SCHOOL BOARD: Scott McVarish Interviews Kathy Paspalis
August 27, 2015
Scott: Kathy Paspalis has been on our school board for 5 ½ years. She has two kids who
SCHOOL BOARD RELATIONS
Scott: Things seem to be going really well in the district and on the board. That hasn’t always been the case but I feel the board is really working well together right now. What’s going right with the board right now?
Kathy: There aren’t a lot of personalities who are more concerned with their next office, or with union politics, or other types of politics. We’ve got five people who are solidly focused on the kids and I think that that’s an important difference. We all are working together well. We worked together to get the bond passed and now we’re working together to make sure that the priorities that were set in the needs assessment and master facilities plan can be achieved.
Scott: I went to the July 2015 Bond Facilities meeting but didn’t hear much about the priorities, How would you like to see the bond money spent and what are your top priorities? Because, obviously, not everything can be fixed.
Kathy: Yes, that’s correct. The master facilities plan indicated we have $165 million in needs. The bond was for $106 million. We may be able to leverage Prop 39 money among other sources, but generally speaking, we know that the $165 million in needs will grow. We’re going to have to make some decisions about where exactly will or won’t get done.
My priority is to start with health and safety. That ensures that learning can happen. Since I started on the board I’ve been looking at the big things that need to be fixed; the albatross formerly known as the Natatorium; the Frost auditorium really needs an upgrade as did the athletic facilities. We’ve already started a lot of that. We added solar which has been a great savings on our electricity bill. Beyond that basics like the bathrooms really need to get fixed, especially at the middle school/high school complex. There’s no reason why a kid should have to wait until they go home to do their business and yet they do. If you’re a councilmember, you always hear about the potholes and the sidewalk cracks. The bathrooms are the school board equivalent to that.
Scott: And the drinking fountains.
Kathy: Yes, and we’ve taken care of those. There are really nice new hydration stations where you can refill your reusable bottles, so it’s great. The bathrooms would be next. Some of it is just basic kind of infrastructure. New windows will mean better retention of heat in the winter and coolness in the summer. After that we put in an air filtration system at El Marino. It’s the soup to nuts. Then we can take a look at what kinds of 21st century classroom technology, science labs, upgrades and fixes we need. There seems to be a pretty good consensus around science labs. The frost auditorium is already in progress. The master plan covers the whole gamut.
Scott: What are some of the things we can do to improve the learning environment — or better said, the teaching environment in the classroom. You talked about 21st-century classrooms. What could that mean?
Kathy: Some of this is really critical but it has nothing to do with the bond-- the bond iis just about the infrastructure. We need new teaching materials. We need to continue a whole lot of professional development and there’s more to be done in terms of some of the common core curriculum and some of the new math standards. The bonds money can help us with more computer labs, the regional occupational program, career path classrooms, whether that’s digital photography or upgrading the culinary lab classroom.
We just signed off on 50 to 100 more computers. We’re constantly ordering more computers to replace old ones or to add to the pool of available computers. The new testing’s all on computers so there has to be a way for an entire class to sit down at the same time and take these tests. We’ve invested in that somewhat, including staffing it. We really did not have the IT staff that we should have had and we’re well on our way to getting there. So that’s critical. I don’t think you ever stop doing that.
LANGUAGE IMMERSION AT THE SECONDARY SCHOOLS
Scott: That raises a good issue about staffing. You can’t have laboratories whether they be science or culinary without the proper staff. The same is true with the language program. Kids start at La Ballona and El Marino learning Spanish, or Japanese at El Marino. First it was just elementary. Then you pushed really hard to expand it to the middle school. It now stops at eighth grade. I’ve heard you ask the question “what god is an eighth grade fluency?”
Kathy: My old mantra was, “What good is fifth grade fluency in any language?” And my new mantra became, “What good is eighth grade fluency in any language?” So we keep working on improving the program. It is a staffing issue and it’s also a curriculum issue. We had to find a teacher with the right credential to be able to teach in Spanish and also teach the single subject of social studies. So once we found someone — and now we have two of them — we could expand that program. So staffing is one issue, curriculum is another. The other option that we opened up even before we really started that second class option again, was to have the zero period at 7:15 am when they take P.E.. And that was opened up not just to immersion kids, but any kid who was in a particular kind of program or they wanted to take basically what appears on a schedule as two electives, so that kids can do Spanish and they can do band. They can do remedial math and they can do choir. We tried to go for a period seven rather than a period zero but there are just too many afternoon activities to make that a viable option.