In order to better get to know the candidates for San Leandro offices, I sent out a questionnaire to all School Board candidates. The following are the answers from Evelyn Gonzalez. She is running for the San Leandro Board of Education At-Large seat against three other candidates. The winner will be chosen by a plurality of the vote.
Briefly, tell us about you and why you believe you are the best candidate for this School Board seat?
I am passionate about and dedicated to San Leandro public schools. I have demonstrated my passion and dedication, through 15 years of active involvement at school sites and district committees. As the mother of four children educated by the San Leandro school system, two SLHS graduates and two SLHS juniors, I understand firsthand the challenges facing students, parents, teachers, administrators, and school sites. Fifteen years of firsthand experience and involvement affords me deeper knowledge of both the issues and the people who are addressing the issues. I have regularly attended and spoken at school board meetings for the last three years. As a result, I am already up to speed on the current SLUSD goals, and the challenges facing the district. Since the At-Large seat is a short term seat, the board member will not have time to learn on the job.
For the last three years I have represented the SLUSD on the Recreation and Parks Commission. This role has allowed me to work with both the city and the school district. I have worked collaboratively with both the City and the District, and have helped drive collaboration between the two. This makes both our schools and city better. I have also been a board member on San Leandro and national non-profit boards. Board positions have allowed me the opportunity to look critically at financial statements, ask good questions, and help shape the direction of an organization. This experience is critical for a school board member.
Finally, I am backed by a spouse that is equally passionate about public education, brings excellent financial analysis skills, and is committed to supporting our schools.
What do you think is the biggest challenge facing the San Leandro School District and how would you tackle it?
The School Board must address: instruction that meets the needs of all students, support for teachers and staff, better communication, enhanced transparency and accountability, and improved technology. SLUSD faces a multitude of changes: a new funding formula and method for developing budgets, new common core curriculum and testing, and new administrators (both at district office and many school sites). There is a great potential with these changes, but there is also a great risk that poor decisions will be made. The school board needs to take a strong leadership role in overseeing these changes in our school district.
At its most basic level, the key to achieving these goals is communication. I will communicate with the employees, parents, and students at our school sites. I will explore whether these new ideas are working. Are the trainings and staff development helpful? Are our expenditures having the expected outcomes? What do classroom teachers need with respect to the new curriculum and changes in testing? How are administrators doing? Open channels of communication enable the assessment of progress. My 15 years of involvement in the schools gives me the credibility to facilitate open and honest communication.
What ideas do you have for creating a better relationship with the City and Community?
Since I have been active in the city for over 15 years, I personally have a great relationship with many city staff members. Moving the district office to City hall certainly allows for more school and city conversations, and greater collaboration.
One of the keys is that school board members need to attend city meetings (e.g., transportation, housing, etc.) and listen for impacts to our schools. School board members need to give feedback to the City. Currently, we have a city manager who is supportive of our schools and a superintendent who wants to work with the city. As a school board member we need to encourage that collaboration. We also need to identify areas where we can work together.
Some specific areas that would benefit from greater collaboration are: recreational spaces, lack of east-west transportation, and technologically bringing our schools into the modern world.
Do you believe there are systemic problems with racial/sexual/gender-based or other discrimination in San Leandro schools? How would you tackle them?
Over the years, I have observed some behavior that appears discriminatory. Some of our elementary schools have adopted great programs for their school sites. We need these programs to be available for all schools.
We need to create a school culture where staff and students work together to provide a safe place for everyone; a place where differences are celebrated.
Do you support turning the 9th grade campus into a High Tech campus? If so, what will you to have it become a reality?
I think this could be a great use for the new building. The 9th grade separation has not worked as effectively as envisioned. Our academies at the high school successfully provide students with a small school feel within a bigger campus. Although I’ve not seen a formal proposal to do so, I would be very open to utilizing the 9th grade building as a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) Academy or a STEAM (STEM plus art brings a creative element to STEM) Academy.
I would enjoy working with San Leandro businesses to help make this a reality. Our city is going in this direction and I think we can get help from the community to make this happen. I would also work with San Leandro Education Foundation (SLED) to find funding and support.
Do you support warrantless searches of student lockers? Drug-sniffing dogs on campus?
As a general principle, I believe in creating positive school environments that are based on trust. I am a strong supporter of individual rights. At times, the privacy desired by students can come into conflict with the needs of the broader school community (e.g., safety). To the extent that we need to pursue the needs of the broader community, we must always do so lawfully, i.e., consistent with Ed Code and court decisions.
Do you support school dress codes that ban clothing commonly worn outside of school?
I support the creation of a school culture that supports student education. This can include how we dress, how we speak, and how we treat other people. How we speak and dress at home may be different than what is expected at school. Creating and defining a school culture needs to be process that involved students, parents, teachers, staff, administrators and community members. When our students enter the work force, they will need to understand that many workplaces have a workplace culture, with expected norms and behaviors. Our school culture needs to be sensitive to the many home cultures present in our school district. We need to listen to many voices in the creation of school policies around creating a school culture.
Do you believe religious texts, practices or songs should be part of the school’s curricular or extracurricular activities? If yes, please specify how.
I am not opposed to the use of religious text, practices and songs. So much of a person’s cultural identity is embedded in their religion. Students can learn a lot about a culture through their religious text, songs and practices. We are very lucky in the Bay Area to have so many different cultures and religious beliefs present. I would be concerned if we were only focused on the texts, practices and songs of one religion, and did not expose our students to the broader set of the world’s religions.
Do you believe that back gate of the High School should be left open before and after school hours, so the community can access the sports facilities?
I believe all the school district recreation spaces should be open to the public when school is not in session. These spaces should also be secured after dark. We have staff on site at the high school until 9:00 p.m., so one of the responsibilities could be securing the space after dark.