(Full PEN Candidate Questionnaire responses can be found here)

1. Briefly list the relevant qualifications and experience that you would bring to the role of school board member.

Darr
Work Experience
– Teaching experience in grades pre-K through adult
– Experience working in a multi-cultural environment, with at-risk youth, pregnant and parenting teens, foster youth, and students with special needs
– Experience working with Career & Technical Education Programs

Education
– BS, Consumer, Family Science & Retailing - Purdue University
– MA, Education, Point Loma Nazarene University

Community Involvement
– Outward Bound
– PTA
– Girl Scouts
– YMCA Summer Camp Volunteer

Personal Experience
– Parent, single parent, step-parent, grandparent
– Facing and overcoming the challenges of living in a gender and ethnically biased society


Phelps
• Fifteen years of teaching in the PUSD
• A Pasadena Rotary Club Teacher of Excellence
• Caltech Graduate
• Former director of the Science, Engineering and Technology Academy at Muir High School, which places students in science-related internships with local businesses while in high school
• Former faculty adviser to new teachers at Claremont Graduate University
• Former electrical science instructor at LA Trade Tech College in Infrastructure Academy course
• Former coordinator of Caltech Summer Institute for high school science teachers, current CAPSI project director
• Current science lab instructor at Learning Works Charter School, a dropout recovery program in Pasadena
• Current professor of Math and Physics at the University of La Verne
• Current instructor in research, data assessment and evaluation courses for new teachers and administrators at Cal State L.A.
• Current University Supervisor of Student Teachers for Cal State Northridge
• Current evaluator of statewide math and science teacher training programs and regional federal small learning community initiatives
• Helped bring in new superintendent to address pressing district needs
• Helped bring in math teacher trainers via a state grant
• Has strongly advocated for teachers, parents, students and staff whose needs were not met by the district
• Helped community activists launch pre-apprenticeship program for trade occupations for young adults
• Pushed staff towards more data-based analysis of programs and real evaluation of principals
• Helped pass Measure TT to fund facility improvements


2. Do you have children? If so, what schools private, public, etc. have they attended and when?

Darr
Yes:
– Two daughters Muir graduates, class of 1997 & 2000
– One daughter La Canada HS, class of 2004
– Children attended elementary and middle school at both public and private schools such as Field, Altadena, Eliot, Chandler, Immaculate Heart, Pilgrim and Alverno.


Phelps
Six-year old son and three-year old daughter. Aidan has attended pre-K, K and now 1st grade at Cleveland from fall 2006 to present.



3. According to the California School Boards Association, a major role for the school board is establishing a vision for the community’s schools. Please describe your vision for Pasadena Unified.

Darr
I envision a public school system for our community that embraces values and beliefs that encourage and create opportunities for all students to acquire the skills and knowledge necessary to successfully transition from school as responsible productive, life-long learners. Comprised of a collaboration of stakeholders from all walks of life from all socio-economic levels reflective of the cultural diversity of the community, the school system will function as an integral part of sustaining community growth, wealth and well-being far beyond the classroom. As children enter the system they will engage in innovative yet proven instructional practices and emerge with not only academic knowledge, but with a spirit of understanding and appreciating the value added benefit of learning how to learn to be successful academically, at a personal/social level, and begin to develop careers to be active contributors in a global society.


Phelps
I have a unique vision for the district. I want it to be a collaborative enterprise from top to bottom---administrators, teachers, parents and students truly collaborating and cooperating for the benefit of the students we serve. This means we district employees must be open to ideas from wherever they come, and form true partnerships with parents, students and advocates. We have islands of this happening across the district.

In addition, this means that we must create a sense of teamwork vertically and horizontally in the district. We don’t have this yet. There is still a disconnection between the Ed Center and the folks at the school sites. This is a problem because then information does not flow the way it should in the district, and accountability and efficiency become problematic as well. We have a great way to go in this area of changing the culture of the district from an “us vs. them” mentality to a buy-in of all to our common purpose. We will have to break down the lack of association between groups of staff that keeps biases intact and enables us to project those biases onto others’ work. The more that we can breakdown this lack of interaction, the less people will be able to stereotype “them.”

I believe that I offer the unique perspective of a former district teacher who can empathize with folks at the sites while also appreciating the service of those at the Ed Center. My work as a board member, a current high school teacher, a college professor, an instructor of teacher and administrator credential candidates, a coordinator of professional development for science teachers and an evaluator of educational reform initiatives allows me to see the perspectives of the different groups involved in the educational enterprise. I enjoy applying my points of view to the effort of bringing the district together as one team.

In the curriculum area, I believe we need much more flexibility in the secondary program to better give the youngsters the personalization they lose when they leave the elementary program. We have to re-design our high schools to make them more like the 21st century that we all live in. This means more relevant career technical education, smaller learning communities and more one-on-one attention. It means flexible scheduling and independent study for those who don’t thrive in the large classroom environment. We also live in an information age and our schools need to catch up to that reality. There are now many ways that a student can acquire the information they need to learn, many ways they can learn and assimilate it and many ways they can demonstrate their learning. We need to adapt to these information age developments.


