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Thursday, August 30, 2007

Interview with School Board Candidate Joe Spector

The Vanguard continues with the second in its series of four interviews of the school board candidates with Joe Spector. Dr. Spector agreed to sit down with me and be interviewed orally. Here is the transcription of that interview. Dr. Spector has been employed by the Davis school district for the last 20 years currently holding a position as a school psychologist. He has served as a school psychologist, counselor and mediator.

1. Explain the initial reports that you would only be taking $1000 in campaign contributions

I’m a very recent applicant, I joined the race just about a week ago [at the time of this interview], and at that point I hadn’t established any kind of campaign committee. And there’s two different forms that you can use, there’s the form where you have no controlled campaign committee and agree to take under $1000 or the alternative, if you have a controlled committee or take more than $1000 you have to use a different set of form that you have to disclose on a regular basis. So the discussion that you’re talking about… has to do at this point I think I’ve decided to have a committee so the decision really isn’t about the level of funding, it’s about that I think it makes sense for people that I know and trust to help me clarify the issues.

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

My primary concern about the school district has to do with the relationships among people, about how everyone involved with the district has been treated, administration, staff. When I talk about staff I mean at all levels. Students and parents. It involves the culture of the entire educational community here. I’ve been involved at many levels with many different people over the last twenty years with only some impact. I feel that as a school board member I could impact that more. I’m interested in access to education for all people in Davis and I think that’s an issue that I want to address. Those would be the primary reasons.

3. Tell us about your background and experience in education

It comes from different areas. My training in education started early on, I was a child development major. I got involved in students both in academic instruction and students with particular disabilities that was as an undergraduate. Went onto graduate school at UCLA got my doctorate in educational counseling psychology. I worked in and around school districts all over the state since about 1979.

Having worked in a variety of school districts over the last 25 to 30 years, I think I’ve come to understand what the real problems in schools districts, what the real issues are for students—how students learn, what their problems are. I’ve had a lot of time to work with parents, to work with teaching staff, [and] had a lot of time to work with administrators. I’ve learned about advocacy and how that can be used to make changes. I’ve learned about decision making. I’ve learned about negotiation, the negotiation process, contract development. I’ve been active in the teacher’s association for the last 20 years. I was a negotiator for 8 or 10 of those years. We talked about priorities and district goals and also talked about funding and how that interacts with decision-making.

I think that gives me a good background for sitting on the board and maybe hearing some things that others would not catch. Because I’m a psychologist, both as an educational psychologist and a clinical type of psychologist, I look a lot at relationships and I think the relationships have both a direct impact on morale and a direct impact on how the school district views their participation. Students are participants in education. Parents are participants in education. Teaching staff are participants in education—the classified staff, the sports staff, participates and the administration participates in education. It is an important process and I think I have a broad perspective on all of those people to benefit.

4. What are your top educational priorities?

For Davis school district? I assume you are talking about Davis school district as I consider the board? My top priorities are that each person, I just mentioned each of the participants in the process here, I want each of those people to feel respected and valued.

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

I’d like to enhance those programs that give students access to education that probably are not accessing well their education at this time. I view education not just as an area of academic pursuit, but to prepare to those involved for careers, for learning, for family. I want enhance programs that give all students access to those areas of education.

6. What are your feelings about GATE?

We have a variety of specialty programs in the district. I’m supportive of GATE and I’m supportive of specialties programs. I work very closely with GATE. My focus is on giving GATE students as well as all students access to education for those same reasons—GATE students need to learn to access education. GATE students need to learn to access careers. GATE students to learn to develop relationships so they can socialize and be successful family members, so that was a general answer. I support the GATE programs. The changes need to come more from the GATE staff themselves. I don’t have a specific recommendation at this point about GATE.

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?

