Three seats on the Del Norte County Unified School District Board of Trustees are up for election this year. Only two are being contested.

Incumbents Angela Greenough and Jamie Forkner each face a challenger.

Greenough, who represents Del Norte County Supervisor District 2, is being challenged by Vidi “Kris” Casas.

Forkner, who represents Supervisor District 5, is being challenged by Janet Wortman.

Though the candidates represent different districts, Del Norte voters countywide will be cast their ballot for both district school board representatives.

Don McArthur, candidate for District 1, is running unopposed.

The Triplicate sent questions to all candidates and asked for written responses. Their responses follow:

Vidi “Kris” Casas

Following the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, several local students expressed their concerns about safety at their schools. What are your thoughts on the safety of Del Norte County schools? What more do you think the school district can do to ensure student safety?

The school safety of Del Norte County schools is my top priority.

The 2018-2019 LCAP reported “Baseline findings from 2016-17 DNCUSD Student/Parent/Staff School Climate survey showed that 58 percent of parents and 71 percent of staff felt our schools had a positive climate. This declined to 48 percent.” This is unacceptable.

Ensuring student safety across the district is a complex issue and there are many facets that need to be addressed. The social-emotional needs of our 3,694 students must be a priority, as well as improving the physical conditions of our 11 schools.

It’s disheartening that discussions concerning the safety of our schools typically only appear after a major safety crisis, and they are not kept ongoing. The district already has the framework in place to address the issue — social/emotional curriculums, positive school climate interventions, comprehensive safety plans. What the district does not have is enough mental health professionals to support the needs of our students and teachers and implementation of existing resources, or resources devoted to ensuring that all school employees have a working knowledge of their school site’s safety plan.

If our students’ basic human need to feel safe and secure is not being met, they will not be available for learning, which in turn affects attendance and academic performance, which then affects funding. If our school district wants to maintain an effective operating budget, school safety needs to be addressed at every single board meeting.

What are your thoughts on the current Sister School relationship with Del Norte High School and Takata High School? What more do you think the school district could do to further that relationship?

The Sister School relationship between Del Norte High School and Takata High School has unlimited potential to provide our youth with life-changing opportunities to explore the world outside Crescent City.

Listening to the youth who have participated in Sister School events describe their experiences and express their optimism because of the Sister School relationship, from fundraising bake sales to book readings with local elementary students to making the 4,600-plus mile journey across the Pacific to visit Rikuzentakata, inspires our community to continue to support and expand their educational and cultural exchanges.

I think continued support from the district for the Sister School program would be beneficial to our youth as they prepare for adulthood and explore and create meaningful connections with communities outside of Del Norte County. The opportunity and potential for expanded learning is endless and would serve as a catalyst for guiding our youth in seeking out creative and innovative ways of achieving their goals.

The most recent trip by or elected officials demonstrated how much we could learn from our Sister City about the economic potential of our Pacific shoreline. Having FFA students learn a variety of aquaculture opportunities could benefit our whole community through new business enterprises. The unlimited potential of internet connections means students at Del Norte and Takata High Schools could learn together, whether they help each other with conversational English and Japanese, or demonstrate aquaculture techniques.

Recently local schools have been struggling in several areas. Test scores have been low for the last three years or so and recently the district has hired a consultant to find out why certain students aren’t succeeding and what needs to be fixed. Why do you think certain student populations aren’t succeeding and what should the district’s role be in helping them succeed?

I believe that many students aren’t succeeding because they are in survival mode.

Del Norte County has one of the highest poverty rates among counties in California, and even though Del Norte County does not have an individual Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) score, it can be reasonably estimated to be similarly as high as neighboring Humboldt and Mendocino counties.

When families are struggling to meet their basic human needs of shelter, food, health, and safety, things like education and academics are more likely to be on the low end of priorities. If students are tired, hungry, or not feeling well, they are not going to be available for learning, ultimately resulting in lower attendance rates and test scores.

The district has done an exceptional job of ensuring that our students have access to quality food throughout the school day and into the after-school program hours, as well as expansion during the summer months to provide breakfast and lunch to all community youth through the age of 18. The district also maintains ongoing partnerships with local community agencies that are vital to supporting our students and their families working through adverse childhood experiences and building resiliency.

From my perspective, that leaves the basic human needs of safety and security that still need to be addressed, which goes back to providing our students and teachers with additional support from mental health professionals. I believe outcomes for all stakeholders will be improved when we address and prioritize school safety, and we create safe and positive learning environments, where students and their families feel welcomed and valued, and can develop meaningful connections with their school communities.

