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Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Interview with School Board Candidate Susan Lovenburg

Each day this week, the Vanguard will have an interview with one of the candidates for school board. The election is November 6, 2007. Today's interview is with Susan Lovenburg. The other three interviews were done in person, verbally, recorded and transcribed. However, this interview was done via email for logistical reasons. Please bear that in my when you compare the responses from Ms. Lovenburg to other candidates.

1. Why are you running for the Davis School Board?

I believe that public education offers us the best opportunity to educate all children well, is a great societal equalizer, and that educators, parents, students, and the rest of our community share a responsibility for helping our children achieve their fullest potential. During my ten years of volunteer experience in Davis schools, I have gradually broadened my focus from my children’s classrooms, to their schools, to their several schools, and then to the district as a whole. This level of understanding - of our schools, teachers and students, and the issues they face - is critical knowledge for effective board members. I believe that I am ready to join the Board in providing responsible oversight of our District.

2. Tell us about your background and experience in education.

My father was in the Air Force as I was growing up, so we were often on the move. My family settled in upstate New York when I was in my teens. I hold a Bachelor of Science degree in Natural Resources and Environmental Education from Cornell University, and a Master of Library Science from Syracuse University. In my professional life, I have worked in public, academic, and special libraries, and developed and delivered adult education programs.

My husband, Peter Robinson, is Canadian and we have lived in both the US and Canada. We moved to Davis in 1997 when Peter was hired as a research scientist in the UC Davis Department of Animal Science. We have three daughters: two attend Willett Elementary and one attended Emerson Junior High and is now a senior at Davis High School.

3. You have an extensive record as a parent-volunteer in the district, can you elaborate on that.

I have been active as a school volunteer for the ten years that I have lived in Davis. I began as editor of the Willett Elementary school newsletter in 1998 and continued that responsibility until spring of this year. I have been a classroom garden parent for five years and most recently the Willett Garden Coordinator. I administered school listserves at Willett and Emerson, and served as 2nd Vice President responsible for parent education at Davis High School last year, organizing sessions on topics such as standardized assessment, teen driving, and Answering the Questions of Substance Use. I served for two years as the PTA representative on the DHS Site Council and I attended the Superintendent’s Parent Advisory Committee on behalf of Willett. I also attend Board of Education meetings on a frequent basis.

I chose these volunteer positions because they interested and challenged me, and provided opportunities to keep the parent community informed and connected to our schools.

4. What are your top educational priorities?

· Offering all students a high quality education
· Narrowing the achievement gap
· Maintaining our current educational programs despite decreased funding due to declining enrollment

5. What educational programs would like to add, modify, or enhance?

I am concerned that the District is currently deficit spending, using one time monies to pay ongoing expenses. For the health of our educational system, that cannot continue. All new spending must be carefully evaluated. That said, I am pleased that Measure Q, the instructional parcel tax that voters will be asked to renew this fall, includes funding for elementary math specialists, and an improved nutritional program using local farm fresh fruits and vegetables in the lunches served to our students in addition to the many other programs this parcel tax has always funded on an ongoing basis. I encourage all those who support Davis schools to vote yes on Measure Q.

I would also like to see us develop a stable funding source for school libraries. State funding has dropped precipitously over the last several years, leaving school libraries virtually unfunded and scrambling for site funds every year or dependent upon PTA and PTO support to meet basic educational program needs.

6. What are your feelings about GATE?

My view of GATE is similar to that of our other special magnet programs like Montessori, Spanish Immersion, Davis School for Independent Study, Martin Luther King High School, and Da Vinci High School. These programs offer various learning modalities to our many students, helping us to better serve their individual needs. They make our District unique and attract new families to our town. It is important that we not only preserve these programs, but ensure that they serve students in the best way possible.

7. As you know Davis schools are usually among the top schools in the state, however, last spring the Superintendent presented statistics that showed when compared to similar schools, Davis is in the middle pack as opposed at the top, so how do you respond to that and how do we improve the Davis schools?

Similar School Scores, like the Academic Performance Index, are based on student performance on STAR tests for a given school or district. There are varied opinions about the validity of this measure of achievement, but it does provide one means of evaluating how well our students are learning the content standards set forth by the state.

To improve the performance of Davis students on STAR tests, the focus needs to be on making sure that all students successfully learn the foundational skills outlined in the content standards. There are formative assessment tools available that can make this process more effective. Targeting intervention where it is particularly needed, as in the case of grade 4-6 math specialists, will also help address this need.

8. One the biggest concerns in the district has been lack of minority hires, how do we go about recruiting and hiring more minorities?

Historically the Davis school district has had difficulty attracting and keeping minority teachers and staff. Across the state and nation, the pool of minority teachers and administrators is small. Davis needs to recruit and retain a staff that reflects the cultural and racial diversity of our student body. I believe that with the recent hiring of Superintendent James Hammond, who is a person of color, we have made our District a more welcoming place to work. We must continue recruitment efforts to attract quality staff of all backgrounds and ethnic groups to our district, and also to provide encouragements for those already here to improve their qualifications and move up the ranks.

9. How do we close the achievement gap between on the one hand Whites and Asians and on the other hand blacks and Hispanics?

