As a parent, principal, and teacher, my 30 years of educational experience has prepared me to immediately serve the Palo Alto School Board to ensure that every vote I make is the best vote for all of our children, focusing on improving educational outcomes for our Latino and Black students, and ensuring that it is safe enough to return to school.
Taking into consideration the profound impact of COVID-19 and the expanded movement for racial justice and equity, what do you think are the top three issues affecting our children and families and how do you propose to address them?
The top issue is returning students and staff to in-person schooling as soon as we can determine it is safe enough. COVID-19 is not going away so we must focus on reimagining how in-person school looks with a strategy of masks, social distance, and testing. I will engage the stakeholders with brief surveys, better committees, and a real plan that is comprehensive and comprehensible. The second issue is educational equity, regardless of distance learning or in-person school. Too many of our Latino and Black families have not enjoyed school success in Palo Alto--despite its considerable resources--because it has not been a priority. I have already publicly made it a top priority in my campaign, and the Board has finally responded with a monthly agenda item. I will rewrite the June Racism Resolution to delete the majority of empty language and replace it with action steps, the first of which is to ask all of our families for critical feedback about their experience in school. The third issue is leadership. It has been lacking at the board level for over a decade, and I am uniquely qualified to bring decades of educational leadership to the board, bringing back a focus on students, instruction, and academic achievement, rather than just finance and budget.
How will the priorities you addressed in the first question be reflected in the way that you approach the budget process?
The students are the most important stakeholders so all decisions need to focus on their academic and social-emotional success, therefore, the budget process will center on students. First, that means we need to prepare for the budget cuts that will arrive as soon as 2021. Any cuts need to be made away from the classroom. I did this as a Palo Alto principal 10 years ago, just as I was forced to do in two other districts where I was principal. It is important that we spend enough on our current students to ensure they are given every opportunity to survive COVID-19 with sufficient academic progress, just as it is equally important that we plan now for the State budget volatility that often occurs after a major election. Second, I will ensure from the first day that we do not make any more mistakes like the thousands of dollars we wasted on the erroneous parcel tax mailer. Third, being an administrator myself, I can see that we have created an excess of positions with high salaries. I will identify one or two of those positions to be cut. Fourth, I will ensure that the board does a better job of messaging and treating our stakeholders with respect so that the City Council is not quoted as doubting the District's need for a parcel tax renewal, and so that we are not paying out several hundred thousand dollars to settle lawsuits, such as the two recent ones in September.
What steps will you take to address the high cost and lack of availability of quality child care and preschool programs in our communities, especially for low-income children and English language learners?
I was a board member of the Marin County PreK-3rd grade program for six years, and we worked with the Marin Community Foundation to fund scholarships for low-income, BIPOC, and English Learners. I was fortunate to partner with local daycare, childcare, food banks, health, library, and volunteer organizations to ensure that children began in my kindergarten classes ready to learn. This was a model program for any county, and I will support improving connections between the District and Santa Clara County organizations to improve school readiness for all of our children. This would include all Board members reaching out to their organizations in order to increase the quality of communication which will align our goals of preparing children for K-12 school. It would also include Board members connecting and communicating with our local elected officials to work in cooperation to serve all our Palo Alto families. Areas of discussion would include facilities such as Cubberly, funding strategies for low-income families, outreach efforts to families, and cooperation with the private sector.
What steps will you take to improve inclusion and outcomes for children with special needs or with disabilities?
I have worked with special education students and families, as well as students with disabilities and their families throughout my entire career, most notably in Santa Clara County as principal of Blackford Elementary School in San Jose, and Juana Briones Elementary School in Palo Alto, both of which had Orthopedically Impaired programs with the Santa Clara County Office of Education. I have 20 years of leading Individualized Education Programs, writing 504 Plans, and reimagining how schools and communities provide systems of identification and intervention to all students. I will strengthen all of our programs with the SCCOE as well as partner with our local Community Advisory Committee for Special Education in Palo Alto. I will work with our Superintendent to provide a reviews and updates about special education in Palo Alto so that we never repeat the mistakes made over the past years which harmed students and families, leading to more wasted general fund money that could have helped students in the classroom. Moreover, I will vote with my fellow board members to direct the Superintendent to work as partners and allies with families of children with special needs or with disabilities, like we did over a decade ago, and not like we did around five years ago. I believe the past Board members have come to realize their mistakes, and are slowly on the path to a better way to interact with families. I want to add to the path that results in positive relationships with families in which we all focus on the needs of children.
Much of the student achievement gap has been linked to the "opportunity gap" that low-income children and children of color experience, including lack of access to healthy food, preschool, tutors and enrichment activities. If elected, what steps will you take to address this issue?
The Achievement Gap is caused by the Opportunity Gap, and it is one of my focal areas in this campaign, memorialized on my website at principalmatt.com. As a principal for 16 years, I have dedicated much of my work specifically to our Latino and Black students, many of which have not enjoyed the same level of educational outcomes as our other students. It is also the core of my doctoral studies in the Cal State University East Bay Educational Leadership for Social Justice program. The first step I would take would be to rewrite the June 9, 2020 Board Resolution Denouncing Racism, deleting the first 100 words which exist only to divert attention from the District, and editing the rest to include tangible, measurable action items that actually attempt to address systemic racism in the District. The second step is an action item to send out a brief survey to all families, especially our BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) families, to seek their feedback, input, and narratives around their school experiences, with a focus on racial justice. The second step is to provide all our students, staff, and families a Racial Justice and Incident Reporting form that many other Bay Area districts have already implemented The third step would be to lead my fellow Board members through needed educational equity training. The fourth step would be to identify which schools and classrooms in our district are able to demonstrate improved academic achievement among our Latino and Black students, with the goal to connect best practices with all of our educators. These steps would have a negligible cost, they would be immediate, and they would focus on the importance of people, not programs.