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Mill Valley School Board Candidates Answer Your Questions

The election is less than a week away. We’ve rounded up answers to your submitted questions to the three school board candidates.

Over the past two weeks, for the vying for two seats on board in the Nov. 8 election. They’ve sent in their answers, and we’re listing them below in alphabetical order by last name. We hope this and our past coverage of this race helps you make an informed choice next Tuesday.

Students with Special Needs

Q: The federal government mandated that schools are the institution that has the responsibility to prepare children and youth through an appropriate education to become contributing adults in American society. How should the Mill Valley School District interpret this mandate in terms of its students with learning disabilities such as dyslexia, AD/HD, auditory processing disorder, and more? (Holly Seerley)

Bob Jacobs: I believe the Mill Valley schools assumed that responsibility before it was mandated by the federal government. As a teacher, I treated all students equally and when it came time to make modifications, I did so without much fanfare so the student with a learning disability always felt psychologically that they were an integral part of the class. Sometimes there has to be variations on the theme and other times nothing has to be done. You want all students to leave your class feeling positive about the subject and feeling positive about themselves. There should be no limitations. One of my former resource students is now an elementary teacher in the Mill Valley schools. Every student should be viewed as capable of succeeding.

Leslie Wachtel: It is the job of our public schools to educate all children in this district. All school districts and county education offices form regions to provide for the special education of children living within their boundaries. Each region, the Special Education Local Plan Area or SELPA, develops a plan describing how it will provide special education services. The mission of the Marin SELPA is "that it will ensure appropriate programs for individuals with exceptional needs through strong, effective leadership and support to local school districts, families and agencies within Marin County. The SELPA believes that all students will be contributing members of their community and will complete their educational career prepared for adult life.”
The MVSD also has a wonderful parent education program called It Takes a Village that advocates for better understanding of students who learn differently. I strongly support these types of collaborations between parents and experts to make sure our district is serving the needs of all students. In fact, over the summer the district hired a new director of Student Services who has extensive experience in special education. As a school board member I will be proud to represent all children in our schools.

Clifford Waldeck: We do have a responsibility to education all children. The federal mandate states that all children are entitled to a “free and appropriate” education. MVSD starts with an Individual Educational Plan for special needs children. A plan with specific goals is devised by the teacher (with help of staff) and approved by the parents. For some children it means intervention programs to help master skills like reading or math, differentiated teaching for children who are challenged or accommodations for children with specific diagnosed disabilities.
The MVSD has a new Director of Student Services Andee Abramson who oversees special education. Ms. Abramson brings a wealth of experience to the district Ms. Abramson has served as Director of Special Education in the Kentfield and Reed Union School Districts for the past 10 years. In 2005, she was recognized as Outstanding District Administrator by the Marin County School Administrators Association. Ms. Abramson began her career as a Special Education Teacher in the San Francisco Unified School District. She brings to the Mill Valley School District a proven track record in designing and developing programs, curriculum and training.
Of course, we must be vigilant in fine tuning our programs and always keep our eyes open for funding opportunities from state, federal and philanthropic organizations. Finally, and of utmost importance, is our own It Takes A Village - a support group for parents of Mill Valley School District (K 8) students who learn differently. There is also a Special Education PTA (SEPTA) that participates in Mill Valley’s PTA council.

Societal Issues: Bullying, Sex, Drugs

Q: I have faith in MVSD academic programs, but I'm continually distraught when I hear about the "societal" problems occurring at both MVMS and Tam High -- sexual intimidation, drugs on campus, teasing of differences. While I realize these are not new problems in any way, I feel the combination of income level and percentage of hands-off parents contributes to unique problems in this county. To what degree do you view the school district as responsible for "societal education" if you will? (Amyland)

Bob Jacobs: The primary responsibility lies at home but unfortunately this is not always realized. Therefore schools do have the responsibility of dealing with bullying, sexual issues, drugs on campus, teasing etc. I know the Mill Valley schools have a very strict policy on bullying/teasing, which has been fairly successful. Incidents are reported immediately by teachers and there are discipline consequences and counseling involved. Having taught units on sexuality and drugs, I see one problem. Students find these programs interesting and they pay attention but they have difficulty relating these issues to their lives unless they are experiencing them at the moment.
For example, I found that a student that has a boyfriend/girlfriend is going to be much more receptive to a discussion on birth control than a student that has no relationship at the moment. A student that has never tried alcohol/marijuana is going to be less receptive than a student that has been actively using these drugs. This is sad but true in my opinion. This might be one reason why JUST SAY NO did not work and was discontinued. You have to keep on implementing these programs because you will reach some children but unless there is a follow through, these programs are going to have a minimal effect. I might add that the situation has improved significantly at Mill Valley Middle School from the 1990's to the last decade.

