Excellence | Well-Being | Equity | Supporting our Staff | Partnering with Families
As a board member, my focus is on ensuring Orange County Schools becomes a place where:
Every student gets what they need to excel academically and thrive personally
Every teacher and staff member experiences a positive, supportive, collaborative workplace
Every family is embraced as a real partner in their children's education
Every student learns at high levels
We all want our children to have a life of options when they graduate high school - whether that's going to college or getting a meaningful, good-paying job. Despite the hard work of our talented educators, too few of our students are excelling at the level we know is possible. As we move out of the pandemic, more students than ever need extra support to catch up and succeed academically.
As a board member and chair of the Student Achievement committee, I’ve stayed focused on what students are learning, and how we continuously improve. I’ve advocated for strategies that are proven to work in growing student learning, like investing in high-dosage tutoring and shifting how we teach children to read. I’ve pushed us to learn from successes in other districts and our own. Multiple improvements are being put into place across the district to ensure that every student is given what they need to succeed. A couple of examples underway right now: 1) Improving reading instruction by shifting to the Science of Reading - including introducing more effective teaching materials and giving teachers professional development and coaching on practices that work. 2) "Getting better at getting better" - Karin Chenoweth, who studies schools and districts that have had extraordinary success, says that the most powerful question in education is: “Your kids are doing better than mine. What are you doing?” Our principals are deepening their focus on school improvement - helping their schools get better over time by learning from what's working and what isn't.
Every student belongs and is well
You’ve got to be OK in order to learn. A student’s sense of belonging, and the strength of the relationships they have with others, have a big impact on their overall well-being. We also know that our students are experiencing increased emotional and mental health challenges that make it harder to be successful in school.
Over the past four years I’ve been a strong advocate for creating school environments where all students feel they belong and are cared for, and for increasing our supports to meet students’ needs, such as adding more school counselors and social workers and securing mental health support that students can access during the school day. For the first time, we've also started measuring how students are doing on a regular basis, which helps schools know what they need. For example, in the most recent survey only 1 in 4 students in grades 6-12 reported feeling a strong level of connection to adults at their school. Knowledge is power; armed with this information, schools can take action to meet students' needs.
We've also taken steps in the past few years to make school more inclusive for all. In response to what we were hearing from students and their families, we created new gender support guidelines to address the needs of transgender and non-binary students and staff, and we modernized the dress code to use gender-neutral language, affirm natural hairstyles (the Crown Act), and remove subjective language ("provocative," etc.) which can disproportionately cause girls, and Black girls in particular, to be disciplined for dress code violations.
Every student gets what they need to succeed
Today in Orange County Schools, your shot at graduating prepared for success in life can largely be predicted by your race and family income. And for many years, that gap has been bigger in OCS than in most districts in the state. That's morally unacceptable - but I know it’s something we can change together. If you’ve been curious about the district’s increased focus on “equity,” please listen to the voices of OCS students and teachers explaining what this means to them.
As a board member, I've been a consistent voice for equity. The district has come a long way in the last few years in terms of acknowledging the persistent inequities that exist - particularly for Black and Latino students, low-income students, and students with disabilities - and has deepened its commitment to do something about it. There is so much progress to make to change student experiences and outcomes, but in the past four years we have laid substantial groundwork to make progress possible. We have: passed one of the first equity policies in the state; hired a chief equity officer and a superintendent committed to equity; established equity teams in each school; embedded specific equity priorities in the district's new strategic plan; and begun to provide professional development so staff can grow their skills.
SUPPORTING OUR STAFF
Staff feel supported, collaborate, and thrive
We've got to take care of our people. The biggest progress in education happens when a dedicated team of educators work together in their schools to make continuous improvements for a sustained period of time. But we face challenges: The pandemic has made it incredibly difficult for staff to have the space to collaborate in these ways, and has exhausted everyone. Turnover has increased as people leave the profession and more districts compete for fewer teachers. To keep and attract great teachers, we need to make sure that OCS is a great place to work - a place where teachers work together towards inspiring goals in a positive and supportive climate. We need to respect and compensate educators and staff and give them space to collaborate and learn from each other.
As a board member, I've been a strong supporter of providing more resources and support for our teachers and staff - for example, adding math and literacy coaches to help teachers hone their practice in these areas, and increasing the substitute pool so teachers don't have to lose their planning periods to cover for absent teachers. I’ve advocated for reinstating teacher and staff advisory groups and increasing their involvement in making district decisions, because their voice and expertise is essential. We passed a new policy to support breastfeeding staff members and ensure space is available at school. To keep workplaces safe during COVID, I helped to secure HEPA filtration and N95 masks, and advocated for increasing mental health supports for staff.
PARTNERING WITH FAMILIES
Schools and families work together for student success
The school-family partnership can have a huge impact on learning. All families want their children to succeed in school, but most of us could use more help to figure out the best way to help at home! Knowing how to best help your child is even more difficult if you face challenges like language barriers or long work shifts. One big opportunity in front of us is getting really good at family communications and family involvement. We've made some important improvements - but there is still so much work ahead.
Family Communication: The need for frequent, district-wide updates during COVID have made streamlined communication especially hard to do - but as we look ahead, I am excited for messages to be simplified. (As a parent, I understand the need for messages to be clear and simple.) This fall we introduced text messaging for important, time-sensitive updates. I'm also proud of the improvements for families whose first language is not English: each school now has a family liaison who is bilingual; more school front offices have staff who speak Spanish; we've increased access to interpretation and translation services.
Family Involvement: As a parent, I'm best able to help my children when I know specifics: What are they expected to learn in this grade/this class? Which specific math skills, for example, do they not understand yet? When we share this information with families, and give them specific ways to help, students learn more. As a board member I've advocated for sharing this information with families. Right now practices vary across the district, but there are examples we can learn from to better activate families in student learning. In the coming years, there's big opportunity to partner with families to give each student what they need.