4. Two of the attributes of an effective board member described by Parents for Public Schools are:
1) an understanding of the importance of parental involvement and support in public education

2) an understanding of the need to seek parental and community commitment in the decision-making process.

Describe how you would improve parent participation in board and district level issues. Describe how you would interact with your assigned schools to engage in conversation with parents about board and district issues.


Darr
Improving parent participation in board and district level issues by:
– Maintaining and enhancing ways to communicate with parents
– Help parents understand the value added benefit for their children relative to their level of involvement
– Articulate clear and concise ways for parents to be involved
– Develop a forum for parents to share and learn about best practices
– Be responsive to parents’ questions and needs

Interacting with parents about board and district issues
– Provide timely feedback to questions, issues and concerns
– Be visible in the community and at school sites
– Encourage and maintain adequate communication options so that all parents are able to reach the board


Phelps
I have been bringing this up repeatedly of late, because as I walk precincts and talk to PTA leaders, I meet parents who are frustrated with past or current experiences. I have had long exchanges with our superintendent recently about the lack of evidence of the district’s interest in parental involvement, despite the pre-eminent effect of parental education level and involvement on student achievement. He agrees that we don’t have a lot of principals who are good at this. I have recently learned that staff has even overruled school site councils in the last year. One principal questioned at a recent district advisory meeting whether school site councils need to know or monitor how the money is being spent or do they just need to approve the budget at the beginning of the year.

Our schools are not very user-friendly. We are afraid of parents and advocates for example who step up to help kids whose parents are not able or are not around. Access to the schools for these folks or parents can be limited in too many schools. We need to make them feel welcome at the sites. A parent/volunteer coordinator and center at each site would be a good idea. Providing easy ways for volunteers to get TB test, fingerprints, etc. at the school sites instead of just at the Ed Center would be good. This would require funding but I am now advocating with the administration to consider making the investment even in these difficult times.

We have opened a re-designed Parent Welcome Center in the Partners in Education (PIE) Office on the first floor of the Ed Center, and I have been in there when parents have entered to get assistance. Sometimes there aren't enough Spanish translators around. We have opened a Newcomers' Center at Blair for parents and students who have recently come to the USA and the district. The latter is staffed with bi-lingual teachers. I think in general, though, we need to be much more open to the presence of parents and advocates on campus, and also to having parent meetings at more conducive times and locations. We also don't even translate all of our meetings into Spanish. PUSD Superintendent Diaz is aware of these shortcomings, and we need to make a much more significant investment in parent involvement and community engagement.

At our assigned schools, I think all board members should visit a parent meeting at least once a month as well as attend special events. Right now it is more informal, with board members relying on sites to invite them. We should formalize it more to make sure we stay in touch with the parents and school communities regarding important issues. We could also ask to have a parent board member like we do a student board member from each high school, who could come and give a brief report at the board meeting.



5. According to CSBA, two important qualities of board members are striving to be knowledgeable and committing the time and energy to be effective. Please describe how you would educate yourself during your term and how you think the board as a whole should develop its knowledge and skill together. (Incumbents please also describe any CSBA training or equivalent that you have already participated in during your term.)

Darr
Participate in CSBA trainings such as the “Institute for New and First-Term Board members”. Attend the annual conference and keep current on issues and/or trends in education and school board governance.

Additionally, with the myriad of issues and opportunities affecting education, board members need to maintain a general knowledge of these things by making it their personal responsibility to read and study information so that decisions that are made are based on substance and not personal whim.


Phelps
I have participated in the CSBA Master’s in Governance training, attending several modules. I have also attended two CSBA Curriculum Institutes, four CSBA annual conferences, an NSBA annual conference and two CUBE annual conferences. We have also had some board development and retreat sessions as a group which I think are very good for the board
.


6. Another attribute of an effective board member as described by Parents for Public Schools is that he/she is committed to high standards of achievement for all students. What is your role as a board member in ensuring the district meets the individual educational needs of all students?

Darr
Effective school board members should work to ensure that practices are reflective of policies that promote student learning and achievement. As new policies are introduced and old policies revised, the focus must always be centered on how they will help to meet the educational needs for all students.

Effective policy decisions should always be the result of collaboration with teachers, administrators and the superintendent based on needs identified by the community. Board members also should demonstrate respect for one another yet value differences and strive to be forward thinking and creative about solutions that will need to be developed to continue to promote good public education.


Phelps
I have found that board members believe that equity means just that, meeting the different needs of different students by providing different services or resources. I think the administration thinks of equity more as equality of services. Board members need to continue to advocate for this distinction. As an example, I objected to the distribution of the extra funding provided by a local foundation for the Excellent Middle Schools Initiative when at a recent presentation it was revealed that it was given proportionally by enrollment to every school that has middle school grades, based on enrollment in those grades. It was therefore awarded according to the principle of equality, not equity. Some of our middle schools clearly need much more resources than others. Conversely, we do not have nearly enough resources devoted to our GATE students and their individual needs.