Leslie Wachtel: Unfortunately the problems of drugs, alcohol and bullying are not new to our schools or to our community. Our response must be a coordinated, shared responsibility between our schools, our parents, local law enforcement and our community in general. We should continue programs such as Challenge Day in the Middle School to address bullying and teach tolerance to all students. The Challenge Day program provides our youth and community with workshops addressing diversity and tolerance. While our children are at school we should do everything we can to ensure that they are safe. I support the School District’s zero tolerance for drugs, alcohol, sexual intimidation and bullying.
As parents and as the larger Mill Valley community, we have to take responsibility for the hours and days our students are not in the care of our teachers, our principals and at school. One of my goals is to continue to offer parent education programs at every level from elementary school through high school. As PTA president at Old Mill School and at Tam High, I have organized and overseen many effective parent education programs and community-wide forums on these issues. While our schools cannot take total responsibility for these larger issues, we should be a leader in parent and student education for our community and its children. Our children are our community treasure. It is all of our jobs to keep them safe.

Clifford Waldeck: Character Education programs are taught throughout the MVSD. These programs focus on good citizenship in the school and greater communities. Curriculum addresses sex, drugs, bullying and peer pressure at age/grade appropriate levels. I was told that the last teacher training session focused on the school “no bullying” program and protocols.
As a parent of a first grader, I am grateful that these programs are in place. My wife and I are very conscientious about these issues and do our best to instill proper values with our daughter. Character Education is a core value of the MVSD. The district brings professional experience and expertise into the equation and, from my observation; the teachers live and breathe these principles as well.
The dynamic is a three-legged stool between the parent(s), MVSD and the child. Also, I am proud to be part of an organization called Beyond Differences that “helps kids overcome social isolation.”

Physical Fitness

Q: It's fantastic how well MVSD performs academically, at least in state testing. MVSD also gets high satisfaction with arts programs. Unfortunately, MVSD underperforms in Physical Fitness according to state test results (which most administrators have ignored in the past). How do you plan to balance the academic and health 'needs' of Mill Valley students while serving less critical 'wants' for art and music? (Desert Rat) 

Bob Jacobs: I would question these results. Are the tests really administered the same way from school to school? How is it being monitored? I ask these questions because when I was a teacher, I polled my classes on how many students participated in sports and at least 80 percent of the students said yes. Also, there are virtually no obesity problems in the district. Most years I had no students that were obese. Our students look good physically. While most kids occasionally eat junk food, overall their diets are pretty good. I specifically educated my students on the dangers of excessive salt, sugar, and saturated fats. The art and music program should not be sacrificed for any reason. It would be very difficult to have a full time PE program without significantly expanding the facilities but that could be a possibility when and if a new middle school is built in the future.

Leslie Wachtel: I am interested in finding out why our students are underperforming in physical fitness. A first step would be to compare our physical education curriculum with that of schools with similar demographics which are performing better in state test results. Currently the state mandates that the district provides 200 minutes of physical education every ten days at the K-5 level. Our district actually exceeds that minimum and provides more than 300 minutes. In a country where childhood obesity is on the rise, we need to be sure we are teaching our children healthy eating and exercise habits which will serve them well their entire lives. We are lucky to live in a community that supports a well-rounded education including physical education as part of their school day, as well as exemplary Kiddo! supported arts programs and wonderful Mill Valley club sports. If I am elected to the school board I will do what I can to learn the source of any deficiencies in our physical education scores and to improve our program accordingly.

Clifford Waldeck: Research has constantly shown that increased student involvement in physical activity, arts and music all contribute towards better academic achievement. All these programs work in harmony to help each student become the best they can be. The state mandates that schools provide 200 minutes of PE every ten days. MVSD provides 30-40 per day (that’s 300-400 minutes per ten days). Clearly parents need to take an active roll in keeping their kids physically fit as well. It’s healthy, it’s fun.

Emergency Preparedness

Q: What will each candidate do to better prepare our schools to care for and reunify students with their parents in the event of a natural or man-made disaster (e.g., earthquake, fire, flood, chemical spill, terrorist attack)? (Michael Jacobs)

Bob Jacobs: Potentially the biggest potential problem is a major earthquake, which would also cause flooding on Miller Avenue and other streets. The schools have an earthquake drill every year and a parent group has worked hard over the years to prepare for this type of disaster. Parents have to designate people that can pick up their children in case they are not available. Teachers and staff have to remain at school until the last child is cared for. There will be so many variables if there is a major earthquake but the schools have a system in place. The only thing I would like to improve upon is to make sure there is enough warm clothing for the children. A chemical spill is unlikely in our schools. We do have a drill known as a lockdown drill if there is danger in the vicinity.

