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Amy Miller 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 Amy Miller. Responses from candidates Dan Cunningham, 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?

Miller: “I was 9 months pregnant with my first son when I finished graduate school and my husband and I decided we would move to the Bay Area, leaving my entire professional network in L.A. behind, and that I would stay home to raise our children. I had just earned a Master’s Degree in Education with an emphasis in Career Counseling and a Pupil Personnel Services credential for school counseling. I gave up my career working in the field of education and became one of those moms that volunteered for everything once my son started school. Being on the school campus where my children attended always felt like home to me. I also felt that it was my job and would help me fulfill the commitment my husband and I made to ensure our children were receiving the best educational experiences possible. Through my volunteer work in the schools (PFC President, Room Parent Coordinator, etc.) and then at Dublin Partners in Education (DPIE), I developed a very strong connection to this community.

“I love Dublin, the people in Dublin and the schools in Dublin. When I was asked to consider running/applying (in my case, for an appointment) for the Dublin School Board back in 2010, I read up on what being a Governing Board Member meant and interviewed a Superintendent and Board members from a neighboring school district. Once I fully understood the role, I immediately recognized the contribution I thought I could make in this capacity. My educational background, work experiences, connections developed through my fundraising efforts at DPIE, and most significantly my mom-status, I thought made me a strong candidate that could add a very different perspective to the team. However, it was my interest and passion in serving all children that inspired me. I had to dig deep and really ask myself the question if I could make decisions based not on what I thought would best benefit my own children, but what would benefit the most children possible. Once I knew I could do that, I was determined to be selected for the seat and there isn’t a day that goes by that I am not grateful for the opportunity I was given for the last two years to serve our community and more specifically, our students.”

OneDublin.org: Dublin is a diverse community in ethnic and socioeconomic terms. What challenges does Dublin face in maximizing learning opportunities for all students?

Miller: “Our teachers and administrators have been working hard on this issue already. They collaborate and evaluate the best practices to teach to the students in their classrooms. Our teachers already recognize that differences such as ethnicity, socioeconomic s, level of support at home, learning styles and many other differences exist and have an impact on learning. There is no shortage of talent on our teaching staff. But, with all the unfunded mandates and the constant pressure to prepare students for testing, our teachers are particularly challenged in being able to implement the range of interventions necessary to impact every student.

“A lack of resources and time are always a challenge. There are practices that have begun, which have allowed more opportunities for differentiated instruction, but it seems that it’s a slow process and we seem to always be beholden to the whim of the government and their constant budget cuts to education. I do feel that DUSD does a good job of working within the constraints imposed on us and is mindful of the differences that exist between students within our schools. However, until we can ensure true equity, there will always be an achievement gap. While educational equity is a federally mandated right for all students, the budget cuts make it extremely difficult to provide all of the programs needed.

“Another challenge is that the level of resources available from the parent community varies between schools. This presents the challenge of recognizing the generosity of our parents who intend for their donations to be used to fund programs at their child’s schools. However, we have to be mindful that the school district is required to provide programs to meet the needs of ALL of our students equally – we need to find a way to level the playing field. There is heightened awareness of this particular challenge and it is being addressed and researched. We are certainly not the only district faced with this issue.”

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?

Miller: “A Board trustee has two jobs: 1) hire the Superintendent and evaluate his/her performance and 2) Set policy for the school district. As a governing board member, we acknowledge that we are not the experts. We rely on staff to communicate effectively to determine what the best practices are to serve our students. We expect that the district staff has gathered information /input from our teachers and administrators and current research before presenting the board with an action item. Although our board works particularly hard in being informed, by serving on committees and asking lots of clarifying questions, we expect the district to provide us with all of the information available so that we can make decisions that are truly in the best interests of our students.

“As a board trustee, it is my responsibility to make sure that the data presented tells the whole story and includes input from all the key stakeholders. I served on the College and Career Readiness Advisory Committee and was able to see first-hand the effort that goes into learning and incorporating strategies so that our district remains true to its goals. Dublin Unified has a very strong Career Technical Education program with career pathways in many different career fields, offers ROP classes, which provides hands on experience and college credit, and is always working to find a way to provide access to all students to have many choices to gain knowledge about life after high school.”

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?

Miller: “The Board, along with the facilities department, Dr. Hanke and many other experts spent months generating a list of approved projects based on the input from the community. The Board directed the district to meet with all staff at each site, host town hall meetings, and conduct polls to identify what the community (who would be funding the bonds/parcel tax), felt was important. The Board will receive reports regularly from the staff and will carefully examine that we are fulfilling our promises made to the community. The CBOC (Bond Oversight Committee) was formed as an extra layer to also monitor the efficient and effective expenditures associated with bond projects. The Board will hold Dr. Hanke and his staff accountable for following through on the approved plans and communicating when changes have to be made for any reason.

“My priorities for the recently approved Measure E funds are to ensure the work that is needed to increase safety at all school sites is completed, including repairs on outdated heating, lighting, electrical and sewer systems to ensure all of our learning environments remain comfortable, clean and optimal for our students. I believe all of the projects planned are important. However, I do feel that some schools, particularly many of our older elementary schools, should be given top priority.”

