Parents Reach Out to SVUSD Board Candidates to Ask Their Views on Social-Emotional Resources and Curriculum within the Entire District

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Photo credit: Alyssa Fedele

Recently, the Scotts Valley Unified School District candidates that are running for a seat at the school board were sent the following letter by a group of parents asking their views on Social-Emotional Resources and curriculum within the entire district. The letter and the candidates response in its entirety are as follows:

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Dear Scotts Valley School Board Candidate,

Thank you for your commitment to our children by offering your time and energy to serve our school district. We are a small group of parents who have come together with the hope of working with the district going forward to ensure that the social-emotional resources and curriculum are improved and increased as needed so that the youth in Scotts Valley are thriving in their lives.

As heartening as it was to see that the high school recently received national recognition, we are aware that the metric only represented the academic aspect of the school/district. A broader definition of student success shows another story entirely. The recent California Healthy Kids Survey, which was administered to our seventh, ninth and eleventh graders, indicates the following about emotional lives of Scotts Valley youth:

Approximately 26% of our middle and high school student reported feeling chronically sad or hopeless to the extent that it impacted their daily activities. That is equal to 377 of our teens feeling chronically sad. In the past year, approximately 232 (16%) of our students seriously considered suicide.  Twenty percent of our 11th grade students report being heavy drug users, while 25% of them report being heavy users of alcohol.

Given this troubling information, we are curious if you are elected, specifically what and how you will work towards to increase the quality and quantity of social-emotional resources and curriculum within the entire district. Ideally, we are hoping for programs that don’t reactively address symptomatic behaviors such teen binge drinking or bullying, but get to the core issue of fostering a more positive and healthy school climate of inclusion, personal power, and adult supports that are the best prevention of risky behaviors and the best determinants of academic, social and personal success.

We are requesting that you provide your response to us by October 9th; please note that we may be sharing this letter and your answers with others.

Thank you again for your willingness to be of service in our community and for your time in responding to our concerns.

Respectfully,

Kirsten Carraway
Angie Pennington
Tim Johnson
Jennifer O’Brien-rojo
Valerie Sims
Sarah Mozelle

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The following responses were given by each candidate:

Michael Shulman:
Hello Sarah, thank you for reaching out to me on behalf of this group of parents.  My response is to offer to meet with you and your group to discuss the issue. I appreciate that you have identified that a trustee’s outlook on the emotional and social well being of our students is an important issue with which to vet their candidacy.

I will tell you that the entire teaching staff was in  professional development activities today.  I attended the first couple of hours, a good portion of which was primarily focused on this subject.  Among other things, I learned that we recently began integrating mindfulness exercises and techniques in some classes (through the initiative and leadership of one of our teachers); the feedback from both students and parents has been very positive.  This is something I fully endorse and support, as part of the basket of remedies we can explore and deploy.  There is obviously much more to be done but please know that the district is not blind to the matter nor sitting on its hands.

Please see if you can schedule a time and place where your parent group can meet.  I will make myself available and look forward to the exchange of ideas.

Kim Shultz:
Interestingly, I just had a lunch meeting a couple of weeks ago with Jen O’Brien-Rojo, who I consider a dear friend of 8-10 years, about her new venture as Director of the California Institute for Invincible Youth. As I shared with Jen, the incident at our high school last June convinced me of the need for greater attention of our student’s social and emotion well being. I think that goal can be worked upon through multiple approaches, from integration into the school’s curriculum to hosting parent workshops through the school year.

At our Board meeting on September 27th, I shared with fellow board members and staff my interest and the vital need in Scotts Valley for development of this type of program. I believe that our District’s leadership, from the Superintendent and Curriculum Director to the Principles and Counselors in our schools, are in agreement of the importance social and emotional development. As you know, there is much already done toward this end in our schools, but I fear that our youth are subject to even greater natural and man-made challenges in the future. Frankly, it is heartening and exciting to know that your group has formed for the purpose of ensuring balanced growth of our youth as the challenges that lie ahead will require not only greater intellectual and technical skills, but emotional strength and the ability to form and maintain social relationships just to survive.

I would encourage you to meet with Michelle Stewart, at the district office, not only to hear about existing and proposed programs to address social-emotional well being of our students, but also to learn about the Local Control and Accountability Plan (LCAP). The community’s participation in the LCAP process is valuable means by which the needs of our local community are recognized and integrated into the school’s regular curriculum and extracurricular activities.

I look forward to meeting and working with you and your group in the future.

Sue Rains:
Thank you for your question.  Mental health and social-emotional issues are of great concern to our town and to me.  We are fortunate to live in a small community where there are many opportunities for our kids and families to obtain help and or guidance for these issues.

As I am sure you know the district and other groups currently work hard to provide the following for our kids:
-Our middle and high schools provide information to students in their health classes.
-SVHS has a Peer Advocate team which is students reaching out to students.
-SVEF and Parent Clubs host speakers a few times each year for parents. Topics have included social media, bullying and other relevant topics.
-SVEF funds counseling services at each of our schools

Even with all of these opportunities, there is always more to do.  But finding the funds to provide more services is difficult in a district like ours.  We receive very little funding from the state.  We no longer have a parcel tax to help pay for some of the district’s expenses.  Our teachers received a 1% raise this year and we are in a constant battle to retain our hardworking, caring teachers.

Expanding the services provided by the district takes funds.  And at this point there is no extra money in the district’s budget. In the coming years, we as a community need to come together to develop creative ways to fund these additional programs through grants, donations, or possibly even a parcel tax.

When the Board of Trustees begins work in January 2017 to build the budget for the 2017/2018 school year, we will have an opportunity to review all of the district’s spending.  During spring of 2017, the public will be offered many opportunities to provide input to help the district determine how funds should be allocated.

I look forward to having an opportunity to talk further with you and your organization about the future of SVUSD.

P.S. You may publish, share or use my response only in its entirety.  Please do not summarize or excerpt it without my prior, written approval.  Thank you.

Sue Roth:
I have always been supportive of social-emotional resources and curriculum
in our 4 schools and will continue to make sure, as a Board member, that
appropriate funding and opportunities are available within our budget for
staff training, curriculum needs, and additional counseling staff.

The California Healthy Kids Survey has always been troubling to me and we
do review it in connection with our curriculum, staffing, and programs. It
has been presented to the Board each time the Survey has been done and
serious discussion between the Board and Administration has ensued. These
indicators are not being ignored.

I am hopeful that your group, SERC du Scotts Valley, will work with our
District in strengthening program and curriculum. I appreciate your
group’s time and effort in this area.

Gia Swarzer:
Thank you for the bringing this information to my attention and the opportunity to respond. As a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, it would be important to have more information about the causes of these numbers. There are many factors that can influence behaviors and feelings such family life, school life, support systems and adolescence itself. It would be necessary to look at what is happening in other school districts as well as statewide and to see what programs are successfully being used to help the students, family and staff. Without knowing more specifics, it is difficult to determine what resources, referrals, liaisons and programs would be best suited to our high schoolers needs. As with so many issues, collaborative effort between those concerned and the district is needed to find solutions.

Farah Galvez Theissen:

First and foremost, as a community, we have to admit there is a problem. To get to the root of a problem, hard questions must be asked and difficult decision must be made. So much so, with an emotionally charged issue such as the social-emotional wellbeing of the children in our school district. As we all know, money in our public school district is scarce. And with that knowledge, any type of resources and curriculum entails part of a limited budget. If I am elected, I would seek out grants and partnerships to address the funding part of the equation.
For example, Kaiser Permanente is moving into Scotts Valley. Kaiser has an outreach campaign called “Find Your Words” that addresses children’s depression. Why shouldn’t we ask them what resources they have for our children in our district that we can utilize and build upon to address the endemic symptoms of depression such as, drug use, underage drinking and other high risk behaviors.
If elected, I will form alliances with our business community and city institutions to begin the dialogue. And the dialogue should begin with, redefining what a successful child “is”.
Not only academics or athletics or popularity but happiness, health, meeting their individual goals – doing their personal best, well-rounded.
The dialogue and leadership must begin at the trustee level. I will make it a priority to begin the dialogue with all stakeholders represented: the children, teachers, administration, school trustees, and city agencies. We have to acknowledge the “issues” and begin the dialogue. We need to work together as a community to find the solutions.

Roger Snyder:
Thanks for sending along this reminder. I apologize that I missed your first email – it was buried in my Inbox.

In response to your original email, I have a few comments:

Given this troubling information, we are curious if you are elected, specifically what and how you will work towards to increase the quality and quantity of social-emotional resources and curriculum within the entire district. Ideally, we are hoping for programs that don’t reactively address symptomatic behaviors such teen binge drinking or bullying, but get to the core issue of fostering a more positive and healthy school climate of inclusion, personal power, and adult supports that are the best prevention of risky behaviors and the best determinants of academic, social and personal success.

I agree that we need to spend more time in our curriculum attending to our student’s needs as “a whole person.”  On my website, you’ll find that my 5th priority is to “Promote Values in our students to foster safe learning environments and create an enduring understanding of what it means to be a citizen.”

Part of this approach is exactly what you mention – encouraging students to take ownership and responsibility for their behaviors and attitudes towards themselves and each other.  We need to guide students to work together to foster a positive community that empowers everyone to success.  If we can start in the schools to create a sense of “citizenship”, I believe we can both help students flourish personally, and contribute more productively to their community.  At first, “community” means their school and family, but grows to encompass their local community, state, and nation as they approach graduation.

So, how do we do this?  I don’t have all of the answers.  But if elected, I would work with the rest of the Board and the Superintendent to take this approach:

1)      Take an inventory of the existing programs that we have now at every level in the district.  This would encompass both course curriculum, such as civics, as well as secondary programs, such as the “anti-bullying” program. Evaluate what’s working, what’s not, and how these programs work together, if at all.
2)      Look for “best practices” in other schools.  Ideally, I would like to find an evidence-based program that promotes citizenship values and enables students to pursue healthy, balanced lives starting at an early age.
3)      Combine what we learn from #1 and #2 to develop a holistic approach to citizenship from Pre-K to High School graduation. This should leverage the best of what we already have, but integrate it into a comprehensive approach.

All of this though has to be done in the context of being fiscally prudent.  We are already underfunded as a district, so we have to do this responsibly.  Hopefully, as we align existing programs, possibly cutting some pieces that don’t fit, we can save money in some ways and use existing funds.  But this has be figured out responsibly.

I began my campaign with the sense that while we DO need to do a better job collaborating and communicating as adults (parents, teachers, administration, the Board, and the larger community), we also need to include the students themselves in solutions to the problems we’re seeing.

Thanks for asking the question, and let me know if you have any further questions, or suggestions!

Stephanie Espinola:
Dear Sarah Mozelle, Kristen Carraway, Tim Johnson, Jennifer O’Brien-rojo and Valerie Sims 

Thank you for coming together as a group of parents and working with the district to go forward to ensure that the social-emotional resources and curriculum are improved and increased as needed so that the youth in Scotts Valley are thriving in their lives.

I too share your concerns regarding the recent California Healthy Kids Survey, as I have a student currently in this district. 

I think you are asking some great questions that I for one am very passionate about . I do believe in a well rounded education from the academics , arts , music , sports and extra curricular programs . All of these opportunities help our kids thrive, grow and helps their mental and physical well being. 

Depression and anxiety seem to peek in the teen years , middle school through high school . The pressure on our students at this time of academics, sports, social acceptance and peer pressure becomes much harder for them. 

When feelings of anxiety, depression and self worthlessness kick -in,  so do symptoms such as drinking, eating disorders, drugs , alcohol , bullying and risky behavior.

I feel that resources need to be ear-marked  in the school budget  for the tools to help educate the students, parents and teachers. I would support these opportunities in classes K-12th grade. 

I would encourage , support and advocate for more directed  assemblies regarding these issues in our schools , having educational assemblies in all of our schools where the students learn this type of information together with their peers. I would recommend that resources be available to all students and parents. 

These are a few ways that I would help get to the core issue of fostering a more positive and healthy school climate of inclusion, personal power, and adult support. I would seek assistance from our County Office of Education , the State Office of Education, and our neighboring school districts to see what programs they are offering that would benefit our district. I believe in a comprehensive incremental approach to develop social-emotional coping skills needed to develop well rounded students.

Thank you for the opportunity to address your concerns. I look forward to your support.

Photo credit: Alyssa Fedele

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