Ralph Mechur is running for school board. The following answers were submitted in response to questions from the Daily Press.

Name: Ralph Mechur

Age: 64

Occupation: Architect

Neighborhood of residence: Northeast Neighbors

Own/Rent: both

Marital status: Divorced

Kids: three adult children, all SAMO graduates

Political affiliation: Democrat

Schooling: B.S. in Economics, University of Pennsylvania; Masters of Architecture, UCLA

Highest degree attained: Masters of Architecture

Hobbies: Surfing, soccer, reading

Reading list: Sundance by David Fuller; Seeing is Forgetting the Thing You Just Saw: A Life of Contemporary Artist Robert Irwin by Lawrence Weschler; Cultures Built to Last: Systemic PLCs at Work by Richard Dufour and Michael Fullan

Favorite song: “When I’m 64”, the Beatles

Favorite restaurant: Veggie Grill

Would you rather spend a day at the Third Street Promenade or Santa Monica Beach? The Beach!

Do you have kids in SMMUSD?

I have three grown children. The youngest is 32. All went to Santa Monica-Malibu schools. They all live in California, from San Diego to Monterey, are employed, and are outdoor enthusiasts.

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 understand the frustration that Malibu has about being tied to a larger district. Most meetings are in Santa Monica, and few teachers, administrators or Boardmembers live in Malibu.

However, the district continues to maintain all schools in Malibu and provides a similar breadth of program in all its schools. Some Malibu parents and residents would prefer to create two districts and directly control the future of its schools despite the high achievement of Malibu students.

The goal in a separation would be to ensure that each district will have the capacity to be able to provide the same breadth and depth of programs for its students as now provided and to have the financial resources to operate and maintain the school facilities.

We need to have an in-depth review of key issues prior to moving ahead with an application to the County and State Boards of Education. We need to look at the continuation of payments on outstanding capital improvement bonds, the continuation of the existing parcel tax, the distribution of SMMUSD assets between the new districts, employee issues, future bonding capacity and above all, the impact on student achievement.

SMMUSD schools achieve at high levels when compared to other California and US schools. While each district may actually receive similar or greater funds per student than now, it still could result in a reduction in resources per student, possibly forcing a reduction in the breadth of programs offered to students.

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?

We need to have discipline practices that encourage students whose behaviors are not in keeping with district standards to reflect on their actions with trained adults and peers to better understand why their actions are not in the best interests of others and themselves.

The district is developing discipline programs that are more responsive to addressing non-conforming behavior of students. Under zero tolerance practices students were quickly suspended for many infractions regardless of the circumstances in the belief that being off campus would provide for reflection and a return to school with a renewed willingness to focus on classwork. However, being away from school is often more harmful with students feeling isolated and often falling further behind.

Progressive discipline and restorative justice programs allow for the student to remain on campus and work with teachers, counselors and peers to address issues that led to non-conforming behavior. Through communication and dialogue students can commit to being more respectful of other students, teachers and the educational process.

Certain actions still automatically require suspension and expulsion hearings per the State Ed Code, such as selling drugs on campus and brandishing a weapon.

How can Santa Monica-Malibu remain competitive with private schools such as Crossroads, St. Monica, Wildwood, New Roads, etc..?

Our public schools have consistently been competitive with local private schools. Our students have similar academic course offerings and our graduates go to the same 4-year colleges. Our music program is considered amongst the best in the country. We offer an excellent education in a culturally diverse setting that prepares our students for the larger world.

To remain competitive we will need to maintain our programs and our staff. We can only do that with a reliable financial base and effective budgeting. We need to maintain our use agreements with our cities and build on our joint-use agreements. We also need to work with the business community to provide support for innovative programs. We need to continue to develop a culture of collaboration to support all of our students and provide equity of access and opportunity.

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?

Performance-based pay requires that an unbiased and objective statistical measure can be developed to measure teaching success through student testing. I don’t believe such a measure can be developed. Teacher performance should be measured based on a menu of items, including classroom observation by administrators and peers, parent evaluations, and student achievement. The district’s collaborative teaching method allows teachers to plan together and observe each other in the classroom and provide feedback on the effectiveness of lessons and programs. Increased Professional Development, in concert with the teachers, and the use of data to assess what students are learning is leading to superior teaching and increased student achievement.

Giving tenure in the third year of teaching is not really the issue. What is important is to develop a reliable performance model that will provide for professional growth of teachers and for a path for teachers with lower growth to assess their role in education.

