Natomas School Board Race: How to Help District’s Lowest Performing Schools

THE NATOMAS BUZZ | @natomasbuzz

THIRD IN A SERIES

THE NATOMAS BUZZ invited the five candidates running for the Natomas Unified school board to participate in a series of articles wherein they answer questions submitted by readers. Today’s question asked,

“The Sacramento Bee has reported Natomas Unified as having some of the lowest-performing schools in the region at Bannon Creek and American Lakes elementary schools. After years of increased funding, investment and programs, the students at these schools are still being left behind when compared to their regional peers. What are your ideas on how to address this gap?”

Here are the answers submitted by the deadline, in the order they were received:

JAG BAINS
We must start by believing in our students, setting high academic expectations, and creating a deep and rigorous curriculum. Our diverse student population deserves and needs our faith. Next, teacher education programs must be improved. Teachers should be equipped with the latest strategies and classroom management skills to pull the best out of our students. Unfortunately, we’ve lost too many good teachers to neighboring school districts and need to review our recruiting and retention practices to ensure we are hiring high-quality teachers and keeping them. For years, members of the community have called for hiring Vice Principals to help at American Lakes and Bannon Creek, but the calls have been ignored. It’s time to give this community-based suggestion a good look. Not every decision needs to be a top-down decision from the Board. If we want increased parent involvement, then we must engage parent ideas thoughtfully.

CYNTHIA CONNELL
This district is really out of excuses for why they haven’t made improvements. NUSD should recruit harder for black teachers, change the negative district culture and create stability for our students by supporting teachers, classified, counselors, psychologists, and SPED teachers and IA’s. They must incorporate employee and parent input on the LCAP instead of paying lip service to this mandate. Parents and teachers know what classroom resources are needed; classified personnel see the waste and missed opportunities. Incumbents talk about new Literacy programs; teachers talk about large class sizes and practice tests replacing valuable teaching time. Curriculum is decided by administrators and important teacher collaboration time is eroded by top-down agendas. There’s a disconnect between these top-down directives and teacher/student needs. Stable and successful districts respect stakeholder input, have systematic and predictable processes for school safety and supports, and keep their staff for many years. NUSD must reprioritize its budget.

GABRIELL GARCIA
We need to treat children as people and not numbers on our budgets or state standards. Recruiting, acknowledging and supporting great teachers and administrators that look like our student demographic is key. Retaining these teachers and administrators will build respect and long-lasting relationships with our students. As struggling schools, we need to reach out to local businesses, colleges, alumni, residents, and parents to get involved. Building and/or strengthening Parent Teacher Associations on those campuses through recruitment and parent involvement. Expanding after-school tutoring (high dose and intensive), sports and recreation programs and work with community organizations that can add valuable supports and services. Increasing summer programs, extending school year or length of the day are also viable options. Students who have mentors, summer jobs and early college experiences have a better chance of success. We need a district that builds a culture of high expectations in academics as well as behavior.

LISA KAPLAN
Equity in education is very important to me. As a Board, Natomas has prioritized additional funding, services, and programs for our schools that are not achieving at the level they should be. This question will take more than 150 words allotted to answer. Therefore, if you would like to know what Natomas Unified is already doing, and my thoughts on moving forward so that all of our children have educational equity and opportunity, please feel free to email me at [email protected], call my cell at 916-996-1474. To find out what I stand for, visit www.kaplan4kids.com or my Facebook page at Lisa Kaplan, Natomas School Board.

TERI BURNS
We continue to address these issues. We have put in reading specialists to help ensure all of these students are reading by third grade. We’ve invested in pre-school programs so children come to school ready to learn. Our greatest struggle is that so many of our students move. 50% of the students who start in Kindergarten are not with us by third grade so the work we do to support pre-school for those children benefits some other school district. Children who stay with us perform much better than their peers on tests. We continue to invest in tutoring, mentors, and school connectedness for all students. We are providing our teachers with multicultural training so they better connect with parents and students. We are looking to develop teachers from the community so that they reflect our student communities. We are aware of the need and focusing attention on it.

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