Dan Cunningham for School Board on Advancing Dublin Education
The Dublin Unified School District Board of Trustees has four candidates vying for three open seats in the upcoming election on November 6, 2012. To help Dublin voters make an informed decision, OneDublin.org asked each candidate the same five questions. Below is the response received from candidate Dan Cunningham. Responses from candidates Amy Miller, Austin Ogden and Greg Tomlinson are available here.
OneDublin.org: What inspired you to become active in Dublin education and run for a Dublin Unified School District Board of Trustees position?
Cunningham: “I have always had a passion for helping young people as well as giving back to my community. I grew up in a family where giving back to the community was a way of life. My grandfather was on the City Council and served two terms as Mayor of the city I lived in Southern California. My father was quite active in our church as was my mother. When we moved to Dublin, seventeen years ago, we wanted to live where we could participate in the community. Shortly after my oldest son joined his scout troop, the Scoutmaster stepped down and I was asked to serve in that position. At first, I thought I would be in the position for a few years. However, I enjoyed helping young boys become young men and develop skills that will help make them successful in life. Instead of a couple of years, I served ten years as Scoutmaster and helped thirty-three young men obtain the rank of Eagle Scout. Those experiences, as well as my desire to have a broader impact in my community, led me to want to serve as a Trustee for the Dublin Unified School District. Serving as Scoutmaster allowed me to impact a small group of kids; however, being on the school board gives me the opportunity to have an impact on the larger community and, more importantly, the community that I live in.”
OneDublin.org: Dublin is a diverse community in ethnic and socioeconomic terms. What challenges does Dublin face in maximizing learning opportunities for all students?
Cunningham: “We are blessed in Dublin to live in a community that is ethnically and socio-economically diverse. Dublin is the most accepting community I have ever lived in. It doesn’t matter how much money you make or where you are from; the most important thing is that you are a Dublin resident. This can be seen at all our schools throughout the district. However, that does not mean that there are not challenges. The Dublin Schools have done a fantastic job focusing on raising the academic bar for students. This is evident in our rising test scores as well as the caliber of colleges to which our students are being accepted. Unfortunately, we still have an achievement gap with our Hispanic, African-American, and socio-economically disadvantaged students. As a learning community, we need to address this issue. We need to look at the root causes of the achievement gap and face them head on. We cannot be afraid to ask the tough questions and more importantly make the tough decisions that will close that achievement gap.
“As a district, we are addressing this issue. The district has put tremendous resources in to training our teachers and administrative leaders on being a Professional Learning Community. Our teachers and staff are focusing on data to find out what is working and what is not. The district is focusing on collaboration among grade and subject levels as well as collaboration between elementary and middle schools as well as the middle schools and high schools. This work is starting to pay dividends. We are seeing the achievement gap close; however, there is still work to be done. We must find time in the schedule for intervention during the school day. Students that struggle need extra help and it is the district’s job to find ways to help them during the school day.”
OneDublin.org: What is the role of the Board of Trustees vs. the role of the District Staff / Administration / Teachers in ensuring our students are ready for college, a career or public service?
Cunningham: “The most important role of the Board of Trustees is to set the direction for the district. This is especially true when it comes to ensuring our students are ready for college, career, or public service. In fact, this is so important that we remind ourselves at each board meeting by reading the District Mission Statement.
“‘Our Mission is to ensure that every student becomes a lifelong learner by providing a rigorous and relevant education that prepares him/her for college or service to our country and for success in the global community.’
The board needs to set policies that reflect the above mission. Last year, the board in conjunction with teachers, district staff and parents worked on both the homework and grading policies to ensure the policies are properly aligned with our Mission. One of the key jobs of the Trustees is to continually review district policy to keep them in alignment with our Mission.
“While the school board sets the policies, it is the role of the district staff, administration, and teachers to implement the policies.”
OneDublin.org: Dublin voters have supported multiple bond measures and a parcel tax in recent years. What role do Board Trustees play in ensuring that the money will be spent in the most efficient and effective way possible and what are your priorities for recently approved bond funds?
Cunningham: “The Dublin community is very supportive of our schools as demonstrated by the passage of the Measure C Bonds in 2004, the Measure L Parcel Tax in 2008 and the recent passage in June of this year of Measure E. The Board of Trustees’ role in the implementation of the bond measures and parcel tax is to set the direction and approve the expenditures of the funds. An example of the board making sure that the funds are spent properly as the community wanted is the recent approval for the Performing Arts Center at Dublin High School. The project, as it was presented for final approval to the board, was missing key components that would set the Performing Arts Center apart from other centers in the Valley. The board instructed the staff, after community input, to add an orchestra pit and fly system to the building. By reviewing the project and getting community input, we were able to insure the Performing Arts Center will be a facility that will be an asset not only to our students but the entire community.
“With the passage of Measure E, there are many needs that have to be addressed in the district. First, is to ensure that funding goes to all schools in the district for technology. It is imperative that a portion of the funding be allowed for our students and teachers to have access to current technology. That includes moving away from physical textbooks as well as moving to one-to-one computing in our classrooms. We need to have the proper technology in our classrooms in order to properly prepare our students for college and careers. In addition to technology, we need to place priorities on using some of the funds to relieve overcrowding in our classrooms. Finally, we need to continue to work on addressing the needs defined in the Master Plans at all our facilities. As with Measure C, input from the community will be vital to insure that the funds are spent as the community desires.”
OneDublin.org: As an existing Board Trustee or as a candidate you have likely spoken to many parents. What are the key issues you’ve heard and how do you plan to address those issues?
Cunningham: “The number one issue continues to be the success of all our students. Whether the student is a high achiever or struggles in school, our parents want them to be successful. Over the last four years, Dublin schools have shown tremendous growth in student achievement. Scores throughout the district continue to rise. In fact, DUSD is one of the few districts in the State of California to experience an increase in API each of the last ten years! We are a highly successful district. However, that does not mean there is no room for improvement. As with most districts, we have achievement gaps. Our African-American, Hispanic, socio-economically disadvantaged and special education students are below the level they should be at. Through the Professional Learning Community model, we are working to close those achievement gaps. Our teachers are collaborating on best practices and using data to track what is working and implementing strategies to help all our students.
“Besides the success of our students, parents are concerned with the fiscal stability of our schools. Over the last four years, the district has successfully weathered the impacts of the downturn in funding from the State of California. The State has underfunded our district by $1,693 per student this year. In order to continue to weather the economic turmoil in California, it is imperative that the district continues to maintain adequate reserves. Currently, the district maintains a 3% reserve but has a target of creating a 5% reserve. This reserve will enable our district to avoid the draconian cuts experienced by other districts in California.”