Even though you come from different candidate districts you will represent the entire county if you are elected, have you researched issues that affect students districtwide and which ones would you like the school board to address if you are elected?

If I am elected to the DNUSD School Board, I am committed to 1) ensuring our students feel safe and valued, and helping them achieve academic success, 2) supporting our parents and families in developing meaningful connections with their school communities, and 3) supporting our teachers and support staff in creating safe and positive learning environments where every student has the opportunity to develop their full potential.

I believe many of the issues that affect students districtwide can be addressed by investing in class size reduction, increasing access to mental health professionals, and creating a parent/family liaison at each school site who is dedicated to parent engagement and would be readily available to provide immediate support and intervention when needed.

Having worked as the after school program coordinator at Bess Maxwell Elementary from the 2012-2013 school year to the 2015-2016 school year, I was fortunate to be able to participate in a wide variety of districtwide activities, including our local After School Network workgroup, the school site Positive Behavioral Intervention and Support (PBIS) team, the School Site Council, and the District Parent Advisory Committee.

I have been an active participant in, and am the current president of, Bess Maxwell’s Parent Teacher Student Organization. Through my experiences, I feel that I have developed a solid understanding of the diverse needs that affect our students throughout the district, as well as the top priorities that unify our district.

I am also familiar with the stakeholder priorities that were identified through the District Office’s stakeholder engagement activities and presented to the school board at the May 10 board meeting, as well as the priorities that students and families have expressed in various local community outreach forums.

For the past few years the school district has stated that parent engagement continues to be one of its priorities, what are your thoughts on how the district has gone about getting parents more involved and what more do you think it can do?

I think the district’s efforts to engage parents have come across as an afterthought.

While performance goals may be well-planned and good-intentioned, there generally aren’t enough days in the school year to accomplish every action plan item. The quick thing to do is create an online survey and call it good, or recruit parents that are more likely to participate in surveys or focus groups. I don’t believe that provides an accurate representation of our students and their families.

Parent engagement in Del Norte County is hard. Many of our families are in survival mode and have little to no extra time. If the district is going to compete for a struggling family’s precious time, they are going to have to demonstrate that families are welcomed and valued. This is best done through relationship building.

I feel that the district is in a position where they should take the lead and commit to a monthly “town hall meeting” that is highly publicized and can rotate across our different school communities. Additionally, the board itself should consider other ways they can be open to parent engagement, such as hosting at least one meeting at every school site every year, having an honorary parent representative from each school site, and inviting parent teacher student organizations to present at board meetings.

These types of commitments may begin to bridge the gap between families and their school communities.

Janet Wortman

Following the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, several local students expressed their concerns about safety at their schools. What are your thoughts on the safety of Del Norte County schools? What more do you think the school district can do to ensure student safety?

It is important that our students feel safe at school. Students also need to feel nurtured and welcomed as a crucial part of our community. Having all students feel safe and valued is a critical responsibility of our schools, from the board of trustees to each employee in the district.

There are concrete steps we can take to secure our schools. Certainly limiting entrances to school buildings would be a quick fix and would limit outside people from entering our schools. Having armed guards at the schools could limit destruction to lives, but having people with guns in our school seems to be counter-intuitive to providing a loving and caring environment.

According to the US Census, in Del Norte County, 21.7 percent of our population live below the poverty level. Our children are exposed to violence in their neighborhoods and sometimes, in their homes. It is important and imperative that our schools are a caring and loving place for our children or learning will not happen.

This is the time for new leadership on the school board. Leadership that will support the Positive Behavioral Intervention and Supports (PBIS), which helps students resolve conflicts, support each other, and build their resilience. The board needs to lead this work and make sure all schools are fully using this curriculum. The PBIS goal is to “to build systems capacity for implementing a multi-tiered approach to social, emotional and behavior support.”

Fully supporting PBIS is critical to building safe schools.

What are your thoughts on the current sister school relationship with Del Norte High School and Takata High School? What more do you think the school district could do to further that relationship?

The Sister School relationship between Del Norte High School and Takata High School in Japan is a beautiful example of what happens when young people lead the way.

Traveling and learning about other cultures helps students understand other cultures. Learning from and being able to delight in “what is different” in other people increases our children’s awareness of our amazing world.

It is wonderful that our children have been able to travel to Japan and to see a town, not unlike our own, that has gone through a series of catastrophes and building a future! The resilience of the Japanese people following their devastating tsunami is a good lesson for us all.

Part of the benefits of travel is the value of learning more than one language. Research has shown that dual language learners gain overall learning benefits from being bi-lingual. The Sister School relationship could open doors to Japanese language learning for our students through online interactions.

