This November 6th election, five candidates are vying for three expiring Emery School Board seats vacated by elected member Donn Lee Merriam and appointed members Bailey Langner and Brynnda Collins.
Collins, the only incumbent, along with Susan Donaldson, Sarah Nguyen, Katy Brown and former councilmember Ken Bukowski all filed campaign statements to run for these seats prior to the August 10th deadline. Elected candidates will join Cruz Vargas and Barbara Inch who were both elected in 2016 and have two years left on their terms.
Elected candidates will be entrusted to work with our Superintendent to provide leadership and oversight for the district that reflects our community’s values and standards. The EUSD faces considerable challenges including fiscal constraints, lagging student performance and employee retention.
The E’ville Eye provided candidates the below 20 questions that cover a broad range of topics relevant to our city and our district. They were given a week to reply and asked to keep their responses to 250 words. Ken Bukowski opted to not participate in this questionnaire.
Emery USD School Board Candidate Questionnaire: Mother/Business Owner Susan Donaldson
1. Tell us about your professional background and how these skills might transfer to being on the school board.
I have nearly 20 years working professionally where I have learned to successfully manage teams and meet goals. I recently recieved my MBA in sustainable business which helps me to understand our schools from a systems mindset, as interconnected with our local and global community – particularly in that our campus is the Emeryville Center for Community Life. My restorative justice and non-profit training as a board member with the Bay Area Girls Rock Camp has also prepared me to work with diverse students and stakeholders.
I have been an active parent at Anna Yates for the last 6 years, beginning with my child in Kindergarten. I started as a regular member of the PTO then became the Vice President and Secretary most recently. I have spent many hours in the classroom and on campus, listening to teachers and parents, advocating for their concerns, volunteering my time for both support and fundraising. I am a trusted face in the community already so this transition to the school board I see as a step toward more impactful change.
2. Do you have any school age children and if so, would you have any reservations about enrolling them in the EUSD?
My daughter is currently in the EUSD and has been there K-5. She is in 5th grade.
3. Ultimately, what factors made you decide to run for school board and list your top-5 priorities for the district should you be elected,
I stepped down as a PTO officer at the end of last year and now have the capacity to take my dedication to children and public schooling to the next level.
1. Stability – Unstable conditions have lead to a cascade of problems: Low teacher morale, poor student achievement, poor community engagement, declining site maintenance… We need a functional, cooperative, board that ensures a positive climate and encourages the best from staff.
2. Resources – We need to grow, sustain and align our resources to support the needs of our students. There is nothing but opportunity for strengthening the relationships with donors and businesses in our community and the board should take the lead on this.
3. Transparency and Clarity – There has been a lot of confusion and turbulence over the last few years and great teachers and families have left because of it. We all want to feel like we can finally move forward together toward a common goal.
4. Community Engagement – Our high school soccer team is 12-0 and ranked 11th in the state! But no one knows!? We need a marquee or some San Pablo-facing signage to engage the community. We have a lot to be proud of and in order for us to really be the “center” of this town, we need to invite people in.
5. Safety and Inclusivity – Our students and families need to know the minute they step on our campus that they are welcome and safe. Everyone here deserves that.
4. Like many local school districts, Emery Unified has been running under an unsustainable budget deficit. How do you recommend we address this?
We need to explore all of the avenues for growing our resources in addition to reviewing whether or not current funds are aligned with our needs in the best way. We can explore an additional parcel tax, we can explore raising funds from local businesses, we can look to other districts across the state and country to learn what is working elsewhere.
5. There’s been some discussion at School Board meetings around a Parcel Tax measure as there is a correlation between funding and student achievement. Would you support a Parcel Tax as a way to improve enrichment programs and to close the deficit exacerbated by employee pension debt?
Yes. And also we need better accountability on how the parcel taxes are being used.
6. How much of the success of a child’s education do you believe is the responsibility of the parent(s)/guardians and how can our district help busy parents monitor a child’s progress, address deficits early and get them actively involved in their children’s education?
That’s a million dollar question! Research says that parental involvement is key to success but our district has its challenges. Personally I have found that technology (in this case an app called Classroom Dojo) has been very helpful keeping me involved with my child’s classroom and I see other parent’s engaging on the platform much more than I have otherwise. That’s a start!