At the risk of being repetitive, I think one of the areas that we need to look into is how we can give all students access to education. We tend to focus quite a bit on specialty programs. We tend to respond a lot to advocacy rather than to look at the broad education as educational professionals to see what we need. So I think it’s time that we need to stop responding so quickly to advocacy and step back and say, how do we give all students access to programs? I’d like to see increased programs that give all students access to career related activities, career related learning. If students have particular interests whether it is technical, biological, or manual, want to become nurses, want to become journalists, that we broaden our aspect of how we give them access to that, it may be classes, it may be special satellite schools.

One example that I view very positively is Da Vinci. We have a growing high school. One way to respond to that is to say this group of students that want to learn to work in teams, want to learn how to use technology, want to learn how to do group projects, which is part of life, that’s what you do when you get a job, you work in groups, and to help them do that.

Another great example is King High, it’s fairly small right now and it’s a group of students who are often disengaged from the educational process or often even attending. I’d like to see that strengthened, I’d like to see them access academics, careers, and opportunities to learn how to be a successful adult. I think we can do that in a lot of ways. I’d like to see that particular area expanded.

So I use the word access a lot—all of those kids need access.

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

I’d like to respond not so much to numbers that you’re implying but rather the hiring process itself. I think the district needs to pay more attention to the hiring process, I think by working more closely at hiring, we’ll have a better balance of all kinds of folks. Not just a particular ethnicity, but if you look at a variety of programs, we’re still hiring. We have a problem that I work with closely, the teacher, has been suggested but not yet approved by the school board and we’re starting in a week. I’d like to see us hire earlier, I’d like to see us go to broader environments to recruit people, and to emphasize that more. I will sometimes say, in a bit of a sarcastic way, it seems that when it comes to hiring that sometimes we wait until the last minute and then add two weeks. So I think we’ll get a broader pool of applicants by putting more time and energy into that. So I guess my answer in brief: better recruiting.

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

We need to give students who because of economic and environmental challenges more access to education. We need to do that by preparing at the very beginning in elementary school, by looking at programs that teach them basic literacy skills, learning skills. We need to offer all the way out. We have students going in junior high and senior high that have difficulty reading. I can remember sitting at the high school and the girl I was working with, getting ready to graduate, I really worked to try to teach her the time tables and she really wanted to learn but she was at that point very embarrassed about not knowing that. You can go into a meeting. I go to meetings, I go to several hundred meetings per year, and it gets to the point where you say well what do we do to teach this child to read? What do we to teach this child to write a five paragraph essay? What do we to teach this child basic consumer math? There’s very few options. And it’s frustrating. It’s been a source of conflict that I’ve had with some school administrators the way. I really want to emphasize giving students who need base-line academic skills opportunities. I suspect it will mean ultimately building some programs and changing some staff.

10. What is your view of Valley Oak?

I have no idea if the decision is reversible. I want to first clarify my philosophy, my view of the world before I answer that. People need to be respected; they need to be valued. Decisions should be advocacy based, they should be educationally based. I think Valley Oak represented a really solid educational community. There was trust at Valley Oak. There was pride not only I think from students and parents but a staff that felt valued and successful. That’s all I expect, I wouldn’t have changed it.

I guess that leads us to the present. The decision has been made, what possible impact could somebody new coming in have? I value anything that we can decently do to maintain the Valley Oak community.

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

Having worked with an association that has been involved in a number of discussions about money—there’s generally a theory that there’s one pot and competing interests for the one pot. Ultimately I guess that’s where decision making and policy programs come in. Ultimately there’s going to be priorities and my priorities are to give everyone access. Ultimately given one pot I know every board member sits up there and lobbies and votes in certain ways and I’ll be lobbying and voting towards giving students access.

In terms of increasing the amount, there have been various efforts at trying to bring in students from other areas. I think one way we can do that is to make programs appealing in ways that people either move here for the programs or bring their students over. I work in special education, I’ve sat in that office while people from Rhode Island or Connecticut call and say we’re moving to Davis because we’ve heard so much about your special education program. We’re willing to move and change our jobs in order to have my child participate in that education. I think that’s a metaphor for what we can do. We have an incredible teaching staff here. I’ve worked all around Los Angeles, I’ve worked in Shasta County, I’ve worked in other adjoining counties, we have the best teaching staff I’ve ever worked with. I think if people come to understand that we have a broad range of educational approaches, I think we can bring people in.