The recent court ruling has little relevance to SMMUSD. Our district has new and experienced teachers at every school and we are providing equity of program through the Vision for Student Success. If the court rulings are upheld we will need to adjust our contracts with teachers but I do not see any significant changes to the structure currently in place that provides similar programs and achievement throughout the district.

When remodeling a campus, what should be the top priority? Has recent construction met with community standards?

Our campuses need to provide a secure environment with integrated technology to enhance learning. Classrooms should be flexible to accommodate equipment and curricular changes and should provide for community-use during non-school hours.

Recent projects have generally met with community standards. Smaller projects have provided remodeled offices and more secure entries at most elementary campuses. Technology infrastructure has been increased at all sites. Utility improvements have been implemented where necessary.

New projects at JAMS and Lincoln Middle School are meeting the needs of students. Unfortunately, the increase in high temperature days has impacted the classrooms at Edison Elementary. This highlights a long-standing issue at many of our schools. The district needs to develop a plan to provide a comfortable classroom environments across the district. This may involve new windows, awnings, fans and solar-powered mechanical systems.

Is Common Core good for SMMUSD students?

Common Core is a standards-based curriculum that providing learning goals at each grade level that teachers must address in their classrooms. Currently standards have been released for math and language arts in California. District staff has worked diligently for the last few years helping to create the standards and in how to embed them in curriculum in our schools.

Common Core focuses on deeper understanding of important standards and less on rote memorization of facts and formulas. Students need to develop critical thinking skills in order to learn increasingly complex subject matter as they move from primary school to middle school and high school. Students need to be able to understand and to be able to express how problems are solved. Skills learned in Common Core subjects can be used in other areas as well.

In language arts, Common Core requires that a substantial amount of reading is in scientific and history texts so that students learn to understand technical work as well as expressive writings.

Common Core will provide our students with the cognitive skills to be more successful learners who will be able to consistently acquire new skills in an ever-changing world.

Does the District do enough to keep parents informed about important issues?

The district is increasing its efforts to provide information to parents and to the larger community. It is currently working with an accomplished public relations firm to create informational releases on a wide variety of issues, including student achievement, administrative hires, and results of environmental testing at our schools.

A new permanent position for a Communications and Public Relations Officer should be filled within the next 60 days. This person will work directly with the Superintendent to communicate personally and electronically with staff, parents and the larger community.

In the Digital Age it is important for the district to stay on top of communications about school issues. Our public schools are a critical component of our communities. The success of the schools directly impacts the well-being and value of the communities they are part of. Inadequate information to key groups will result in confusion about the school issues.

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?

My goal is to develop a plan to remove all building materials containing PCBs throughout the district, regardless of the level of PCBs in them.

Per the recommendations of the EPA, the district has inspected and performed best management cleaning practices at Malibu High School and Juan Cabrillo Elementary to clean and has taken wipe and air test samples in classrooms to ascertain their acceptability to house students and teachers. The EPA has preliminarily approved the District’s work resulting in classrooms that are considered safe for occupancy. Caulking in areas that have tested over the TSCA threshold will be removed before the end of the current school year.

The district has been issuing information on a regular basis since June explaining the work being performed and the results of the cleaning and testing.

With EPA approval of the Best Management Practices program work performed this summer, the District will monitor the classrooms to ensure continued safety and will develop a similar plan to inspect, clean and test in other buildings in the district built in the period when PCBs were used in building materials.

The district has spent several million dollars to ensure the safety of its students and staff at Malibu High School and Juan Cabrillo Elementary but it is not in financial jeopardy.

It will spend significant sums to review conditions at other schools. Fortunately, ES Bond funds can be spent to remove any dangerous materials that may be discovered. In past bond programs funds were used to remove asbestos and lead paint from our schools. We can abate PCBs with a common-sense plan.

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 ?

Actually, our district has a centralized fundraising program, in which school sites can raise funds for “stuff” at any level, but funds for “staff” and professional development can only be raised by the Education Foundation for use in district-wide programs. This will ensure that all students will receive the same instructional programs at all our schools.

Last year the Education Foundation raised $3.2 million, which was supplemented by $800,000 by the Board of Education, to fund the Vision for Student Success. VSS provides 30 hours per week of arts classes TK through 5th grade, trained Instructional Assistants in all elementary classrooms, Literacy Coaches at all schools, increased staff support in our secondary schools for at-risk students, Professional Development for all teachers and funding for site-generated Enrichment Programs at every school.

Centralized fundraising has resulted in closer collaboration through conversations with the Superintendent about what our educational template for all students should include and a commitment to provide parity of program and opportunity for every student.

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