Researcher

Based on my knowledge and experiences as an educator, social worker, advocate, and researcher, I have several goals I would like to accomplish with regard to my top three priorities : safety, achievement, and college/career readiness 

Safety

My first priority is ensuring the safety of students, faculty, and staff members. This includes physical safety as well as health and mental well-being.

 

According to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, safety must be ensured first before learning can take place.

Physical safety and health

In these unprecedented times that we are currently living through, the importance of health has been highlighted on a national scale. The loss of even one child, teacher, or staff member to COVID-19 is one too many. That is why I support the decision of our district to suspend in-person education for the fall semester until we have this crisis under control. When the time comes, we can ensure physical safety via social distancing and the use of masks.

In the mean time, it is important to have supports in place for teachers and families. A tangible example is help with getting access to faster WiFi. With  parents working at home and children on Zoom calls, bandwidth issues can affect access to education. In fact, my daughter's teacher was kicked off zoom the other day for this very reason and had trouble getting back on. There are CARES  Act funds available via the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund and the Governor's Emergency Education Relief Fund. We need to look at how to best allocate those resources for families

and teachers in need. With my experience in budget management, I can ensure that resources are being expended in a fiscally sound manner.

We also need more nurses for our schools. One of my daughters has a special health care need and we are blessed to have Mary Carol as our school nurse. But the number of schools she has to visit throughout the day is too much. 

Mental health

Our district needs more school social workers for the mental well-being of students and teachers. If the district’s budget has no room for funds for counselors, then I would use my research and advocacy skills to secure outside funding. Other solutions that do not require money involve peer support groups. Current counselors can work with youth interested in pursuing social work/psychology careers to start such groups. This would serve the double purpose of having the groups be student-run and also give student facilitators a line item on their resumes. Peer support for teachers and staff can also be accomplished in the same way.

Freedom from bullying is a key factor in feeling safe as well. Although all districts indicate that bullying is not tolerated, it still happens. Our district has a policy on bullying, but I believe it needs to be more extensive and it must include specific steps that children, parents, and teachers can take when these instances happen. We do not need a one-size fits all policy such as zero tolerance, but there can be guidelines in place for certain types of bullying (e.g., cyber-bullying, racism, sexual

harassment). Restorative justice is an evidence-based program that can be helpful in many cases in bringing bullies and those bullied (and parents) together toward healing and justice, but these are for certain cases to which the model applies. There must be consequences for when this cannot apply or when it does not work.

Also important is that parents, teachers, staff, and administrators are familiar with what the steps are in reporting and resolution. I would work toward creating an infographic/flow chart of the new policy that clearly describes the rights of children and families and outlines the steps they can take. In addition, I believe that there needs to be a community advisory board that parents can go to if they do not feel safe pursuing cases with the teachers or administration. Current policy allows for the creation of such a board and I would work to establish one with the community.

Student achievement

Our district faces a number of challenges related to achievement gaps in meeting standards and graduating high school. Based on data from the California Department of Education, there are gaps in general but also along socioeconomic lines.

In Academic Year 2018-19

   Percent who did not meet the standards when it comes to ELA/Literacy:

  • 22% of all the students

  • 35% of economically disadvantaged children/youths

  • 57% of English learners.

 

   Percent who did not meet the standards when it comes to Mathematics:

 

  • 29% of all the students

  • 44% of economically disadvantaged children/youths

  • 58% of English learners

 

   Percent who graduate:

 

  • 89% of all the students

  • 84% of economically disadvantaged children/youths

  • 60% of English learners

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

These are challenges that most school districts face and it is important for us to look at interventions that have shown to be successful in order to help all our students. With my background in child welfare, I am knowledgeable about what works and doesn’t work when addressing these gaps. For example, components of successful programs include: high quality early childhood education, strong health and nutrition services, hands-on classroom experiences that promote active learning, high quality after-school and summer enrichment programs that can help with homework and studying, and parent/community engagement. As a Board member, I would work to create/advocate for such programs. 

College and Career Readiness

 It is important that students have options toward achieving their dreams, whether that involves entering college or the workforce. In terms of college, students should have access to the types of AP classes they need to be successful applicants to universities. Students who want to be competitive but do not necessarily qualify for such courses can be given other options such as programming that involves service-learning.

Opportunities such as these can be created in collaboration within our community as described below. Other students who would like to enter the workforce have access to vocational training classes but these programs could be expanded to include coursework at local vocational training institutes/colleges that lead to certificates.

In order to provide hands-on opportunities for growth and learning, I think we should make connections to our business, health, and social service community. We can thus provide internship opportunities for all our students. These can involve weeks-long internships but they can also be opportunities to shadow entrepreneurs, doctors, social workers, etc., in our community to learn about different careers. With my connections in the community along with those of other Board members, I will help build these collaborations. Also important is

creating a mentorship program in conjunction with these types of opportunities as research shows time and again that mentorship leads to success for students.

Part of readiness for college/career includes financial capability and asset building. I will help create a robust program for students at all levels. One idea that I believe can be helpful for elementary students, for example, is what I call a “Harvest of Friends,” after one of my favorite Little House on the Prairie episodes. Many families have fruit trees and vegetable gardens in their back yards and sometimes there is a surplus in the harvest. I would like to create a program where families can sign up to share in that harvest. Students (with chaperoning by parents)

would go around to neighbors specified area and collect any fruits and vegetables they would like to share. There would be a small fee that the students would collect from those who would like a “basket” in return, which would contain a variety of the different the fruits/vegetables gathered. Students would be learning about budget management through this process (e.g., keeping track of a budget, saving). Extra fruits/ vegetables could be donated.

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©2020 by Dr. Sofya Bagdasaryan