But the value of learning other languages and cultures doesn’t require a trip across the Pacific for Del Norte students. In our own community, there are people speaking Tolowa, Yurok, Hmong, and Spanish. Each time our children are exposed to new cultures, new languages, and new ways of seeing the world, their world gets bigger and better.

I love the new book, “Del Norte in Five Languages.” I am proud to see our schools acknowledge and honor the diversity in our county, and I was delighted to be able to present two of the books to the Yurok Tribal Council. Creating more linkages with our Sister School in Japan is a wonderful opportunity for our students. It may also serve as a reminder to celebrate the languages and cultures that have been in Del Norte since time immemorial.

Recently local schools have been struggling in several areas. Test scores have been low for the last three years or so and recently the district has hired a consultant to find out why certain students aren’t succeeding and what needs to be fixed. Why do you think certain student populations aren’t succeeding and what should the district’s role be in helping them succeed?

Behind every successful community is a successful school district — and it takes an entire community to make a successful school district. This is exactly why I am running for School Board. Every student matters. For every struggling student, there is a strain on the teachers and staff, as well as the student and their family. We must do better.

I believe it is the school board’s job to provide a supportive and enriching environment for the teachers and classified staff so they can succeed in their jobs. By supporting the administration and staff through policy, as well as setting the tone for the district in how we care about and for our staff, we will allow teachers and classified staff to be more successful in their jobs.

There are many different reasons for students not succeeding. They vary from school to school, in part because of unequal resources.

I believe School Board members should each “champion” a school or two and dive deep into the day-to-day realities to understand what is going on in each of our schools and what those teachers and those students need to be successful. I have spent a lot of time at my neighborhood school, Margaret Keating, and know, for example, that its library is under-resourced, which makes it harder to excite students about reading.

But this isn’t only the school board’s job. Raising and teaching children is the community’s job. The school board should open the doors to more volunteers in the schools, inviting (properly screened) parents and community members into classrooms to read with children or into the school hallways to remove graffiti and clean up broken lockers.

Even though you come from different candidate districts you will represent the entire county if you are elected, have you researched issues that affect students districtwide and which ones would you like the school board to address if you are elected?

While I am a resident of District 5, I care about students throughout Del Norte County.

On a personal level, I have grandchildren at Joe Hamilton and Crescent Elk. I will have grandbabies at Gasquet Mountain School in a few years. All of my grandchildren will eventually attend Del Norte High School. When they get there, their success will not just depend on their own skills and knowledge, but on the skills, knowledge, expectations, and behavior of other students in their classes and the expectations the schools have for our children.

As a local business owner, I know that our county’s economy depends on children from all over the county leaving school prepared for life. Our children are our community’s future employees, business owners, and entrepreneurs.

If we want our county to be prosperous and a great place to live, we must invest in our children’s education from the day they are born to make sure every single child reaches his or her full potential.

Too many of our children graduate high school without the necessary A-G requirements for attending public universities in California. The school board has to do a better job of providing students with school and career guidance so that any student who wants to go to a state school has the minimum requirements for acceptance.

All schools have to be successful for the district to be successful. It’s not good enough to focus on improving just one or a few of our schools.

But I know there is inequity in our current school system, and I believe it is the school board’s job to make sure all students have equal opportunity for learning, no matter what school they attend.

For the past few years the school district has stated that parent engagement continues to be one of its priorities, what are your thoughts on how the district has gone about getting parents more involved and what more do you think it can do?

I believe family engagement — and community engagement — is crucial for the success of our students, our schools, and our county.

If you’ve ever attended a grade school basketball game or the county-wide music program, you’ve seen rooms full of parents, grandparents, aunts, and uncles who care deeply about their children and love to see them succeed.

But too many families don’t feel welcome at the schools except during these kinds of special events. Parents don’t know how to engage in making the schools better or have felt unwelcome when they tried.

Our schools should work through the site councils and principals to open up each school to real family engagement and community volunteers. And our site councils should be better trained and supported so that they feel less like they are rubber stamping district plans, and are actually innovating and supporting community dreams.

One of the best ways to engage families is to support them in being part of their child’s learning from the very beginning. Parents are the first teachers. The community-wide 3Read23 campaign can help parents learn how to support early learning — and continue to be involved in their child’s learning throughout their school experience. Family engagement is not just about schools — it’s about parents reading with their children, understanding what they are doing in schools, and having a real dialog with their children’s teachers.

