Patch asked Denise Elsken, an incumbent Martinez Unified School District board member, to name the most important issues facing the schools. Here is her response, in her own words:
I believe the three most critical issues we will face in the coming term will be maintaining a quality educational program and preserving as many days of school for students as possible in the event the November tax measure fails. During the last eight of my 13 years on the board, our district has been forced to make cuts to our budget due to reduced state funding. Although we have tried our hardest to make those cuts to least affect our students and staff, this has been impossible in the last few years as we continue to be forced to absorb massive cuts to our budget and provide an increasing list of services that are not education related and are never adequately funded.
If the tax measure fails in November, it will be devastating to our schools. However, even if it passes, it will be critical to our district to continue to explore ways to deliver an excellent educational program on shoestring funding from the state. It is only through the generosity of our community and having employees who put kids first that we have been able to maintain the highest quality in our educational program.
These are two of the main reasons that I wish to continue to serve in this awesome community and school district.
The second most critical issue is to continue to use new teaching strategies and tools to fully engage all of our students, and to offer classes and programs that enable our students to be successful graduates, whether that means going to college, a trade school or straight into the workforce. It is important to realize that, for many reasons, not all students are destined for college, and we need to do a better job of preparing those students to enter the workforce instead of being lost upon graduation.
In the same fashion, we also need to provide college-bound students with more advanced placement classes to enable them to be competitive for admission to the country's top colleges and universities. Because technology is a normal part of life for students today, and sometimes makes them tune out to the traditional stand-and-deliver method in the classroom, it is important for us to take advantage of technology in and out of our classrooms to accomplish these goals. Education is no longer confined by classroom walls, nor does it need to happen at one pace for students of varying ability levels. We are now coming to a time where we can truly attempt to tailor a student's education to that student's ability, while engaging the student in areas that interest them. I believe this is an exciting time in education and one that will change the face of education dramatically. The staff at each of our schools have been exceptionally receptive and eager to use the new technological tools to excite and engage our students. We are very fortunate here in Martinez to have a staff who is willing to learn and try new things and who always strive to make their classrooms or work stations conducive to a fun and engaging educational experience. I am always thankful that I serve in a district where everyone constantly works to make things better for kids and to have parents and a community that supports these efforts in every way possible!
Lastly, if the citizens of Martinez choose to allow me another four years on the board, I believe I owe them my time, energy and commitment to assure that the bond and parcel tax monies they have so generously provided to support our schools are used in a fiscally sound manner to best support the needs of all of our schools and students. Many parents, community members, staff members and others served on committees for countless hours to assist the board in determining the projects that would best meet our student's needs without overburdening our taxpayers during this tough economic time. With that assistance, the board toured our facilities and then reviewed, discussed and ultimately approved an extensive and thorough list of projects and their estimated cost, which list was then published for our voters to see. I believe in valuing the time put in by those devoted community members, as well as honoring the commitments made to the taxpayers when they entrusted us with the bond funds. There will obviously need to be some slight variances as we move forward and actual costs are known.
However, if re-elected, I will continue to vote to adhere to the project list as closely as possible unless dire circumstances arise that were not foreseen when the project list was approved. The commitment I made to the taxpayers is not something I take lightly.
There are, of course, many other areas that we will need to focus on in the coming years and I hope the voters of Martinez will allow me to continue my thirteen year commitment of putting kids first!