The Palo Alto Weekly asked the five school-board candidates to answer 10 questions about current and future issues facing the school district. Read Jennifer DiBrienza's answers below.
1. Do you support opening a new elementary, middle and/or high school?
Right now our priority must be a healthy budget. Enrollment trends indicate that we have enough room for our students now and in the near future; however, issues of equity, access and student health are related to school, campus and class size and warrant further discussion.
2. What changes do you propose for the district's approach to administrative compensation?
"Me too" raises must be a thing of the past. Raises should be based on a range of measurable outcomes as determined by the district. Attracting and retaining the best principals and psychologists is critical, and I believe this can be achieved through quality evaluation and performance-based compensation.
3. What is your vision for the future of Cubberley Community Center?
Cubberley is our last, large parcel of land and is a treasure to many in our community. The district and city must work together to revitalize this multi-generational community center, while still preserving the possibility of using it as a school district asset in the future, if needed.
4. Should public hearings be held on the terms of union contracts during the negotiation process?
No. The district and the union discuss and debate many issues during contract negotiations. In order to have open, candid conversations and brainstorm a wide-range of solutions, parties need to be able to have these discussions without scrutiny from outside parties as they are happening.
5. How can the district better monitor and ensure implementation of its homework policy?
The semester-end high school student surveys and Schoology are good sources of data to help us determine the range of homework given and where adjustments need to be made. Now that we have data with which to work, I look forward to further discussion around flexibility, compliance and accountability.
6. What is the best way to expand access and capacity of the district's choice programs?
If there is high demand for a particular program, access and safety can be improved by spreading the program model at existing school sites. Families stay closer to their neighborhood and more students can be served.
7. What are your top three ideas for improving the district's fiscal health?
1. Salary expenses are knowable, controllable and predictable and represent more than three quarters of the budget. Revenue is less predictable. Enhance predictive methods and lean conservative.
2. Teachers, their leaders and supports are our most valuable resource. Manage every non-teaching expense carefully.
3. Non-teaching spending must be prioritized to reflect our strategic goals.
8. What should the district do to identify and deal with (including firing, if necessary) under-performing teachers?
Teacher evaluations must include many aspects of the important work of teaching -- academic outcomes, communication, expectations, providing timely and specific feedback on assignments. It is vital that high-quality professional development is provided for teachers so all continue to improve. Teacher contracts must include clear, specific expectations and evaluation standards resulting in clearer processes for developing and dismissing.
9. If a member of the public emails a board member about a district matter, should it be made public (as long as it doesn't violate student privacy)? And if it is sent to a board member's private email account?
This issue of competing interests is being clarified by the California Supreme Court. The Public Records Act requires transparency. We must hold ourselves to this, with board and private email. Additionally, we must maintain a policy that encourages communication so the board has an accurate sense of community concerns. Court guidance is needed.
10. Should the district rename Terman and Jordan middle schools?
Yes. We work hard in public schools to demonstrate that ALL children can learn and that no one group is graced with superiority. To maintain that expectation, in a building that has been named for someone who believed very differently, sends an unacceptable message to our students and our community.