Monday, April 18, 2011

Meet the Ward 4 State Board of Education candidates: An Almquist

On April 26, Ward 4 residents will elect a new DC State Board of Education (SBoE) representative. In an effort to help my readers get to know the candidates and their stances on the issues, I sent out a short questionnaire to each candidate. I'll run the responses alphabetically each day this week.

First up: An Almquist.

1) What key issues do you see yourself and the DCSBOE focusing on to improve the education of all DC children?

Two main issues that are currently affecting our education system are:

a) A sense of urgency – everyone involved in the education of our youth needs to work together towards a goal with a sense of urgency regarding student achievement, success, and outcomes.

b) We need to do a better job in how we hire, train/develop, retain, and reward effective teachers. As a teacher with experience in dozens of schools across DC, I've seen first-hand the impact that teacher quality has on our kids. I've seen excellent educators make great gains with their students, and I've seen struggling educators search for ways to improve their instruction and raise the learning of their students. We need to do a better job of capitalizing on the great teaching talent that we have and helping to replicate that in all classrooms, whether that's by improving our recruiting or the support we offer to teachers. Our youth can't wait any longer for effective instructors, and our teachers deserve support that will help them to reach their maximum potential as educators.

Three other key issues that I see myself and the DCSBOE focusing on is to improve the education of all DC Children by:
a) Being an active and engaged advocate for children, families and educators in the community by working as a team with the current representatives on the SBOE,
b) Making informed decisions that will improve student outcomes and parental involvement,
c) Focus on graduation requirements, vocational curricula and optimal post-secondary outcomes for all students.

I plan to accomplish this with the DCSBOE by:
a) Communicating effectively and listening to community members’ voices,
b) Gathering data, reviewing federal laws, current research, using evidence-based practices, and expert advice to select the best options for students, parents, and families through collaboration, and
c) Putting into action the voices and concerns raised by Ward 4 to make informed decisions and continue an active engagement process to accomplish these goals.

2) Do you have (a) school-age child(ren)? If so, do they attend DC public schools?

No, my husband and I do not have school-aged children. However, I have worked and participated in every middle school and high school throughout DCPS. We are proud that we both attended public schools ourselves and hope that one day our children will be able to do the same and receive an excellent education in the District.

3) What is your opinion on the current responsibilities and limitations of SBoE representatives, and how do you plan to work within the position's limitations?

Since there is Mayoral control over public education, some people will view the SBOE as a “regulatory” position. If elected, I plan to work with the other representatives to maximize our collaborative efforts and make a positive impact on: academic standards, accountability measures, graduation requirements, teacher quality, data reports, student residency requirements, and truancy.

4) Many people suggest that we must hold students accountable for their own performance. Do you agree with this statement? If so, how do you propose enforcing
student accountability?

I agree with this statement to some extent, depending on one’s definition of “age appropriate accountability measures.” For example, a pre-school student cannot be held accountable for his/her attendance since he/she would rely on a guardian or parent for transportation. However, for a middle school or high school students, they can handle more responsibilities and should be held accountable for their performance. One proposal that I’ve successfully incorporated into my former high school classroom was establishing individual student “contracts” with students and their parents/guardians. This enforced student accountability regarding their classwork, attendance, homework, and participation. By signing the contract, parents and students understood and agreed upon the expectations. If students were not performing well, there were natural consequences to their performance.

5) Considering Phelps, the Career and Technical Education-focused high school, just received deep cuts in the latest round of school budgets, how do you propose we prepare students for life after high school? Do you support introducing more career and technical education into the school system?

My proposal for preparing students for post-secondary outcomes is to start planning earlier and effectively starting in middle school and if possible, even earlier. Teachers need to create an immersive learning environments calibrated to teach at each individual child’s needs. The curricula, course materials, classwork, homework, and assessments should be relevant, meaningful and authentic to our students’ post secondary goals whether that’s college or a career.

Although I strongly support career and technical programs, a needs assessment and analysis needs to be conducted prior to making any suggestions for introducing MORE career and technical education in our school system since they currently exist. We need to know which programs are relevant and interesting to our students based on their ability and preferences before making this decision.

6) The SBoE is responsible for approving the District's state accountability plan under Title I of the ESEA (aka No Child Left Behind). Are you familiar with the requirements of the accountability plan? If so, would you approve the District's current plan? If not, what would you change?

Yes, I am familiar with the District’s state accountability plan under Title 1 of the ESEA. As an educator, I have unique insight on the regulations and do not support the requirements under NCLB’s very narrow approach to accountability. There is too much emphasis on standardized test scores; this overemphasis can cause further barriers to educational opportunity. Under the current plan, I would agree with the Civil Rights Leaders (2011) and suggest a recalibration and reauthorization of the ESEA where there is a revision of the law’s accountability structure. Thus permitting “tailored improvements to the unique needs of individual schools, where preserving the necessary federal accountability.”

A recalibration and reauthorization would:
♦ Raise the achievement and graduation rates of low-performing subgroups of students and remove barriers to learning that threaten their potential.
♦ Provide targeted tailored intervention options.
♦ Eliminate “achievement gaps” based upon test scores.

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