Low income, Hispanic, African American, and English Language Learners significantly under-perform white and Asian students in our District. This is not a problem unique to Davis, and is not one easily solved, but I do believe we have the means and the ability to change this dynamic in our schools. A thoughtful, concerted, planned approach is necessary. The Achievement Gap Task Force began this work and it should be continued by our administrators, teachers, and paraeducators who work on a daily basis with these children. Again, making sure that all students learn foundational skills seems to be key to closing the gap, and passage of Measure Q will provide funding to assist in this effort.

10. What types of programs do you advocate for at-risk children?

Research shows that early intervention offers the best chance of improving the educational success of at-risk children. The Achievement Gap Task Force recommended that the District support submitting a grant proposal to Yolo County First Five Commission that would offer at-risk children entering kindergarten an opportunity for intensive preparation before the start of school.

Another recommendation of the Task Force is to explore the possibility of implementing a pilot extended day kindergarten for these students. Development of reading skills at this age is fundamental to later academic success. If the pilot shows student improvement, to the extent funding is available I would like to see a permanent extended day kindergarten in our District for at-risk students.

For older students, safety net programs such as the one offered by the Davis Bridge Educational Foundation have proven successful.

11. What is your view on Valley Oak?

I closely followed the work of the Best Uses of Schools Task Force and publicly supported their recommendation to close Valley Oak as a K-6 campus. Though I initially sought to maintain nine campuses, I came to believe that the decision to close best serves the students of Valley Oak and the District as a whole, not just financially but educationally. It was a heart-wrenching and difficult decision for me as an individual, for the Task Force, and for the Board - and I understand that it is one the families of Valley Oak find difficult to accept - but it has been made and it is time to look forward. My concern now is that the school closure be carefully planned and carried out so that Valley Oak students are given every opportunity to succeed and thrive in their new schools. This process would receive my special attention should I be elected to the Board.

With regard to the proposed charter school, legislation requires that a well-written charter with a good educational plan, sound finances, and commitment from sufficient teachers and families with students to participate, must be approved by the Board. It is my hope that the planners of the charter school are looking carefully at new approaches and new strategies for addressing the needs of low socioeconomic income and English Language Learners, rather than simply trying to preserve the existing Valley Oak program.

12. Given projections of falling enrollment, how can the district find new sources for revenue and also better utilize existing revenue?

I do believe that we are adjusting to the new reality of declining enrollment. That circumstance alone puts our fiscal health at risk since loss of ADA due to declining enrollment requires cuts that reach beyond the classroom. When budget trimming is required, we should look first at operational efficiencies and making sure that we do not fund more facilities and staff than necessary.

Additional ongoing funding sources are not easily found, but we should continually investigate outside and special program funding sources for specific projects, such as the full-day kindergarten pilot program. The sale of the Grande property will bring in additional funds for facilities projects. We need to review our other District assets as well.

13. I am interested in your opinion on the previous Superintendent David Murphy. What were the strengths of David Murphy and what do you think his weaknesses were?

Personnel issues are sensitive, and I know that the Board spent a great deal of time in closed session evaluating Superintendent Murphy’s job performance prior to accepting his resignation. I am not privy to those discussions and can only speak to what I personally observed. While I believe David Murphy served the District admirably for many years, particularly in the area of curriculum development, it was apparent that he delegated a great deal of responsibility for District finances to others on staff. The superintendent is ultimately responsible, however, for supervising and managing those underneath him and knowledge of finances is essential to creating and maintaining good educational programs. Toward the end of David Murphy’s tenure, it was clear that communication and confidence between the Board and the Superintendent were broken, and the Board could no longer effectively conduct its role of responsible oversight on behalf of the community.

14. You were at the Superintendent announcement the other night, what is your reaction to the hiring of the new Superintendent?

I look forward to working with Superintendent James Hammond in whatever capacity my future holds. He appears to have the qualifications, experience, and enthusiasm to lead our District to new levels of success.

15. How do you foresee working with the new superintendent if elected? What role would you like to see the new superintendent play in the district and what role do you see the board performing?

The Board of Education establishes educational goals for the District and provides fiscal oversight. The Superintendent manages the day-to-day operation of our schools. The Board is ultimately responsible to the community for the success of this effort, and if elected, I would take that responsibility seriously, never forgetting that our educational system is here to serve students and their families. But respectful communication between the Board, the Superintendent, and all District staff is critical to moving the district forward in a positive direction.

16. What book are you reading right now?

As a librarian, I’ve waited years for someone to ask me about MY reading preferences! I just finished Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows while on vacation. I’m reading The Sword in the Stone by T.H. White to my younger girls. I’m in the middle of Why Lincoln Matters by Mario Cuomo, Generation Me by Jean M. Twenge, and The Journals of Lewis and Clark, though I’m embarrassed to tell you how long that one has been in progress. Favorite authors are Jane Austen and E.B. White (especially One Man’s Meat), and I love Miss Rumphius by Barbara Cooney and Oh the Places You’ll Go by Dr. Seuss.

17. What political figure either of the past or contemporary do you most admire?

I have a special fondness for both FDR and Eleanor Roosevelt for the good they were able to accomplish for our society at a time when we were particularly vulnerable to negative influences.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting