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League of Women Voters forum: Ojai Unified School District Candidates Areas 2 & 4

Austin Widger, Ojai Valley News reporter
Four candidates for the two Ojai Unified School District board seats spoke at a virtual League of Women Voters Ventura County forum Tuesday.
Rebecca Chandler and Jeffrey Starkweather are running for office in trustee Area 2, while Shelly Griffen and Chiany Dri are running for office in trustee Area 4.
The four were first asked about their goals.
Starkweather said: “It needs to be more collaboration with the city. For an example, this aquatic center, in order to really make it work, the city and the schools need to work together.”
Chandler said she wants to increase grants, as well as focus on education in the environment and the arts. “It is very much on my priority list to make sure that we are spending taxpayers’ money appropriately and correctly,” Chandler said. “I would continue to bring in industry partners to support our kids and show them the opportunities that exist in our town.”
Dri said: “I’m really thinking about support systems for underserved and underrepresented populations for homeless students, foster youth and thinking about support for educators around these issues as well. Trauma-informed training, cultural competency training, ethnic studies as a high school graduation requirement.”
Griffen said: “I think it’s really important that we have robust conversations about how to bring in revenue to our district. I think it’s really important that we support Measure K and in order to bring maintenance costs down in our district so that we can spend that money in our classrooms.”
The candidates were then asked how they would address the issue of declining enrollment and attract more families to the district.
Chandler said: “I’m going to avoid the word magnet schools because that detracts from equity. I’m a big firm believer that all schools need to improve. So how do we improve our schools? We start with making sure our teachers, like everybody, is getting professional development. I know that the school district right now has a very aggressive professional development initiative that they’ve moved forward.”
Griffen said she is proud of the district’s work with Summit School, which “has brought in over 100 students into the district.”
Griffen said: “I am really proud to have brought that (Measure K) to the ballot this November because it is very much needed. We can have the greatest programs, but if any family walks into a classroom where ceiling tiles are falling down, they’re not going to see the program. They’re going to see facilities.”
Starkweather said: “The other is to look at what kind of programs do parents want. I think we need a communitywide effort involving our arts and environmental community and everybody to come together and say, what strategies would we want to incorporate? What kinds of programs would attract students?”
Dri said: “A community-centered approach is really important to me. I feel really strongly about bringing community in before bringing other solutions to the table. We want to listen to our community. In fact, we had our community kind of rally around Meiners Oaks School not that long ago. That, I think, brought this conversation about how important it is to talk and listen to community and their needs and what they’re asking for from our schools.”
One of the final questions posed to the candidates was how students could recover from what they lost with the pandemic closure.
Chandler said: “We’re working very diligently to make sure that we have online tutoring, so our students don’t experience additional loss and they have somebody to reach out to if they need be. This has been I would say the hardest and greatest challenge in education in modern history. So I do applaud our people working really hard to make all of this happen.”
Starkweather said: “I think there needs to be a really close look at kids who are struggling when they get back with the two counselors, and maybe think about using students like college students that are home. Maybe they could come in and help tutor some of these kids, or maybe even some of our high school kids.”
Dri said: “Certainly when I talk about trauma-informed training for educators, and trauma-informed care for students, that is going to be incredibly important. There are going to be a lot of students traumatized by the experience of social distancing, by the experience of maybe having a parent who had contracted the virus, or even maybe getting sick themselves.”
Griffen said: “I also think it’s really important that we offer flexibility for our families. Not all families are ready to come back. Not all teachers are ready to come back, for varying reasons. So we have created flexible opportunities for those families who are not ready to be on campus.”

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