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San Diego County, CA November 4, 2008 Election
Smart Voter

Building a Brighter Future for Our Kids: Connecting Our Schools to Our Communities

By Richard Barrera

Candidate for Trustee; San Diego Unified School District; Trustee Area D

This information is provided by the candidate
Read about Richard's ideas for pulling our entire community together - parents, teachers, school staff, administrators, students, business and community leaders - to help more of our kids go to college, enter a promising technical career, or both.
My top priority is to improve real-life outcomes for our students - as distinct from simply raising scores on standardized tests. Of today's ninth graders, 10 years from now only 2 in 10 will have graduated from college, and only 1 in 10 will be in a family-supporting job with good career prospects. Among lower income students and students of color, these outcomes are even more alarming, with 10 times the number of Latino and African American young men going to prison than graduating from college.

Making progress on real-life outcomes for our young people will require change both within our schools and throughout our community. Within our schools, I will focus on bringing together teachers, parents, classified staff, students and administrators to address the following issues:

  • Developing an effective program for English Learners, that moves us past ideology and recognizes that different students learn well from different approaches, including instruction in the student's native language when appropriate and helpful;

  • Ramping up intensive interventions for students who fall behind, particularly for second graders who are not reading at grade level, middle school students who begin to miss too many school days, and ninth graders who are behind their peers in core subjects. Research shows that these students are extremely likely to drop out after 10th grade, creating a clear need for intensive prevention in earlier grades. Prevention strategies that have shown promise include team teaching with experienced teachers serving as leads and mentors, along with more training and support for Paraprofessional educators who often spend a great deal of direct time with special education students;

  • Revamping the core high school program throughout the District, to create more real-world, hands-on experience for all high school students (including internships); to create a more rigorous, high-content career technical education program for students interested in the option of either going straight into college or straight into a career; to expand counseling and guidance to all high school students about the opportunity and requirements necessary to go to college; and to expand the availability of high content academic courses (such as AP and International Baccalaureate) for college bound students;

  • Focusing resources on the adults in our school system - teachers and classified staff - who work most directly with our students. I would have voted against the budget just approved by the School Board, because it cuts too heavily into those professionals who make a real difference daily in the lives of our students, while preserving too much of central administration.

Outside the walls of our schools, I will put tremendous energy into engaging our entire community around the following issues:

  • Connecting our neighborhoods to our schools, including the creation of "neighborhood watch" style groups in which church members, seniors, members of neighborhood associations and older students themselves volunteer to work directly with our students most at risk of falling into the dropout trap. Additionally, I will help facilitate green neighborhood projects, including urban forestry and community agriculture, in which students serve their neighborhoods by improving the environment, and in the process enjoy the benefits of a cleaner and greener neighborhood chronicled in Richard Louv's work. I will work with City Councilmembers to integrate school facilities with neighborhood parks, libraries and recreation centers. And I will work to connect parents and students to community organizing campaigns that fight for social, economic and environmental justice in the neighborhoods surrounding our schools;

  • Supporting parents and families of our students, including expanding the availability of parent education programs such as the Parent Institute for Quality Education, and through our schools connecting families to critical anti-poverty programs such as MediCal and Healthy Families, Food Stamps, Housing Vouchers, and the Earned Income Tax Credit. I will explore partnering with other K-12 and Community College Districts in the county to develop a health insurance program that offers universal coverage to all families within our schools, modeled after San Francisco's universal coverage program for all city residents. By expanding our schools as centers of family support and community development, we can help reduce extremely high turnover rates among students in lower income communities;

  • Connecting local industries, particularly growth industries involved in green technology, to our students. These connections can include expansion of internships for high school students, partnering with unions and employers to expand and improve our career technical education program, and recruiting volunteers for our schools through local unions and employers. Key to my relationships with the business community will include a challenge to local employers to make it more possible for parents to participate in their children's education, including increasing flex-time, and ultimately increasing wages and benefits that help lift the families of our students out of poverty;

  • Creating a regional conversation about increasing revenues for our schools, including the development of a parcel tax that can support not only physical improvements to our schools, but operations as well.

As a community organizer, I approach these issues not with a set of specific solutions I hope to impose on our schools and on our community, but with a commitment to listening to people, pulling people together, and focusing on what's possible based on the best of what we know already works.

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