CEPS Candidate Interview Questions – SCHOOL BOARD – 2012
Jose Escarce has been a member of the Santa Monica-Malibu Board of Education for 12 years, and is running for his fouth term.
What is your record or your personal accomplishments over the last four years in promoting these ideals of shared community vision and collaboration?
I have supported, promoted and participated in bringing CEPS’s ideals to fruition for many years. Even before I was elected to the board, I worked with CEPS’s precursor group that met every Friday to discuss and develop strategies for increasing funding for our schools from the city of Santa Monica. After being elected to the board, I helped with the development of the charter amendment concept, and subsequently was one of three board members who worked intensively with the superintendent and CEPS members to craft the language for our joint use contract with the city. I have also supported and worked on a variety of local funding measures championed by CEPS including both parcel taxes and bonds, throughout my years on the board.
I believe that supporting children from an early age, idea in the context of your families and communities, is essential for helping them grow up healthy and being ready to learn in school. Accordingly, I have always supported our district’s early child and preschool program. I also believe that our partnership with Santa Monica College is a tremendous asset to our students. Historically, this partnership has focused on making courses at the college accessible to our students. Unfortunately, this has become much less feasible in the last few years as a result of budget cuts. Nonetheless, we have strengthened our partnership is recent years through the development of innovative programs. For example, a program called Young Collegians, designed for first generation college goers, has been in place for five years. In this program, selected students from Santa Monica and Malibu high schools attend SMC each summer beginning after freshman year to take courses that give them college credit, improve their skills, and immerse them in a college-going culture. It has been very gratifying to see the first two cohorts graduate and head off to colleges and universities. We anticipate that Santa Monica College will be a key partner in our efforts to develop a school to career program in the coming years.
In what additional ways do you think that the cities of Santa Monica and Malibu can work with SMMUSD to support educational opportunities? How would you work with the cities to advance these initiatives?
Our cities, and especially the city of Santa Monica, already do a great deal to support children. However, I have always believed that the city could make a much greater contribution to the well-being of children in our community and to getting them ready to succeed in school by creating a system to provide wrap-around support services to vulnerable families with children from the time of birth. The number of highly vulnerable children in our community is relatively small, but these are the children who are much more likely than others to struggle in school and fail to graduate from high school or move on to post-secondary education. Further, we now have data from the Early Development Instrument that enable us to pinpoint the neighborhoods in Santa Monica where high proportions of vulnerable children live. Although the findings in the data are not surprising, the availability of objective, quantitative information on children’s’ vulnerability could serve as a strong tool for advocacy. I would love to see the city of Santa Monica consider a pilot program to provide wrap-around services to vulnerable families with infants and very small children in these neighborhoods. With regard to working with the city, I know that there would be at least one champion for such a program on the City Council. CEPS should consider taking this cause up as well.
What educational program or issue would you like to focus on in the next term? What steps would you take?
As a board, we monitor and discuss annually numerous programs including intervention programs, the Advanced Placement program, mathematics instruction and achievement, AVID and Young Collegians, summer school, and so on. I will continue to take a keen interest in all of these, as I always have. However, three initiatives stand out from the others as areas that require particular attention at this time and that I will emphasize. First, it is essential that we implement district wide fund raising in a way that ensures that the new policy delivers on its potential to raise more resources and to use the resources more effectively and equitably to promote student learning. Second, we must continue and deepen our work on improving the climate in our schools, and especially at Santa Monica High School, with regard to racial and ethnic relations. Third, the board will need to track and support the District’s efforts to implement a Response to Intervention approach for identifying students who are struggling academically early in their school careers. Because this approach is new to our district and requires some degree of cultural change, strong board support will be essential to its success. Finally, I am eager to learn more about and support the superintendent’s efforts to enhance collaboration in our district as a way to improve achievement for all students.
What is your position on districtwide fundraising? Now that the board has put the policy in place, has your position changed and how would you advance that position?
I wholeheartedly support district wide fundraising. The challenge now before the board, administration, and community is to ensure that the policy is effective in bringing in more resources and that the resources are used in ways that maximize learning opportunities for all children. I will advance these goals by supporting the work of the superintendent, staff, and superintendent’s advisory group to create the appropriate arrangements and structures.
