Patty Finer is running for School Board. The following answers were submitted in response to questions from the Daily Press.
Name: Patty Finer
Occupation: College Admissions Consultant
Neighborhood of residence: In both Santa Monica & Malibu
Political affiliation: Independent
Schooling: USC, UCLA, Widener University (and a variety of many other schools)
Highest degree attained: JD; M.Ed. w/ certification in College Admissions Counseling
Hobbies: Music and Art
Would you rather spend a day at the Third Street Promenade or Santa Monica Beach?
Santa Monica Beach
Do you have kids in SMMUSD? No
Some residents in Malibu believe the best thing for their kids is to create a separate school district. How can the district keep Malibu in the fold or should it split? How can you ensure Malibu representation when there is no one on the board from the seaside city?
I am apart of both communities. I think that the district needs to take note and treat the schools with equal representation. I do see a start in that direction with the visual and performing arts board. I think at the end of the day, it would damage for both districts to not have each other to depend upon, it is not that big of a district.
Malibu needs to be heard and their issues have to be addressed.
What kind of discipline should be used within the district? Is zero tolerance still the right philosophy? What other methods of student discipline are effective?
I have not been directly involved in these situations, it is hard to say what should be done until you can see what the specific issues are. I know there are issues.
I don’t think Zero Tolerance is always right approach. I think counseling or other methods need to be brought into the picture. I saw when I did my internship at Santa Monica High School a few years ago, that when you took time to listen and acknowledge a student, the student’s response was different.
How can Santa Monica-Malibu remain competitive with private schools such as Crossroads, St. Monica, Wildwood, New Roads, etc.?
First, it is hard to compare a private school like St. Monica’s, Windward, Wildwood, Crossroads, etc. to SMMUSD because the students in private schools are hand-picked and fit the personality of the school whereas, public schools must accept everyone.
There are pros and cons to each side of the coin. In private schools, I think sometimes students miss out on all of the variety that a public school has to offer; but private schools will offer challenges in their school because they know that the students can handle it. All of the private schools are also college preparatory schools, so the curriculum these students are offered are based on the idea that these students are preparing to take the college or university path upon graduation. If a child is struggling, parents quickly hire tutors, consultants, or others to cope with the issues, and there is closer parent interaction and involvement.
In public schools, disciplinary actions distract from the classroom, you have students on all different levels, and the class sizes are larger by a third.
Not every student who attends a public school wants to go to college. Some want to go into the trades or other fields that may not require a 4-year college education, and obtaining a high school diploma is sufficient or advancing to a 2-year school will meet their goals. A private school cannot compete with this, nor does it want to. A public school needs to look at what its market it, and to offer the programs that will best benefit those students.
Do you believe in performance-based pay for teachers? How many years should a teacher have to work before being granted tenure? Do you agree with the recent court rulings over tenure?
I do not like what has happened to tenure. This was an accomplishment the professors, teachers, and others have enjoyed. I know where this issue started, and it was because in the private schools, teachers can be dismissed at a moment’s notice.
This is really disruptive to a student and their class. A new teacher mid-year, or mid-semester, and it one thing that the private schools sometimes do which is awful. This new way of looking at tenure is running not only from K-12, but into the community colleges and other institutions of higher education. This is a big concern to all who teach
When remodeling a campus, what should be the top priority? Has recent construction met with community standards?
I think Edison is going through some real issues with their solar energy program. It is not working out to well, and the question is what recourse the district has, if any. I think that cost, effectiveness, and blending with the environment have to be the big pointers.
Is Common Core good for SMMUSD students?
Yes. This is a program that parents, teachers, and others struggle with because there is a gap between education and technology,, but technology is here to stay, and educators can not continue to teach as they have in the past. The Common Core is just the base of this new program being introduced that will then be supplemented with technology, innovation, creativity, that will be not only teaching students but will be preparing them for the life skills they will need for the 21st jobs.
Technology is here to stay, and while most educators kill new ideas that come out in the way to teach students, this is going to be a hard one to overcome.
