Penny Peck, Candidate for San Lorenzo School Board
Penny Peck is an incumbent running for re-election after one term. She’s the former Children’s Librarian at the San Leandro Public Library.
1 – What have been the biggest challenges facing your School District and how did you tackle them?
In my opinion, our district is struggling with teacher morale, which we have tried to address with more support and higher pay for teachers. Some of the frustrations teachers are exhibiting are affecting students as well, so we are trying to address that with more parent engagement, restorative practices, and spending money at the classroom level. Once we can increase teacher morale to a positive level, we can try new programs to increase test scores. Luckily, our test scores are increasing now but of course they need to get even better.
2 – Do you believe there are systemic problems with racial/sexual/gender-based or other discrimination in your district’s schools? What have you done to address them and how will you address them in the future?
Yes, we have institutionalized racism and sexism in our schools but we are actively addressing these issues. For example, we recently voted to remove San Lorenzo High School’s mascot which most of us believe is a racist symbol. The process of debating the removal actually built morale and increased buy-in for this change. We also are addressing non-gender specific restrooms for any student who may want to use them, including Trans students, and addressing equity in sports participation by both boys and girls, dress codes that are unfair to girls such as white graduation robes, and many other topics. I just read a great book on how schools have built-in discrimination against African-American girls called “Pushed Out.” We also voted to keep our small arts high school open, East Bay Arts, because it meets the need of many non-cisgender students and students of color.
3 – Do you believe the school-to-prison pipeline is operational in your School District? What have you done and/or propose to do to close it down?
Our school district is doing a better job than most with Restorative Practices and almost eliminating expulsions (expulsion has been a really negative factor that pushes teens to jail/prison), and greatly reducing suspensions. Our head of student services, Dr. Ammar Saheli, is often contacted by other school districts and asked how to be more inclusive of students, especially African-American and Latino youth. We have many ongoing programs to make all students feel included and respected, including parent involvement, tutoring, special clubs and discussion groups for at-risk youth, and more. This issue is also addressed in the programs we are funding with our LCAP money.
4 – Have you supported having police officers on campus? Why or why not?
Our district does have resource officers at our two large high schools but on a very limited basis. They also participate in Restorative Justice circles and other counseling so they are seen more as allies. We do not have police officers involved in teaching.
5 – What limits to students’ freedom of expression and privacy do you think are appropriate for public schools?
Students have constitutional rights to privacy and freedom of expression unless that freedom is heavily disruptive (not just slightly disruptive). For example, students have the right to read whatever they want to and the right to privacy of their library records (that is California law). By voting to keep East Bay Arts high school open, and promoting more music, theatre, and art in schools, we hope to not just respect freedom of expression but foster more engagement in the arts.
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?
Our district just increased the hours of our health services offices at our two large high schools; we also are a major partner of the REACH center that is next door to one of our middle schools (we fund a large part of their budget). REACH has been very helpful in offering support to the target groups you mentioned in the question. We also have increased tutoring and after-school free programs at all schools and for all grade levels, added more school nurses and counselors with LCAP funds to assist these students, and are regularly holding professional development for teachers so they can assist these children.
7 – What should the District do to tackle problems of truancy?
Our district has seen a drop in truancy due to some new measures, including phone reminders, letters, personal visits from counselors, and other tactics to decrease truancy while still being respectful of families. We recently added the position of a person to monitor and increase attendance, using culturally sensitive methods.
8 – Given the explosion of autism diagnoses, what is your plan to make sure children and their parents are getting the proper support?
Our district has one of the strongest special education programs in our area – in fact, many families mention that they move into our district so their children can use these services. Our head of special education, Ed Dialozo, is a leader in this field. Recently, he formed a new coalition to get better transportation services for students with special needs. Our district is often looked at by others on as a model of how to offer special education services, including serving children with autism.
9 – Are you running as a Berniecrat?
During my first term on the school board, we adopted successful programs to help children learn to read and to learn English, reduced suspensions and expulsions and increased attendance, and adopted reforms to create a more culturally inclusive school climate. I would like to continue those programs and increase test scores, as well as gain better pay and more respect for our teachers. As a lifelong resident of San Lorenzo and former children’s librarian and manager of the Washington Manor Branch Library, I have regularly visited all schools in the district. I attended Lorenzo Manor, Bohannon Junior High, and San Lorenzo High School. I earned a B.A. in History at Cal State Hayward, and a Master’s of Library Science at San Jose State University where I still teach part-time, and I am a member of the California Federation of Teachers. I believe our schools need to spend money at the classroom level, decrease class sizes, update our school buildings with green technology, and celebrate all our children, who reflect many different cultures. I offer a collaborative, common-sense approach to problem solving and working with administrators, teachers, parents, and other board members.