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Forum or Town Hall? At Castro School, Parents Talk, Candidates Listen

In a candidate forum aimed to reach the Spanish speaking parents of the Mountain View Whisman School District, the candidates did more listening than talking.

The goal was to have the candidates for the Mountain View Whisman School District board of trustees engage with the Latino community.

But the majority of Latino parents were at a workshop made possible by the Community Action Team to strengthen their partnerships with the schools.

So instead what was supposed to be the first Spanish-speaking candidate forum turned into a town hall at the Mariano Castro Elementary School on Tuesday, Oct. 23 with the parents directly letting the candidates know what they wanted and expected from their new trustees.

"How will you support the Dual Immersion program at district level? Another concern is nutrition because even if it’s better now, it doesn’t seem to be the healthiest of foods. Also, what will you do to increase sustainability in the schools?" Julie Muir asked of the five candidates.

Jim Pollart, Peter Darrah, Bill Lambert, Steven Nelson and Chris Chiang sat at the front table of the general meeting room and intently listened to parent after parent complain about what they felt were the shortcomings of the current school board—lack of outreach to parents of the 46 percent Latino students in the district, the sugary and fattening foods served at school, and the concern that effective programs weren't being passionately supported.

"The message I’m getting from this crowd is what I’ve observed," said Pollart about his impressions from current trustee board meetings. "We haven’t been good at communicating with the community. Safe to say that it will be a priority for whomever gets elected."

Some interesting suggestions arose from the candidates. Chiang acknowledged that the district might be constrained by federal guidelines when it came to school nutrition, but "if we invest in it we can offer better options," he felt.

Regarding the non-nutritious snacks student got from street vendors, Chiang raised the possibility of helping street vendors get microgrants that could help them offer better options to the kids outside of school.

"They are trying to make a living," he said. "They are part of the community too."

Candidate Nelson replied that since the MVWSD is one of the current food vendors' biggest client, so the district should require them to meet certain expectations.

"We have a lot of influence," he said. "The board can develop a policy and require the vendor to come to each school and develop a survey and talk to parents."

Candidates like Lambert and Darrah emphasized the importance of the parents decision on November 6—because the school board told the superintendent what to do and the superintendent then managed the schools, their principals and the teachers. Lambert specifically wondered how the communication between the district and the staff at city hall could increase.

Generally the communication between the district and the parents appeared to be lacking, according to the parents.

"I don’t feel that we’ve been supported by the district," said Randi Ross, co-chair od the Dual Immersion language program at Castro. She added that they feel the program has made the district proud with it's engaged parent community participation in the walkathon and successful fundraising and high API scores.

"I don’t feel we have the emotional support by the board or the district office which I have to interface with office," she said.

Lambert expressed that the Dual Immersion program exemplified the power of choice because when parent got involved the kids did better.

"The challenge is to get that school-wide so that all the parent’s are engaged," he said.

Nelson said he wanted to bring it to Crittenden Middle School, since it's already at Graham Middle School and then work with the high schools so that it's a natural part of their language program.

Community activist Marilu Delgado also reminded the candidates that some parents can’t get to the district meetings because of late work hours or lack of transportation. "Why not roving board meetings?" she asked.

Addressing the complex issues of an economically and ethnically diverse school district will be as much of a challenge to a new slate of trustees as it has been to the current one. But one thing remained clear—the parents at the Castro school care about their school and they let the candidates know.

"This was great. There was much more feedback at this meeting," said Chiang. "At the League of Women Voters forum you got questions, but you couldn't get a pulse of the community. Here you could."

 

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susan ferry October 27, 2012 at 07:26 PM
How can I help my Spanish speaking neighbors learn about voting and registered. I think they care, but are not sure how to go about it. Also, my kids want to have an election too. They know they can't really vote, but they are really into it and want to participate somehow.

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