Jon Raj Destin is a dad, a former public school teacher and a marketing executive.
1 – What are the biggest challenges facing your School District and how will you tackle them?
Albany Unified School District (AUSD), like many school districts, has several challenges, many of which stem from a lack of state funding. As a member of the Board of Education I would prioritize delivering on the promise of the recently passed bond measures as well as tackling the structural deficit.
There is a lot of heavy lifting to be done now that measures B and E have passed including: the prioritization of the deliverables, breaking ground on the projects, creating plans that work for the entire community and creating sustainable solutions.
We will also need to deal with serious budgeting issues, as the planned budget was about $135M yet the bonds will only raise about $95M. We need to allow community involvement to ensure all voices are heard and the projects progress in a timely fashion.
In addition the structural deficit issue must be dealt with. Currently we are spending more than we are bringing in. Fortunately, we are working off of a surplus to cover the costs but that surplus will dry up if we do not act. The School Board will have to take address these issues now in order to avoid a crisis in years to come.
2 – Do you believe there are systemic problems with racial/sexual/gender-based or other discrimination in your district’s schools? How would you tackle them?
As a gay dad with a child in elementary school I am very cognizant about these systemic problems—be it racial, sexual, gender based or any type of “otherness” discrimination. I have seen, first-hand, both as a teacher in an under-resourced public school and as a parent, that these issues exist and need to be dealt with to curtail the damage they inflect on our children and our community.
Discrimination is a national problem and is causing an opportunity gap for our children. There must be a comfortable and safe environment for all kids. Too often students are not set up for success and do not come to school able to learn
Be it unconscious bias or overt prejudice we must work hard in our schools to be more aware of the impact of discrimination on our kids’ developing minds, characters, and dreams. But awareness and education are simply not sufficient. We as a community must be committed to finding appropriate resources for the students that are affected.
3 – Do you believe the school-to-prison pipeline is operational in your School District and what will you do to close it down?
The school-to-prison pipeline is a direct result of the systemic discrimination. Too often race-based discrimination and social inequity play a large role in students receiving disciplinary action too harsh for the infraction.
As a teacher in a middle school I have seen first hand how important it is to find innovative ways to prevent the kind of behaviors that send students into the rabbit hole of failure. We need to look at the root causes of the behaviors and help students deal with issues that may be prompting them to act in ways deemed inappropriate.
We also need to implement more effective disciplinary methods, because traditional methods just push children away instead of putting them on the “right track” for success. I believe a restorative approach can be effective, where students recognize the impact of their behavior and the effect it has on those around them.
We must always look through our children’s eyes, helping them be successful despite the challenges they face.
4 – Do you support having police officers on campus? If so, in what capacity?
School resource officers can play a crucial role in many communities and I would support their presence on school campuses as a way to engender trust between law enforcement and the community they serve through building relationships with families, one child at a time.
I can envision officers as a positive influence and support mechanism for students and staff as they are committed to working towards a positive school climate.
Well-trained officers who understand the community and its values can add a great deal to our schools and bridge a trust divide.
5 – What limits to students’ freedom of expression and privacy do you think are appropriate for public schools?
Generally speaking I fall on the side of freedom of expression and privacy regardless of where it is taking place. Having been born in a communist country and escaping as a young child I treasure this freedom and right. Only when it is used to do harm or bully or endanger others I feel that such freedoms need limits.
6 – What do you think the School District should do to offer support to homeless, foster and impoverished children and children coming from violent homes?
This will be a priority for me as I have seen too many children fail or drop out of school due to difficult home situations. Homeless, foster and impoverished children have been traumatized and need special attention in order to achieve success.
Schools need to be more aware of the growth of this vulnerable population and do a better job of recognizing their needs including early identification, immediate intervention that may include tutoring, mentoring, helping them connect to social and medical services that are available in the larger community.
7 – Given the explosion of autism diagnoses, what is your plan to make sure children and their parents are getting the proper support?
Children with autism or those living with other disabilities deserve all the rich experiences that all other children have in school and beyond.
Education for teachers and parents and students is always a good first step. There is so much misinformation out there that educating the community would have a huge impact.
Also integration of students with autism into the classroom can have huge benefits for both the student and her neurotypical peers. I believe that it is in the best interest of all the children in the classroom to see and appreciate each other’s differences.
8 – What should the District do to tackle problems of truancy?
Truancy is an issue that many districts deal with yet few have successfully solved. Many districts threaten parents and their children but such actions are not very effective. School truancy can stem from unaddressed emotional or physical health problems or even a lack of relevant school curriculum.
Instead of threatening, we need to be supportive. The issues regarding truancy do not end once the student is back in school but rather present is an opportunity to bring mentors onsite to encourage and inspire such returning students to stay in school.
We should also be looking at the secondary level course offerings –are there enough courses that are relevant especially to students who are not planning on continuing on to college at this point in time. Schools need to offer “passion courses” that instill a love of learning.
9 – Are you running as a Berniecrat?
This election year has been like none other in my lifetime. Bernie Sanders and his supporters have created a wave of enthusiasm that has shone a light on important issues that have been swept under the rug for decades. He has inspired a nation and has awakened a movement that I hope to see continue into this election’s conversations and beyond.