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: Teacher/Mother Sarah Nguyen
1. Tell us about your professional background and how these skills might transfer to being on the school board.
I hold Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in Education and have worked as a teacher, instructional coach, and instructional reform facilitator for the past 23 years. My experiences in urban settings supporting school communities with large populations of underserved and at-risk youth and families are strong preparation for serving on the Emery Unified school board.
2. Do you have any school age children and if so, would you have any reservations about enrolling them in the EUSD?
I have two school age children who attend school in Oakland near their other home.
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,
My family does not look like a typical family and I am running so all students and families, no matter what their identities, have equitable access to resources and opportunities.
Priority 1: I will learn about the work done by previous boards and how that relates to current concerns on topics such as enrollment, funding, teacher recruitment/retention, student performance, and the like.
Priority 2: I will build relationships with all community members (students and families, teachers and staff, administrators and stakeholders, non-school members of the Emeryville community) to develop understanding, trust, partnership, and advocacy.
4. Like many local school districts, Emery Unified has been running under an unsustainable budget deficit. How do you recommend we address this?
I am actively working to learn more about prior decisions that led to our current financial situation. Having a balanced budget is important to me as an educator and a taxpayer. I will be prepared to make recommendations about the future of our budgeting practices after I have the opportunity to examine the district’s finances in greater detail.
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?
Prior to making any decision about a Parcel Tax or any other form of new revenue, I need to learn more about a number of variables, such as past and current financials including funding sources as well as factors contributing to student achievement and how that achievement has been shifting over time.
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?
Families, schools, and communities are partners in supporting student success. I’ve worked in schools for more than two decades and have seen open and respectful communication be a highly effective tool for collaboration. Taking family needs and educators’ professional experiences into account around how and when to communicate tends to yield greater buy-in and participation from both home and school. Tools that can be useful include newsletters, email, conferences, community forums, and the like.
7. How do you suggest we improve teacher and employee retention in our district?
Teachers succeed in respectful, professional work environments when there are clearly-articulated processes for instructional collaboration and individual evaluation in place. The creation of more affordable housing will also be a significant factor in creating opportunities for teachers to live in the communities they serve.
8. What metrics will you use to evaluate the effectiveness of new Superintendent Dr. Quiauna Scott (test scores, enrollment, teacher retention …)?
I think anyone coming into a role, be it superintendent or school board member or classroom teacher, needs time to become familiar with the community they are serving and to learn about the work that has come before their time. Any of the metrics mentioned could be used in considering Dr. Scott’s fit for the role; however, I think the most important consideration overall is using a holistic measure in which not just quantitative metrics but also qualitative observations are employed.
9. How much of our districts’ limited resources should we dedicate to closing the racial achievement gap?
Many societal factors outside of schools’ control contribute to persistent racial oppression, and many gaps exist beyond different demographics, so considering only race as a factor in the allocation of district resources is short-sighted. Working towards equitable, not equal, access to resources and opportunities for all students based on strengths and needs is a model that is both more sustainable and more successful over time.
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?
Families are the ones best-suited to make educational decisions for their children, including choices about where students attend school. Many factors, some within and some outside of a school district’s control, contribute to enrollment choices families make. Our greatest area of influence is in making Emeryville schools places that families want to enroll their children.
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?
Families with whom I have spoken shared concerns about teacher turnover, administrative changes, and home-school partnerships.
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 …)?
Creating more affordable housing in Emeryville will be a huge factor for both school age families and for teachers when it comes to living in our city. Creating greater community connections between the schools and all residents, not just those with children, can be a positive factor as well.
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 would yield increased revenue; however, there are many ways to equitably and resourcefully allocate school funding regardless of the amount available given the range of funding sources from which school districts receive monies. Please see my answer to #10, above.
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?
I do not.
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?
I support keeping EUSD independent of neighboring districts. Maintaining an independent identity is a benefit for EUSD and for the city of Emeryville, and I am ready to do the long-term work it will take for all community members to feel pride in, and ownership of, their schools.
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?
No objective or anecdotal data exists that shows the presence of a School Resource Officer is required to address current student need in our schools. The district could respond to the suggestion and desired outcome expressed by these families by developing community partnerships so that all students have positive associations with adults in a range of professions, not just peace officers. For many students of color, the presence of a School Resource Officer can cause extreme secondary traumatization, especially if the child has experienced negative interactions with law enforcement as is the case for many youth of color today, and learning can be disrupted as a result. While I support the work our local peace officers do for our community and believe that they can and should be positive role models for students at EUSD, I am opposed to having a School Resource Officer as a permanent Emery Unified staff member. Given the additional challenges related to budget, as listed above, the priority should be investment in teachers and other primary, education-based needs for students.
17. Do you have a personal stance on Charter Schools and can Public Schools coexist with them in our area?
Charter schools exist as alternatives to public schools. While they receive public funding, they do not always offer comparable resources and are not always held to the same level of accountability. While some charter schools are healthy educational communities, others are opportunistic and manipulative. Charter schools will likely continue to exist until families see all public schools as accessible, equitable, engaging, and safe choices.
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?
Bullying is a serious problem in schools today. Regardless of who is engaged in the conduct, bullying has no place in the educational environment. As a teacher, a mother, and an LGBT woman, I have dealt with bullying on many occasions.
I am proud to be endorsed by RULE, a group of diverse, community-conscientious residents who want to make Emeryville a more affordable and livable place for everyone. There is a difference between the actions of one person and a group of people. Just as I would not refuse the endorsement of all Americans because President Trump is a bully, I would not reject the endorsement of RULE based solely on a personal experience with one of its members.
19. Are you endorsed by our Teacher’s Association and provide your insights why you were or were not endorsed by them?
While I have the personal support of members of the Emeryville Teacher’s Association, I did not reach the vote threshold required to receive the association’s endorsement. It would be inappropriate for me to speak on behalf of the association as to why I didn’t receive their endorsement or by how many votes I missed securing this important support. As a teacher myself, I understand how important supporting teachers is, and I will work hard to earn their support as a member of the Emery Unified Board of Trustees.
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 have a very small campaign committee raising funds for this election, which is primarily funded by donations from family, friends and neighbors who support my vision for the future of EUSD. I am proud that our local progressive leaders have endorsed my candidacy, including Mayor John Bauters, Vice Mayor Ally Medina, Councilmembers Dianne Martinez, Scott Donahue and Christian Patz. Additionally, I am proud to have the support of School Board Member Barbara Inch, the Alameda County Democrats, the East Bay Young Democrats, the Green Party, and Evolve.
Accepting funds to support a campaign is never a promise to pursue a specific agenda or vote a certain way. Nobody who has donated to my campaign has suggested in any way that they expect me to support some external agenda, nor have I ever indicated that I am susceptible to being influenced by a campaign donation.