7. How do you suggest we improve teacher and employee retention in our district?
All of the improvements I’ve mentioned so far will help retain staff. Stability, transparency, community engagement, inclusivity – creating a stable, supportive environment for teachers to do what they have trained to do. Giving them the support, trust and training to be the best that they can be.
8. What metrics will you use to evaluate the effectiveness of new Superintendent Dr. Quiauna Scott (test scores, enrollment, teacher retention …)?
I believe we will know if the superintendent is doing a good job by subjective and objective measures. Teacher retention, test scores, growing enrollment – these objective measures are indicative of a superintendent that has created an atmosphere for success. Subjectively I think we will see a positive reflection in the community as well – from parent engagement to student and staff morale.
9. How much of our districts’ limited resources should we dedicate to closing the racial achievement gap?
All of them. Everything we do serves that goal.
10. Only about half of our student population actually live in Emeryville with a majority of the other half being district transfers from Oakland. Do you believe the percentage of Emeryville families should be higher and if so, how do you recommend we achieve this?
Yes the percentage should be higher. All of the steps we are taking to raise the success of the school should attract more Emeryville residents.
11. Some local parents seem reluctant to send their children to Emeryville Public Schools. Have you discussed this with any parents of younger children and what is your takeaway with what the reasons are?
Yes I have. As a parent who is on campus every day and who has been a member and officer of the PTO every year I have been in the district, I have heard from many parents about their concerns. They are the same as you have brought up: test scores, teacher and staff turnover, challenging communication.
12. Although this is beyond the district’s control, how can our local government improve the “Family Friendliness” of our city to keep school age families from leaving our district and improve continuity among residents (e.g. Housing, Cost of living, crime increases, quality of life issues …)?
They can continue to make the efforts they are making to bring more affordable housing, raise the minimum wage, support our police and fire departments and make this a more livable city.
13. There are roughly 700 children of school age living in Emeryville and our school district has a capacity of roughly the same amount. Should increased enrollment be a goal of the district?
Increased enrollment is a common strategy to bring in more money, but the current site is at capacity. We do have the Anna Yates campus and the Ralph Hawley campus to consider so yes, ideally we should be able to serve all of the children in Emeryville.
14. Some officials see our city as a transient city and therefore have suggested we eliminate Emery High and become a K-8 only district. Do you agree with this suggestion?
15. Some officials have also suggested that we should merge our district with a neighboring city (either Berkeley or Oakland). What do you believe are the pros and cons of this and where do you align?
It is my understanding is that this particular idea has been considered and rejected by Berkeley Unified and the community at large for a a number of reasons. Not least of which is that the teachers would lose their contracts.
16. Many district parents, primarily families of color, have suggested having a School Resource Officer to ensure our children grow up with positive associations with peace officers. What do you see as the Pros & Cons of this and where do you stand personally?
I am not in support of SROs at ECCL. I agree with Mayor John Bauters that in the United States, we have a problem putting children of color in a pipeline from school to prison and that SROs contribute to this problem.
17. Do you have a personal stance on Charter Schools and can Public Schools coexist with them in our area?
I am not a supporter of charter schools and I do not believe there is room for a charter school within our district boundaries. Our public schools need all of the attention they can get.
18. A prominent member of the political group “RULE” has routinely disrupted meetings and engaged in bullying tactics against members of the community and city staff. I hope you’ll agree that this degree of vitriol doesn’t belong anywhere near our children. Will you “lead by example” and stand up to bullying by refusing their endorsement and campaign contributions from RULE members unless they enforce a code of ethics among active members?
I am proud to have received an endorsement from RULE. I believe that they are a group of concerned citizens and we need more of those. There will always be disagreements about how folks express their passions.
19. Are you endorsed by our Teacher’s Association and provide your insights why you were or were not endorsed by them?
I did not receive the endorsement of the ETA because there was a misunderstanding about whether or not I support a Berkeley merge and if I would prioritize the school’s needs over the city’s. As previously stated, I do not support a merge with Berkeley and I will absolutely make the school and our students my first priority. I have the support of many teachers including Mr. Pippen, Mr. Waugh, Ms. Johnson and Ms. Wren, some of the most beloved and respected teachers at the school.
20. How will your campaign be funded and list which politicians & PACs have donated or pledged to donate to your campaign. How will you ensure you will be free from external political influences in your decisions?
I received minimal donations from friends and residents of Emeryville and will not be doing any additional fundraising.