7. Pasadena Unified’s achievement scores in literacy and math have grown significantly in recent years. What would you propose as the next steps to ensure that all children receive a well-rounded education, which would include arts, music, science, technology, social studies, physical education and health?

Darr
The district continues to look at creative ways to maintain and enhance education in all these areas in spite of budget cutbacks by engaging community resources and identifying programs that can be implemented to augment classroom instruction. Professional development is essential for our teachers so that they can incorporate these areas as they teach the fundamentals.

Research has indicated that young people who participate in art education, in particular do better in school. I hope that the board will continue to support policies that sustain all of these aspects of education and direct resources that put policies into practice equitably across all grade levels at all schools.


Phelps
We need a systemic plan to re-introduce hands-on science back into our schools. I am currently submitting proposals to various foundations in my role at CAPSI, in order to fund such initiatives and professional development for teachers. The board will also be reviewing graduation requirements in the coming year, and will likely look at them through the more well-rounded lens of the Multiple Pathways Initiative being launched in the district. I am also in favor of continued support for the IB programs in the district, which implement a well-rounded series of rigorous courses. We need to also figure out how to restore separate health classes in the district instead of including the curriculum in PE which we have done now for the last several years. To boost the level and quality of physical education, the board has adopted a Tier 1 indicator related to students’ passage of the California Fitness Tests. In terms of technology, the board is committed to providing the resources, through E-Rate grants or QZAB bonds, to improving our technology infrastructure in the district. We need to have teachers incorporating the latest educational technology fully into the classroom with fast web access for lessons and presentations. We need the latest probe-ware and software to be used with laptops in our science labs. We need more computer instruction and at earlier grades, and professional development for teachers to use the new Arts textbooks that are currently sitting in stacks. I do support continuing the My Masterpieces type of collaboration that exists between PUSD and the local institutions of art, which provides access to art to our students.



8. A much lower percentage of students eligible for Pasadena Unified attend public school than the state and national averages. How important is increasing public school enrollment in our communities and how might it be accomplished?

Darr
Public school enrollment will only increase when parents believe that their children can attend schools that are safe and will provide them with a high level of instruction that will help prepare them for work and/or college. Board members need to make a constant active appeal to the communities they serve to support public education in order to ensure that our society is able to sustain our democratic way of life. I think the school board should collaborate with organizations like PEN to increase public awareness of the importance of public education in our communities and continue to develop creative ways to increase community involvement in our schools.


Phelps
It is very important, in order for our schools to have the benefit of more resourced parents and higher parent education levels. The latter is the pre-eminent predictor of student achievement. It can be accomplished by expanding the number of schools where there is significant parent involvement. Where there is good involvement, there is good academic success. As stated earlier, I feel so strongly about this that I would invest money in parent/volunteer coordinators and center at every school site to increase access for parents and other volunteers. I would also include the ability to effectively involve and engage parents in principal and teacher evaluations.



9. When PEN endorsed Measure TT, it was with the understanding that the Board would do everything it can to avoid spending bond money on schools that may be closed due to declining enrollment or on improvements that would become superfluous at schools that may change their grade configurations. How will you ensure that these decisions would be made and communicated in a timely and transparent manner, and with input from parents district-wide? How will you involve parents in the implementation of Measure TT at their school sites?

Darr
The board members need to foster a good relationship with both internal and external groups that are established to manage Measure TT spending to insure equity and transparency at every level of the project plan.


Phelps
Each site now has a facilities master plan and project list as part of the overall district’s facilities master plan. These were finished before the bond was passed with the input of the school sites, and they were presented to the community via public forums where parents made requests for modifications to their sites’ plans. Each site team, which includes parents, will now discuss and decide upon priorities for their sites using these plans/project lists. Parents should be involved on those teams. In terms of implementation, first the Board Facilities Committee, which is an open meeting, will decide on which projects to initiate. The facilities staff will be in charge of implementation of the projects. The Citizens Oversight Committee will be in charge of overseeing the projects. Parents are encouraged to give input to the COC as well as the board committee.


10. Recently, there is a movement to increase the relationship between the school district and the city governments for the communities the district serves. How would you support growing those relationships and what types of partnerships do you envision?

Darr
I strongly support growing relationships with the city governments in Altadena, Sierra Madre and Pasadena with the school district. These relationships provide an opportunity to form joint use agreements with police, recreation, transportation or the library to help leverage and maximize resources to reduce operational expenses.

I am pleased that the district has already taken steps to enhance their partnerships with the commitment to focus the collaboration on improving student achievement, youth development , and building stronger neighborhoods.


Phelps
The monthly meetings between staff of both agencies are probably the most consistent way to increase the relationship. In addition the city’s police department and district staff work closely together. I support more understanding and collaboration between the two.

One area of partnership that should be furthered is disaster preparation. The superintendent has recruited a parent volunteer to help survey our current status at all the school sites, and another district parent to help with the interface between the schools and the city in this area. I believe that the city is capable of doing a much better job in this are than we are, and we should gradually devolve this area of responsibility to the city’s professionals. The city could also assume responsibility for our library and school nurse services.