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10 questions: Where does Gina Dalma stand?

 

Q: What should the district do about the Cubberley Community Center site (4000 Middlefield Road)?

Gina Dalma would immediately implement a community needs assessment for Cubberley, make sure the lease is renewed for five years and "use those five years to ensure that we're building a community vision for that space that includes a high school and co-location of services that the community wants." She thinks the district should be building a close partnership with the city to develop a forward-thinking, long-term vision for Cubberley. She said the $1.8 million payment to the district from the city as part of the 1989 covenant not to develop -- an agreement the city opposes renewing and the district favors -- "might be something that's slowing things down."

Q: Should the district open a 13th elementary school?

Dalma has said that the district "obviously" needs a new elementary school. In Palo Alto, "We've had a very, very short-term vision, and we haven't made decisions very forward-thinking," she said, adding that the district needs to create a five-to-10-year facilities plan to better prepare.

Q: Should foreign-language instruction be provided in elementary school?

Dalma, who was born in Mexico and is bilingual, supports increased foreign-language instruction for both its academic and cultural benefits. She would create a five-year plan for how to get foreign language in all elementary schools.

Q: Should the board repeal its June resolution criticizing the Office for Civil Rights?

Dalma thinks the district needs to change course on its relationship with the Office for Civil Rights and would vote to repeal the resolution. "We will not be able to build a relationship with the OCR ... with a standing resolution that clearly states that the OCR is 'purposefully confrontational and disruptive and with no regards to instruction,' that it acts 'with the intention to promote confusion and concern,' that 'questions the integrity and honesty of the lawyers of the OCR,'" she said at the Sept. 23 board meeting. "These words connote confrontation, not collaboration."

Q: Your opinion of district versus school-site decision-making?

Dalma thinks that programs, whether they're site-specific or districtwide, should be evaluated to make sure they are working well. Innovation comes at the very local level, but unless the district is documenting it, evaluating it and understanding what it means in terms of student achievement and whether it's scalable, then innovation will only serve that specific set of kids, she said. Her bent is to prioritize services that help students reach their full social, emotional and academic potential and then "make sure that policies are applied throughout the system."

Q: Your view on the district budget?

Dalma has said she thinks the budget needs to be better aligned with the new state Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF), which obligates each school district to develop a Local Control Accountability Plan (LCAP). "The magic of these plans is it forces the school district to align exactly what expenditures are being made to achieve goals. ... The first thing I would make sure to do is to update the next season and take from January to April to evaluate it," she said. She thinks investment in evaluation is key to figure out which programs aren't having an impact and then to cut them.

Q: Your view of the district's implementation of inclusion programs?

Dalma said that "we know that full inclusion is a best practice, but it assumes that a certain support system is in place. The more I talk to parents and teachers, that's exactly where our school district has not done the best job." She said she would invest in professional development to help students do a better job; set specific goals and measure achievement toward those goals through collecting data; and learn from what other districts are doing on inclusion.

Q: What would you do about the achievement gap?

Dalma said that "there has never been a real push to close the achievement gap" in Palo Alto. She advocates adding a specific Strategic Plan goal that says "in five to 10 years, we will close the achievement gap (and) 100 percent of our kids will be proficient." She said she would look to other school districts that are doing better by their minority and low-income students and bring best practices back to Palo Alto.

Q: How is the district doing on managing student stress/well-being?

Dalma has said there needs to be a community conversation about how Palo Alto defines success and that the community's value system, along with parents and peer groups, contribute to student stress. "Success is that each and every one of our kids achieves their passion and reaches their social-emotional potential," she said. Evaluation is the best way forward on student stress and mental health, and the homework policy in particular should be looked at and implemented more consistently.

Q: Your opinion of Common Core?

Dalma, who is on a national steering committee working on Common Core implementation, has said Common Core is the single most important education reform in several decades for California. She lauds the new standards but has warned Palo Alto's transition to them is a long-term commitment and requires a push toward more professional development, education technology and formative assessments.

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