Does the District do enough to keep parents informed about important issues?
No, this has been a real issue for years. The level of transparency is almost zero. They tell you the good, the hide the bad. People need to be able to make informed decisions. When families are not heard, when issues are ignored, when answers are not given, people leave. One mother told me that I was too late – both she and her husband had tried to talk to the board several times, and all they can do now is transfer their daughter to a private school to meet her needs.
As a college consultant, I get families calling me when their households are falling apart and they can not find the answers they need to the college admissions process, weather is how to pick a school, why one school might be better than another, how to cope with the essays, the short answers and supplemental applications. Do I want Early Action? Should I apply for Early Decision? What is the difference? These are all questions that are asked, and answers cannot be found. There is no way to build a college application template that will serve all students, and there is no way for the school to offer every program to the level that the private sector can. There is no way that two college counselors who are responsible for 750 students can give more than a few minutes every so often to that college bound student; and so a trained private consultant can fill that gap with offering a family between 26-30 hours of concentrated and focus attention.
In the early 1990’s, the school district hung by the thread. Today, the district wants to be the one-stop- shop that does it all for you, but it can’t be that either. There has to be a balance, and district is doing a disservice to students and families if they continue to promote the idea that school is “a one size fits all” attitude.
Are schools in Malibu safe? If not, what should be done to improve the situation? If so, what should the district do to communicate that message to parents? Is the district in financial jeopardy due to the situation in Malibu?
No. Malibu is not safe. It is not safe when the PCB reading is 7000 x higher than normal.
There needs to be more transparency with the school board and the communities it serves. The message to families has to be “We hear you! We are standing by you to resolve this issue and clean it up” – instead it hides and does not answer questions.
Is the district in financial jeopardy? No, I don’t think so, the people of Malibu want to have the district acknowledge this program, and promote the idea that all schools across the country need to be looked at.
Last September, when I tried to help, I was totally ignored. Not one word was said. I was later told things were being taken care, as my concern then was that this issue could become bigger, and I had been exposed to these issues before. The board would tell me it was an “on-going issue.”
Since September, the issue has grown from four teachers down with thyroid cancer to 14 more teachers and staff ill, and now four alumni diagnosed with thyroid cancer from the class of 2003.
It does not matter if the districts split, the damage is done, and the exposure is there! The district is going to have to take responsibility; there is no way out of it. I expect to see the cases increase now; the same as I did last September. The questions are not if the district is in jeopardy, the question should be how much exposure is there, and how to we address it. What do we think the final outcome will be, and it probably is pre-mature to say?
What I don’t think people are aware of is that the same PCB issues exist in two Santa Monica Schools also. While I had heard rumors, and the two schools were not stated, Oscar De La Torre confirmed those rumors at a town hall meeting last month, saying that yes, he knows there are two schools with PSB issues in Santa Monica. My feeling is all schools need to be tested, and then let’s go from there. Each test cost only $60.
If I get on this board, Malibu is one of the issues I want to look at, the will include looking at the conflict of interest the board has with its legal representation. This has to be done. We have to do what is right, not what is easy! All these great programs and all these new building will mean very little if our students and teachers are all sick or dying.
Does SMMUSD have the correct plan for funding schools? Is centralized funding working? Should the program be revised? How has local control funding changed the status quo?
First, there have been changes this year in what and what not PTAs can and cannot do. Patti Braun, last year, explained the VAPA-DAC group how the new program would work, and it is yet to see how it works. The new formula is in place; and PTAs can no longer pay for programs.
I know the district is always looking for new people to donate to the programs such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation or the Annenberg Foundation. The Educational Foundation is always looking at new ways to fund projects. I also have some ideas of my own.
I actually do like the new funding system because I think it will even out the playing field. The Visual and Performing Arts Advisory Board often has the pleasure of meeting and hearing many organizations that support the school’s programs, who want to participate, and have shared their new concerns how this year will proceed without the PTA paying for programs.