Leslie Wachtel: Each of our schools is very lucky to have a comprehensive plan in the event of an emergency. The District’s emergency preparedness program is considered one of the most comprehensive in the state. While my four children were at , I was involved in numerous emergency drills where we practiced search and rescue, evacuation and command center duties.
For five years I worked with Linda Tanguay (the teacher in charge of releasing the students to their parents, guardians and other adults identified on their emergency release information cards) as her backup should she be injured or absent in the case of an emergency. I made a commitment to the school that if there were ever an emergency I would report immediately to the school to work with the teachers, the administration, the students, our police, fire fighters and the neighborhood community to keep everyone safe. We worked through every possible scenario including distraught and hysterical parents, students trying to leave unattended and strangers attempting to pick up our students.
I think it is important for each of our schools to regularly repeat these emergency drills so that they become familiar to staff, students and parents. Just last week every campus in our District held an emergency drill. As a Board Member, I would attend these drills to observe the emergency procedures and consult with all stake holders and outside experts to make sure we are using the best practices and most up to date procedures available. I firmly believe we can learn from others to the benefit of our students.

Clifford Waldeck: The MVSD Emergency Management Plan that encompasses mitigation, preparedness response and recovery is a model for the county and the state. Earlier this week, my daughter had an emergency drill at Park School. She’s still doing the “stop, drop and roll” around the house.
While on the Mill Valley City Council, I served as council liaison to the Emergency Preparedness Committee and later led the charge to make it a chartered, permanent Emergency Preparedness Commission. As a trustee, I will continually work on refining and updating our Emergency Management Plan to best reflect the current needs of our school community.

Should Kiddo! funding be distributed elsewhere?

Q: I have supported Kiddo for years. Their original concept of providing funding for the arts was and is a noble one. My question to the candidates is: Could that funding be used elsewhere at this time? It seems that the monies could be used to help teach our kids what they need to learn: reading, writing and math. (Stephanie Witt)

Bob Jacobs: The funding cannot be used elsewhere at this time to the best of my knowledge. There are specific bylaws that were established by Kiddo and they cannot be arbitrarily changed. I believe this is a legal issue. In my opinion, what makes the Mill Valley School District so outstanding is our incredible arts program and I would not want to see that changed in the least. The Arts are just as important as Math and English and Mill Valley has committed to that philosophy for many years. As a former teacher at Mill Valley Middle School, I am confident that we have done an excellent job in the English, Math, and Science programs. This can be verified by the high schools that our students attend and by the State test scores which are among the best in California and by the remarkable success our students have when they eventually attend college.

Leslie Wachtel: With increased enrollment and decreasing funds we must be prepared to look at all funding sources in our budget. However, having been on the Kiddo! board for 10 years and having served as chair for three years, I believe that the programs Kiddo! has supported for the past 29 years are a key to a well-rounded education for all K-8 students. Beyond art, music, drama, dance and poetry, over the last 10 years Kiddo! has stepped forward to help the District fund other needs such as technology, classroom aides, library aides and other programs which were identified by the District as programs which were important for our schools and our children and which might otherwise have disappeared from our classrooms. It would be a great loss to not fund those important programs.
I was the board chair of Kiddo! in 2002 when drastic mid-year cuts came down from the state and we had to go back out to the community in a Challenge Campaign. We managed to double our fundraising goal for the year from $600,000 to $1,200,000 and saved critical programs.
However, Kiddo! funding is, for the most part, discretionary and specific purpose funding. Individual Kiddo! donations have decreased in times of financial downturns. This lack of predictability makes it a poor source of funds for ongoing core teacher salaries and benefits. Moreover, there is a question whether those who donate to Kiddo! to support the arts, music and poetry would still make the same contributions if used for other, even crucial, purposes.
I worked with co-founder Trisha Garlock on the Kiddo! board for over 10 years. Her dedication to our children and the programs Kiddo! supports is effective and inspirational. Kiddo! has always worked with our superintendent, teachers and community to find the best way to support our District and I know Kiddo! will continue to do so. 

Clifford Waldeck: I am also a supporter and fan of Kiddo! www.kiddo.org the primary non-profit fundraising organization for our school district. Their original mission was to save arts and music programs and this continues to be their primary focus. However, as needs have grown they have worked with the district to identify other key areas in need of financial support. Kiddo! funds all art, music, drama, dance, poetry, K-8 library aides, classroom aides for grades 1-5 and partially funds technology.
Kiddo!’s goal for the 2011-2012 annual campaign is 2.4 million dollars. Parents and the community have generously supported our schools but in order to reach their goal, they need much higher levels of parent participation. Funding an arts education is not just a noble cause but a critical element of the success of our students. KIDDO! funds nothing superfluous; their donors wouldn’t tolerate or support it.
Research shows that students who participate in arts programs are at least three times more likely to be recognized for academic achievement, elected to class office, participate in a math and science fair, and win an award for writing an essay or poem. In addition, studies show that students of the arts in all disciplines outperformed their non-arts peers on the SAT by 91 points in 2009.

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