The Californian’s wish list for the new board of education

Staff Editorial

As we approach winter break and begin to look forward to a new (and hopefully much better) calendar year, it is time once again to look to the San Ramon Valley Unified School District Board of Education, which swears in its two new trustees on Tuesday.

The additions of Shelley Clark, who is replacing outgoing Board President Greg Marvel for Area 2, and Laura Bratt, who won the Area 3 seat vacated by Mark Jewett, are sure to shake up what has been a largely complacent and disconnected school board.

In the spirit of the holiday season, The Californian has put together a wishlist for what we as students believe should be the top priorities for the new board.

1. Consistent and honest communication. – Over the past nine months (and in years past), there has been extreme variability of information provided to our community. In order to navigate the combination of remote and hybrid learning, there needs to be more consistency and transparency from the district moving forward.

Everyone is in this together, and has the right to know any and all information that the district and board has. This means that Superintendent Dr. John Malloy must change his policy of only alerting the parents of students who come in contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19. At the very least, the entire school should know, if not the whole district. These emails, as well as any other updates, should be sent to students, parents and staff.

With this transparency and consistency, Dr. Malloy will not have to worry about the “confusion” that comes with rumors and other news sources reporting first, as mentioned in a Dec. 3 email regarding the outbreak at Del Amigo High School.

2. Stop pandering and prioritize health and safety for all. – It was alarmingly evident that for the latter part of his term, Marvel was catering to the voters in his area, rather than looking out for what was best for the entire community.

Area 2 – where Marvel was running for reelection – contains much of Danville. Marvel knew that there was a relatively small but passionate group in favor of full-time in person learning, so he continually advocated for a return to this format. In an Oct. 27 board meeting, he even asked if the district has “the ability without consequence to ignore the regulations and the quote unquote guidelines issued by county health and the state.” This approach clearly backfired, as Marvel finished third among three candidates in his re-election bid.

Marvel’s kind of thinking is unacceptable and should not be tolerated. Besides the fact that he was suggesting the district break health and safety regulations, the district’s own surveys showed that the large majority of students, teachers, and even parents were for hybrid or remote learning. A SRVEA poll also presented to Marvel indicated that only 9.4 percent of teachers felt completely safe returning to campus on Aug. 11.

Though a full time learning plan never passed, even the new hybrid option neglects to give teachers a real choice. Barring a district-approved medical exemption, all teachers must be prepared to return to school on Jan. 5 in a hybrid capacity, regardless of their feelings of safety.

Teachers have already been forced to adapt to online learning, leading to mounting stress and extra work. To add the uncertainty of returning to campus is selfish and careless. Though it is presumably too late to change any concrete plans for next semester, teachers should be listened to and provided with the supplies needed to help them feel as safe as possible in the coming months.

3. Make informed decisions, and stick to them. – The July 14 and 16 board meetings, in which the decision to reopen in a hybrid format was approved and then reversed, were a disaster. The board must use the knowledge it is given as well as that of which it collects from parents, students, and staff to make decisions that are truly the safest and most logical for all parties. While it’s impossible to satisfy everyone, informed decisions will give credibility to the board for an on-edge district community.

4. Promote student involvement. – Section BB 9150 of the SRVUSD Board bylaws states that “the board shall include one student board member selected in accordance with procedures approved by the board.” Adhering to this policy could not be more necessary now as well as in the future. The only way to ensure that board decisions reflect the will of all those involved is through student involvement. No one knows the system like we do, and a student board member will bring otherwise overshadowed issues to the trustees’ attention.

The Californian also recommends that the board assemble a diverse student advisory committee with representatives from all middle and high schools, led by the new student board member. The recent “Compassionate Reopening” and “Racial Justice” petitions show the disconnect that many students feel from the board, and this must be remedied. Simply put, there are just some issues that the trustees cannot understand because they are not current district students.

5. Work with each of the four high schools to start planning graduation now. – By June, the Class of 2021 will have finished their high school career with just over two and a half years of normal high school. They likely will have never experienced a prom, senior ball, or any other senior year activities, and they feel this disappointment daily. Though it should be much more, the least seniors deserve is a thought-out and memorable graduation. With more than five months to prepare, it should be feasible to create some sort of safe event(s) to commemorate their achievement, made infinitely harder by the pandemic.

6. Follow through on the promises made to organize safe activities that include remote students. –

Virtual or safely in person, it is vital that the board consider the mental health and social life of its remote students. Though precautions must be reevaluated and updated as often as possible for hybrid learners, those in the remote program will still be dealing with all of the hardships that come with online learning. Starting Jan. 5, these students will also be mindful of their peers in hybrid, adding another complexity to their already unique lives. The board needs to engage all students, in whatever capacity possible, if they truly want to help everyone’s experience.

7. Don’t let the quality of remote learning dip. – The district has put together a program that seems to be working, and this cannot change. The overwhelming majority of district students will be continuing in the remote learning format, and it must not be forgotten. As much as hybrid teachers need to be given appropriate resources, remote teachers need to be supported as well.

This is hopefully the last semester of remote learning the district will ever orchestrate, so they should make it count. Make sure that the seniors are ready for college, the eighth graders are ready for high school, and the fifth graders are ready for middle school. Make sure that a district education leaves everyone prepared for and excited about their future.

The Californian recognizes that COVID-19 has been an incredibly difficult situation to navigate, and managing the opinions of 32,000 families is not a simple task. We never expect perfection, and while we commend the board for its implementation of a mostly cohesive remote learning program for the first semester, the work is far from over.