fairly standard and in fact not completely different from those asked by someone (who is) like I (am).”

    Your sentence structure is still awkward. I would change it to this: “The questions the moderators asked were standard, no different from ones I would have asked.”

  7. “The questions that the moderators asked were fairly standard and in fact not completely different from those asked by someone like myself.

    Myself is a reflexive pronoun. It is used when the subject of a sentence is acting on the object: “I pinched myself” or “She took care of herself.”

    In the sentence above, you should replace myself with I, the subject of the implied clause: “The questions that the moderators asked were fairly standard and in fact not completely different from those asked by someone (who is) like I (am).”

    Your sentence structure is still awkward. I would change it to this: “The questions the moderators asked were standard, no different from ones I would have asked.”

  8. “The questions that the moderators asked were fairly standard and in fact not completely different from those asked by someone like myself.

    Myself is a reflexive pronoun. It is used when the subject of a sentence is acting on the object: “I pinched myself” or “She took care of herself.”

    In the sentence above, you should replace myself with I, the subject of the implied clause: “The questions that the moderators asked were fairly standard and in fact not completely different from those asked by someone (who is) like I (am).”

    Your sentence structure is still awkward. I would change it to this: “The questions the moderators asked were standard, no different from ones I would have asked.”

  9. Thanks for covering this. Couple comments: “heavily attended” is 25 students? I would say that is poor.
    As far as the police becoming involved in truancy, I believe the schools should do more themselves. We had an experience with a truant child, got many automated calls on our answering machine, went to the school repeatedly ourselves to bring it to their attention, and they seemed very overwhelmed and unable to do anything proactively. I think that could be improved dramatically before resorting to police stopping kids during the school day hours. Again thanks!

  10. Thanks for covering this. Couple comments: “heavily attended” is 25 students? I would say that is poor.
    As far as the police becoming involved in truancy, I believe the schools should do more themselves. We had an experience with a truant child, got many automated calls on our answering machine, went to the school repeatedly ourselves to bring it to their attention, and they seemed very overwhelmed and unable to do anything proactively. I think that could be improved dramatically before resorting to police stopping kids during the school day hours. Again thanks!

  11. Thanks for covering this. Couple comments: “heavily attended” is 25 students? I would say that is poor.
    As far as the police becoming involved in truancy, I believe the schools should do more themselves. We had an experience with a truant child, got many automated calls on our answering machine, went to the school repeatedly ourselves to bring it to their attention, and they seemed very overwhelmed and unable to do anything proactively. I think that could be improved dramatically before resorting to police stopping kids during the school day hours. Again thanks!