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?

Miller: “The key issues I have heard have to do with Special Education Services and equity (which go hand-in-hand). I have immersed myself in learning as much as possible in both of these issues. This is a hot topic and exists in large part because of the legal obligation for all school districts to provide a Free and Appropriate Education to ALL students without being given the adequate amount of support (financially and otherwise), especially for students with special needs. As I mentioned above in question #2, equity is a federally mandated right. There is no one who doesn’t want to meet the needs of all students. However, there is not adequate funding, which limits how much the district is able to provide, and subsequently leads to many of the issues I have heard.

“I have listened to parents, read the research, learned about budget issues, and discussed it in great detail with our Superintendent. We have requested study sessions and even done case studies. As a result of my own research of these issues, I have found that there is so much room for failure and that we’ve been given a broken system that has provided very vague guidelines and creates somewhat unrealistic expectations. It seems to be a no win situation because we are talking about someone’s child. Who wouldn’t want the best for their son or daughter. The district understands that, but they are still limited by their lack of resources and a clearly defined standard of care. I wholeheartedly believe that the Dublin Unified School District staff does their very best by our students. However, I do believe that no one is perfect and that there is always room for improvement and that occasionally mistakes are made. This is an issue I don’t take lightly and although I am NOT the expert on the matter, I am committed to my continued education on these issues and will always be an advocate for ALL of our students.”

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6 Comments leave one →
  1. September 24, 2012 9:32 am

    Amy, I appreciate the obvious thoroughness and commitment with which you approach your position on the board. I have a question about something you said. Who is it that applies “the constant pressure to prepare students for testing” on the teachers?

    • September 24, 2012 10:51 am

      Hi Tamara-

      Thanks for the opportunity to clarify. The constant pressure I was referring to comes mostly from the state. It is the way the accountability system is structured that causes the “pressure” to ensure the material tested is covered during the school year before testing occurs. While it may seem sometimes that it is the district and/or the principals applying this pressure, it isn’t. They are simply put in the position to enforce that the curriculum that is taught is what’s measured by the state to determine our success as a district. It’s a flawed system, but one that definitely serves a purpose. I’ve included a link at the bottom of my response if you want to explore further.

      This is a time when our school district is trying to focus on differentiated instruction, with the intentions of meeting the needs of all students. For example, if a student is advanced in math in the 4th grade, we want the educators to have the flexibility to provide different (level-appropriate, which is different than age-appropriate) instruction to that student than the 4th grade student who might be struggling and needs more focused help in that subject; so that both are learning what they need to be successful, This is something I think most of our teachers have always done, but it is now being recognized as a best practice and encouraged at every site (part of the work that gets done in our teachers’ collaboration meetings).

      So, when I referred to “constant pressure” I just meant that the imposed systems of accountability (which isn’t a bad thing), have somewhat hindered our teachers to do everything they would like to do to help their students. Obviously, they are doing well given the constraints imposed on them. However, I am sure there is a better system that would allow them even more flexibility to incorporate more project based learning experiences, art, etc.

      I would also be remiss not to mention that the district/board imposed changes in our graduation requirements has also added extra pressure on our teachers to modify how they teach (in every grade level). Although I was not on the board when this decision was made, I do recognize the value this has added to the quality of education our students are receiving but not without the acknowledgement that we added another charge to our educators’ already full plates. While I know this was a controversial decision at the time it was made, the more involved I’ve become as a board member (these last two years), the more I’ve learned about the challenges this generation of students is faced with. So many students who graduate with diplomas from California High Schools are not being accepted into the CSU/UC Systems. By adopting more rigorous standards, we are helping our kids gain access to the “21st century” that seems to be turning more and more kids away. Our college acceptance rate is one of the highest in the area and something to be proud of. I also believe this serves those students who don’t desire to go to college and have other plans just as much as those that do. We know they’ve been given the tools to make solid decisions and that they received an education that will allow them to be successful anywhere they go once they’ve left our schools.

      I am sorry for the long answer and could go on and on. I will just finish by saying that I believe our teachers are so engaged in our community that Dublin has risen out of the crowd based on the proactive and progressive commitment we have to educate OUR students. We all recognize the need for balance and it’s a constant discussion. I also want to just say that I think the state might even be seeing the error of it’s ways. But, we know how long change takes at that level. That is why Dublin Unified takes educating our kids personally and why having board members who have kids in the schools and cares deeply about the success of our students is critical.

      I hope this answers the question. if not, please feel free to contact me directly through email: amy@amymillerfordublin.com.

      Here is a link to the California Department of Education which thoroughly covers all of the accountability methods/reasoning etc. imposed by the state (some federal mandates too): http://www.cde.ca.gov/ta/ac/ap/

Trackbacks

  1. Dublin School Board Candidates Discuss Local Education Issues and Priorities « OneDublin.org
  2. Dublin School Board Candidates Debate Issues at Dublin High PFSO Forum « OneDublin.org
  3. School Board Incumbents Elected but Haubert Opens Seat with City Council Win « OneDublin.org
  4. Austin Ogden Reflects on the Dublin School Board Race, Looks Forward « OneDublin.org

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