What is your position on SMMUSD’s bond measure on November’s ballot? If you support the measure would you carry that support on your campaign literature?
I support the bond and will carry that support in my campaign literature. Initially, I was concerned about the timing of the bond. Specifically, I was concerned that placing a bond on the ballot in November might reduce our chances of passing a parcel tax in the spring, should that become necessary to raise operating revenues. However, I changed my mind after I learned more about the potential of a bond to provide funds for improving the technology infrastructure in our district and the meaningful use of technology in our classrooms. The superintendent’s support for the bond was also important to me in making my decision to support the bond.
What is your position on Prop 30 and Prop 38? If the measures both fail, what do you foresee doing, as a School Board member? What options do you foresee? What might you propose?
I support both prop 30 and prop 38. It is essential to school districts in California that at least one of these propositions is approved by the voters. If both measures fail, our school board will have no choice but to work with staff to plan for the drastic budget cuts that will be required by an additional loss of $457 per student in operating revenues. Of course, I anticipate that the board and community will also work hard to identify new sources of operating revenues. The main option open to school boards in California is to hold a special election for a parcel tax. This is unfortunate, because parcel taxes are very difficult to pass. However, I will also work with city and community leaders to identify alternative fundraising approaches. Needless to say, I will support any solutions that are proposed at the state level.
Do you feel you can fairly and adequately represent the needs and interests of students in both Malibu and Santa Monica? What have you done to date to work with families and students in both cities?
I believe my track record on this issue speaks for itself. I have always supported, and will continue to support, policies and resource allocations to ensure that schools in both Santa Monica and Malibu receive the resources they need to provide the best possible education to their students. In practice, I have supported maintaining smaller class sizes in our title I schools and John Adams middle school; the Spanish immersion program that begins at Edison elementary school; intervention programs for struggling students; accelerated and advanced programs (e.g., accelerated mathematics and Advanced Placement courses) for students who are ready for a challenge; and an elementary school music program that reaches all students beginning in third grade. In this connection, I want to underscore that I have supported the allocation of additional faculty to Malibu high school so that the school, despite its small enrollment of 700 students, can offer a wide range of Advanced Placement courses and electives to its students in order to make them competitive for college admission. One consequence of this approach is that classes at Malibu high school typically have fewer students, and sometimes many fewer, than classes at Santa Monica high school.
What would be/have been your priorities if you win/as a current School Board member? Why are you running (again)? How do you think you have had or would have an impact on the BOE?
I have always tried to make my priorities consistent with two overarching goals for our district: excellence and equity. In my view, these two goals must always go hand in hand. Guided by these principles, I have advocated and supported development and maintenance of intervention programs, programs to prepare first-generation college goers for post secondary education, accelerated and advanced programs, effective professional development for teachers, and equitable distribution of resources, including those raised through private donations.
I am running again because there is still a great deal of work to be done to raise achievement in our district, provide equitable access to all our programs, and reduce the achievement gaps. Our new superintendent has brought new energy, vision, and courage to the district, and working with her to create and implement an agenda that promises to make progress on these fronts is a very exciting and invigorating prospect. In particular, the superintendent’s decision to focus on developing a more collaborative culture in our district as a means to improve student achievement and narrow the achievement gap resonates with me and I am eager to support this agenda.
I believe that I have had a substantial positive impact on the board throughout my 12 years as a board member. I have tried hard to be thoughtful, knowledgeable, and intelligent regarding school issues and to contribute in positive ways to our discussions and decisions. I have also made an effort to be respectful to my colleagues, staff, and community members in my work as a board member. Finally, I believe I have championed the number of policies and programs that have helped our students.
What is your position on “unification” of the district? Since the exploration of “unification” and the process that follow could take years, what ideas do you have for improving the working relationships between the Malibu and SM parts of the District in the meantime, and possibly permanently?
I am completely in favor of investigating the feasibility and implications of “unification”–i.e., creating separate school districts in Santa Monica and Malibu. I will not take a position on unification until all the details are known. However, I would support unification if the analyses reveal that it could be made to work well for students in both cities. In the meantime, the board must continue to ensure that all our schools are treated equitably, and that they all have the resources to offer the best possible education to their students.