Let’s face it.
School board elections are not the most exciting thing in the world. In fact, unless you’re a parent with a child enrolled in a Novato school and actively involved, chances are high that you don’t care about who’s running.
These are the folks that decide what programs to spend your hard-earned money on, how to increase student achievement in an increasingly competitive world and how to keep teachers from leaving Novato Unified, something the district has struggled with over the years.
This week, Novato Patch will profile each of the candidates in an effort to educate local voters, and hopefully, reduce the yawn factor that comes to school board elections. The candidates include incumbents Shelly Scott, Derek Knell, Maria Aguila and challenger Miguel Garza.
Still with me, class? Good.
We begin with Miguel Garza, an eligibility worker for Marin County who is running for the board for the first time. Garza, 41, is originally from Texas and has served as the PTA vice president and the president of the English Learners Advisory Committee at Hamilton School. He’s also politically involved as a Marin County union shop steward and the co-chair of the Labor Management Partnership.
The father of three children has many ideas for Novato, including increasing the number of school counselors and getting more parents involved.
“Without participation-- of our parents, teachers and students-- our district will go nowhere,” he said at last week’s forum organized by School Fuel, a Novato organization that raises money for local schools.
The way to get parents involved is simple, says Garza. Just ask. Ask them to help out at the carwash fundraiser or with a mailing or whatever else they are able to do. He also wants more parents to talk to their kids about college.
“Every child, regardless of their economics, should know that they have a chance to go. Everybody should be given that opportunity,” he said.
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Students who aren’t interested in college should be exposed to more vocational training while still at school, whether it’s woodshop or mechanics, he said.
In terms of retaining teachers and principals, Garza says the district needs to get in the habit of doing an exit interview to find out why so many are fleeing the district after several years. Is it the lower pay? Is it because they feel unappreciated?
“It’s not always about the money,” he says. “It’s about opportunities…If teachers feel the support from their parents, that can entice them to stay.”
Garza also appears willing to think outside the box. At the candidate forum last week, he suggested that the board consider holding occasional meetings at school sites, especially when discussing issues relevant to that school.
“We don’t have a lot of parent participation, so we should try to get the board to go to where the people are. Is there some rule that says the board can’t go to alternate sites?”
Asked about how to address the needs of English Language Learners, Garza says the district needs to decide whether this is a priority for its schools. If so, there are things that can be done such as spending additional time teaching non-native speakers more vocabulary to help them catch up to their peers. He says that this is already resulting in higher standardized test results at some schools.
Wednesday Candidate Spotlight: Shelly Scott