Kathleen Ruesegger is the mother of three past PUSD student, and the grandmother of a current one. She is a former school administrator and was in the Pleasanton School Board for a term in the 1990’s. She is a Republican (this is a non-partisan office, however).
1 – What are the biggest challenges facing your School District and how will you tackle them?
Our district has had some difficulties with communication and transparency over the past dozen years or so. With a new superintendent, I want to work with Mr. Rick Rubino, the board, and new communication person, Patrick Gannon, to ensure we are communicating needs, to provide board’s planned decisions on key matters well in advance of their occurrence, and to reach out more broadly in the community and to do it more timely. I would also hope to have board reports written for the community’s understanding, not just that of staff and board members. Beyond those two areas, there is a potential bond that carries the hope of a new elementary school that I believe is badly needed. This is not an all encompassing response to all challenges ahead; these are just a particular focus for me.
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?
For many years the district has had a Community of Character program. It seems it is due for a refreshed approach. I think issues of bullying and discrimination are always present on campuses, whether subtle or minimal, but if one child is a victim, it is not acceptable. My concern is how do we engage our community to set better examples for our youth? How do we make it safe for students to step forward to tell their experiences or of events they have witnessed? I think the answers warrant discussion by the board, but the best solutions will come from teachers, principals, and parents and their children. It cannot be a top down process; we need to engage those closest to the problem areas.
3 – Do you believe the school-to-prison pipeline is operational in your School District and what will you do to close it down?
4 – Do you support having police officers on campus? If so, in what capacity?
I have seen how Student Resource Officers (SROs) can be a benefit, particularly on high school campuses. Unfortunately, we all have seen the examples where the system has broken down to the peril of students. I don’t think shutting down SROs is necessarily the solution. It will take an active discussion among Board and Council members and high school principals to move the program in a different direction. We need to come together to discuss how we respect and balance each stakeholder’s position—the law, school safety, and the rights of parents and students. We want officers to react swiftly if a child has been a victim; we want them to act more cautiously in finding/accusing the perpetrators. SROs cannot be officers that volunteer for that duty. They need to be handpicked and trained for working with students with a role that is more positive, protective, and pro-active, not punitive.
5 – What limits to students’ freedom of expression and privacy do you think are appropriate for public schools?
Personal freedoms so often butt up against the rights of others. So, should a student be able to challenge a teacher in class? Absolutely. It is possible to express individual ideas in the spirit of debate and with teacher and student showing respect, if not agreement, toward each other. Should student newspapers allow controversial articles and opinions? Again, I think it is possible. Schools are a place of learning, and with that comes nurturing student voice. Should there be a dress code? Possibly. The problem is teachers are busy teaching and spending time on this kind of violation is not the best use of a teacher’s time. If administrators (also busy) are unwilling or unable to follow through on all school rules, then perhaps the rule should be revised or eliminated. As to privacy, unless there is harm or threat of harm to oneself or another, I think students should expect protection of their privacy.
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?
Teachers and principals have reporting duties, of course. They often are the first witnesses to or first to suspect something is wrong with a student—hunger, depression, signs of violence (whether at home or at the hands of another student). Homeless families are now covered by laws allowing their children to attend schools. Ultimately, staff should be able to assist and direct any family in need to the right resources and proper authorities.
7 – Given the explosion of autism diagnoses, what is your plan to make sure children and their parents are getting the proper support?
Our new superintendent, Mr. Rick Rubino, has a masters degree in special education. I would appreciate hearing his expertise. Students with special needs are about 11% of the population. Everything offered has a price tag associated with it, so it is important to find the most cost effective ways, yet fully address, the variety of needs until such time as the federal or state government can provide for these costs more robustly. It will require expertise, parent support, and lobbying efforts to change funding.
8 – What should the District do to tackle problems of truancy?
I would like more time with parents to understand their needs and why their students are missing classes, particularly in the case of high school students. Is the student disengaged? Are these vacations? Do students need to work to help the family? Where are we not providing for student interests? I know staff and a variety of web sites can provide the data, but that is not getting at root causes.
9 – Are you running as a Berniecrat?
I believe our district can maintain its current excellence by increasing its connection with the community’s ambitions for its children. I support transparency and specificity in district reporting and communications and will seek more collaboration between the city and district to find shared projects that maximize tax dollars while greatly benefiting Pleasanton residents. This is a pivotal time to serve as a trustee with a new superintendent. It is a role I can easily step into, and I have the time to dedicate to the shared expectations of the governance team. There must be broader communication, bringing together students, teachers, and administrators with our entire community. The point where we reach for the next level of excellence, from curriculum to facilities, is while we are already at the top. Our three adult children attended Pleasanton schools, and I currently have a grandchild in the district. I have 16 years’ experience as a staff member in both the Pleasanton and Palo Alto districts and served from 1990-1993 as a Pleasanton board member. I have worked with five superintendents and two dozen board members, all who shared a variety of perspectives. I would greatly appreciate your feedback and your vote.