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

I made the decision to stand up and clarify that a little bit, that continues to reflect how I feel this morning as well as last night. Is that I listened to what the board members said, I realize they didn’t spend a lot of time talking about his array of accomplishment, they talked about his relationships. They said he worked with colleagues well, he worked with everybody in the district well, he worked with people in the last district well. When someone comes into his office they feel listened to but they won’t necessarily get the answer that they had hoped for. I believe that he is viewed by the board as someone who understands relationships, who help us develop directions in education based on good educational philosophy and collaborative educational decision making rather than just respond to advocacy. I guess to summarize: I think he has a clear vision and he understands that the culture and relationships in Davis need to change and he’s not afraid to do it.

13. 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?

I’d like him to look at the system and the culture itself. My advice to him would be to say look at how people interact in our district, let’s talk about it, let’s see what working well, let’s look at some changes, and let’s not be afraid to make some of those changes.

My feeling in the past is that, that there’s a more open communication. My perception right now is that there is a great deal of information doesn’t reach the school board right now, it’s dealt with at other levels. I suppose each person on the board can only handle so much before their brain fills up and they run out of RAM. On the other hand, I view interactions as being so central that I think there needs to be a mechanism where the school board and superintendent talk about what’s going on. It’s more than pieces of property, funding, building changes. It’s really about what happens everyday in the classroom. What happens everyday in the teacher’s lunchroom. What happens in the offices, what happens in the negotiations’ table. What are people concerned about, feel value, who’s being treated poorly or inappropriately, and what can we do to help change that? I want more open discussion. I don’t think I’ll settle for less.

14. What were the strengths of David Murphy and what do you think his weaknesses were?

Again I’m going to focus on the relationships in the district. As an individual, when I saw David [Murphy], I felt happy. I thought here’s a guy who knows me, who will ask about the family, who will stop and listen. David was a person where he was really busy but when you stepped into his office he was present. And anything short of a major disaster outside just had to wait. And I appreciated that—the way he was engaged.

My concern is that during the course of the last four or five years, I think that interactions and relationships have eroded in the school district. I’m not in a position to know how much he knew of, how much he allowed, how much he listened to, I can’t judge. I can only say that from the position of the school board that will be out in the open a lot more.

I was talking to Jeff Hudson [reporter for the Davis Enterprise], I indicated to him, I’m enthusiastic, I’m excited about some of the relationships I’ve seen coming from the top management all the way down in terms of honor, respect, valuing good instruction, student satisfaction, parent satisfaction, and meeting educational goals. I’m appalled at some of the disrespect by some of the abuse, some of the bullying, some of the.. what seems to be discrimination against individuals and groups, and I can’t judge what David knew or how he participated in that, I didn’t have access to that information.

15. What book are you reading right now?

I can’t remember the name of it, it’s a Ludlum novel, a spy novel, one of the things I like about some of the writers from that period was that they were written ten years ago but they seem to describe the world literally today or even tomorrow or particularly what will be in the newspaper in terms of world climate or world challenges. In this particular book, one of the heroes never leaves his office. He’s a highly honored person who does everything on a computer. I’m not a techie at all, I’m still struggling with my Apple yet, I think novelists who can be accurate about the world ten years later are quite remarkable to read.

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

I know what attributes I admire, I don’t know if I can pick out a particular person… I think the best I can do is pick out some attributes. I appreciate people who are involved in politics, who are clear about what their philosophy is and politicians for which I can understand how they view the world. And what they try to do before they give answers. So they are politicians I can trust even when I disagree. As you’ve asked me questions, I’ve tried to say this is how I view the world, this is how I view education, this is how I view decision making—that helps me to think through it. I tend to mistrust politicians who seem to just give answers to please people which may be diametrically opposed within one hour of each other only to please people. Those are politicians that I have little time or patience for. I can’t really pick out a name off-hand; maybe if I thought about it, I could come back.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting