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Davis, California

Friday, April 12, 2024

Breaking the ice: winter brings three newly-elected Davis school board members

Q&A featuring school board member goals, challenges

The Davis Joint Unified School District welcomed three new school board trustees in the Nov. 6 election. The trustees were sworn in to begin their four-year terms at the end of 2018. Each trustee differs in experiences and perspectives but both share an affection for and desire to improve the city of Davis.

Elected in 2014 for his first term, incumbent Tom Adams boasts a long career in education and serves as the deputy superintendent of the California Department of Education in Sacramento. Adams also received his doctorate in history from UC Davis.

UC Davis psychology professor and Stanford graduate Cindy Pickett served on the Montessori Parent Advisory Committee and the district’s Parcel Tax Oversight Committee, among others. She is also focused on closing the achievement gap and promoting sustainability.

Joe DiNunzio is the President of Davis Schools Foundation and works with startup businesses. He also holds positions in the UC Davis Graduate School of Management and in various other DJUSD committees relevant to the budget and education.

Barbara Archer, a school board trustee from 2014 to 2018, worked with Adams during their four-year terms and expresses her faith in these trustees’ abilities to prioritize district agendas.

“The three people who were just elected — they have a lot of experience in working with the school district,” Archer said. “As a board, they will certainly respond to things that come up as the school year unfolds. A lot of what the board does is respond [to] issues you can’t anticipate, but I think the staples of board work are work on the budget and work on teacher pay.”

Archer also touched upon the challenging aspects for the board to be a voice to the whole community.

“Certainly as a board member, you do have to listen to all the perspectives and our citizenry is very engaged here in Davis,” Archer said. “They do let you know if they have opinions on things, so that is something you always have to deal with as a board member. I’m really confident in the new board’s ability to do a great job.”

The following contains transcriptions from three separate interviews. It had been edited for length and clarity.

The California Aggie: In this following term, what are some long-term goals or priorities you want to achieve as DJUSD school board member? What do you think Davis needs?

Tom Adams: I think Davis really is in a phase of modernizing and updating itself, both in terms of curriculum and instruction as well as facilities. This is why things like the continuation of parcel tax and Measure M, a bond measure, passing –– what these do really tell our kids more than anything else [is] that we’re investing in them. Right now, we recognize that we really have to increase our investment in Davis schools and really affect Davis students, saying we want to — shall we say — “up our game” on education.

Cindy Pickett: It’s always easy to listen to the loudest voices –– people that come to the school board meetings or write letters to the board –– but there’s a lot of people in our community who have something to say or are affected by our policies that don’t feel comfortable coming forward. I want to make sure we as a board make decisions that are taking into account those individuals, and so one of my goals is to reach out to different communities and ask them how do they feel about “X” or “Y” so that we can make more informed and more culturally sensitive policies and decisions.

Also, being realistic, I think a lot of districts get themselves in trouble because they are overly optimistic about the financial future, and I’ve seen that be a problem again and again. I want to hopefully avoid that track and make sure we have rainy day funds and that our reserve is healthy.

Joe DiNunzio: The first one was fiscal sustainability. We need to think about how we can build an enterprise at the school district that is sustainable over time. There are some very specific challenges we have to grapple with, including teacher compensation and making sure teachers and staff are compensated fairly.

The second one is positive transparency. Davis is blessed with people who are very involved in the community. We have to make a concerted effort so that we as a board are transparent in what we’re doing and how we make decisions.

The next is safety and support, that is something is paramount that we make sure our students, teachers and staff are operating in an environment where they feel supported, where they feel safe […] We’re also talking about emotional and social safety.

The fourth is inclusiveness. We continue to have an achievement or opportunity gap in our district, as is the case across California and across the nation. Inclusiveness also means having different cultural perspectives, learning approaches, so thinking about how we can include that into our process is important.

The last thing is innovation — we need to have a growth mindset. How can we be continually better at what we do and not be complacent. Innovation means we think about ultimately getting to a place where we truly deliver on differentiated learning and recognize what we are trying to do is develop and deliver an excellent education to every student based on his or her need.

TCA: With the passing of Measure M, a facilities bond, many community members are suggesting various improvements to structures and curriculum. Which direction do you hope to see Measure M go in?

CP: You have to focus on the basics first, which are the classrooms and making sure there’s resources for the teachers so that they can give or provide a 21st century education, but that requires a 21st century science lab. Focusing on classroom improvements and safety measures and then from there thinking more broadly. The reason why MPRs are important is that it brings a community together, and that’s one of our priorities as a district — that inclusion of belonging that requires space for those activities to happen.

JD: I think it will help contribute to providing the tools or resources at a facility level to support an excellent education. Teachers have, for decades, been thinking about how they tailor their programs and experiences to their individual students. It’s about continuing to provide them with the training and resources and support to get there. It’s important to recognize that that investment should serve our whole community.

TCA: Each fall, UC Davis welcomes a large influx of new students who need housing. Is the school board concerned with creating more housing opportunities for both students and local residents?

TA:  In Davis, we would have to go through extraordinary measures to do that, but what we are seeing in terms of Davis trends are the cost of housing in Davis is going up, and with that, family size is going down. We want [Davis] to be open to everyone and get some more housing to ease up the tight housing market. This is something we have to pay attention to because all of California is dealing with a housing shortage. The great thing is that it will definitely help our schools because, right now, our enrollment is basically flat — it has been flat for a while. If it wasn’t for the interdistrict transfers, we would probably have to close a school and lose out on millions of dollars, so we’ve been lucky.

CP: When you get young families, typically they have less income, and they need more affordable options. And so what were seeing in Davis is that our enrollments are down and that we do bring in students from other districts, and ultimately, that’s due to the housing situation. Young families can’t afford to come into Davis and that affects schools — it affects how many programs we can offer. I do think that when [UC Davis] students have more options they then free up homes. There’s a domino effect. More housing will not only ensure the sustainability of the city but also the health of schools.

JD: It is extremely important for us to address the housing issue for students and for people in general. The city is doing an effective job of starting to work more closely with the university to think about how we create a comprehensive plan to address housing. You can’t just address one narrow part of the issue. We need housing for students, we need affordable housing for the people to live here and support the growth of our community. [The university] has a long-range plan to grow, and that’s fantastic.

TCA: Recently, the name change proposal for North Davis was faced with opposition from parents. Do you have any recommendations for how Dr. Mary Ellen Dolcini can be honored or how, personally, transparency can exist?

TA: If there’s going to be a name change, we really have to do it in a manner where people have ownership of the name and not imposed on them. Mary Ellen Dolcini herself — I met years ago — is a wonderful person and educator. I personally think she’s been a great role model for Davis, but it’s also an issue of we don’t seem imposing something on people. But if they start looking at her record, they will see that she’s a person who we should honor in the district.

CP: If the community of the school doesn’t want the change, it’ll be heard to rename the school, but that’s definitely not our only option. I’m very hopeful that the committee will come up with some good options that will garner what the community supports.

JD: I feel very strongly that an open and transparent process is extremely [necessary] for any decision we make. At the end of the day, trust is extraordinarily important in any process, particularly is important in a public process. Even if we don’t agree, understand how the decision was made and trust that it was done in a thoughtful way. Openness and transparency is critical in maintain[ing] trust, and trust is critical for being able to manage a school district and the difficult [decisions] that need to be to made.

TCA: Davis has such a tight-knit, charming community that features many fun local gatherings, parades and such. Which Davis events do you enjoy going to?

TA: The thing that I’ve always loved about Davis are — because I’m a runner and not that I’ve set any records — but I’ve always loved the Turkey Trot. I love the Labor Day Run because of the affiliation with our sister city in Japan, and then lastly the Pride Run. It’s my way of supporting the community. Those are some of my favorite things to do.

CP: Sometimes I complain about having to wake up early on a Saturday, but I like [American Youth Soccer Organization] soccer teams and Davis Little League baseball games. There’s so many people in the community that are involved; both those organizations are very inclusive. It’s fun to be out there watching your child play and talking to other parents. It really does build this community to see these families year after year.

JD: I love both Celebrate Davis and Discover Davis. I’m vice chair of the Davis of Commerce so I am biased, but I think they are both fun community-wide events. I love going to the student performances, all of the orchestras, madrigals, the Glee Club, all of our dramatic performances. I love going to the elementary school choir performances. I think they’re awesome. Taking off Davis City hat off for a moment, the Mondavi Center has an incredible program of speakers and artistic performers and musicians; my wife and I go to quite a few of those and enjoy them. I’m big on sports, so I like going to college and high school sporting events.

Written by: Renee Hoh — city@theaggie.org


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