The school board can help make this happen by setting a welcoming tone for parents at their meetings, by being available to talk with parents at school events, and by passing policies that make it easier for parents to be part of their child’s education.

Jamie Forkner

Following the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, several local students expressed their concerns about safety at their schools. What are your thoughts on the safety of Del Norte County schools? What more do you think the school district can do to ensure student safety?

In this day and age every student, parent, staff member, and community member must stay vigilant and immediately report to school administration and local authorities any suspicious activity at our school sites including any posting on social media, as we continue to keep Del Norte schools safe.

I assure you, each and every threat is thoroughly investigated and taken very seriously by district staff and supported by law enforcement. I completely understand the community’s concern in these rare occasions about the perceived lack of details given out by the district and local law enforcement; however, they usually involve minors and ongoing investigations. Often, state and/or federal law or local law enforcement limits our abilities to release such details.

We also have an emergency response plan in place with local law enforcement agencies. Keeping Del Norte schools safe for students and staff is a top priority of mine as a school board member and also as a parent. As a current member of the board of trustees, we have continued to work with local law enforcement agencies on grants and have budgeted for school resource officers. I will continue to be a strong advocate for resource officers on our campuses.

What are your thoughts on the current sister school relationship with Del Norte High School and Takata High School? What more do you think the school district could do to further that relationship?

The current relationship with Takata High School is a very unique connection brought on by a tragic event. This learning experience and opportunity for our past, present, and future students has been an eye-opening experience for those involved.

I will continue to encourage a strong, fostering relationship with Takata High and Del Norte schools. I believe with the internet, social media, and the many platforms available, this continued relationship can be achieved with little or no cost to the district.

In the future, we are also looking at expanding working relationships with the elementary schools in Rikuzentakata. A delegation will be coming to Crescent City in January to explore how we approach inclusionary practices for students with disabilities and how we teach English as a second language.

As the current board president, when I was asked about sending the superintendent and board members to Japan with the local delegation, I declined the opportunity. I feel there are much better ways to spend this community’s tax dollars on local school district issues.

Recently local schools have been struggling in several areas.Test scores have been low for the last three years or so and recently the district has hired a consultant to find out why certain students aren’t succeeding and what needs to be fixed. Why do you think certain student populations aren’t succeeding and what should the district’s role be in helping them succeed?

To be clear, Del Norte schools, overall, have struggled with meeting state testing standards for a decade or more. I also wouldn’t necessarily say students aren’t succeeding, but due to the diverse social and economic makeup of Del Norte County, certain student populations continue to struggle to demonstrate proficiency on state tests.

To address these needs, the district has multiple programs in place for struggling and at-risk students. The district must communicate more effectively with students and parents what these programs are and ensure they understand how to receive these benefits. We have an obligation to provide each and every student with the tools to help them succeed.

The district contracted with WestEd in the spring to help the district narrow down the areas that need more focus. They have been able to individually meet with different groups to see what the needs are and will help guide us down the right path to achieve those needed improvements.

Even though you come from different candidate districts you will represent the entire county if you are elected, have you researched issues that affect students districtwide and which ones would you like the school board to address if you are elected?

A very important fact that sometimes people tend to overlook, as a district/county school board member, we are a non-partisan board that represents all schools; charter, public, community, juvenile, etc. within Del Norte County, regardless of which district you represent.

One of my areas of focus over the past four years as a board member and, if re-elected, will continue to be a focus: the maintenance and repair of school district buildings. Most buildings and sports facilities are in desperate need of repair.

While the budget won’t allow for a remodel of every school, we must consistently continue to allocate money to regularly maintain and make improvements on every building we can. I truly believe a well-maintained school will not only provide a safe learning environment for students and staff, but it will also boost school spirit, pride, the morale of both students and staff, which would greatly enhance academic achievements.

Additionally, I believe that ensuring every student is treated with respect and eceives the education that they need. By focusing on equity, valuing diversity, and removing barriers to success, I believe that we meet the needs of each student.

For the past few years the school district has stated that parent engagement continues to be one of its priorities, what are your thoughts on how the district has gone about getting parents more involved and what more do you think it can do?

As a board member for the past four years, we have made some progress on making information more readily available and updating current school district apps so parents can stay informed about their students’ academic progress, school information, and school functions. Facebook, recorded audio dial calls, texting, various apps, and most recently the “Here Comes the Bus” app, which allows parents to track the location of the bus and ensure their child is on the correct one, are all examples of outreach that the district is using to reach out to families and the community.

We must continue to improve, update, and stay current with the mass communication trends in order to reach all parents/guardians. We have made an additional commitment to the community and developed the position of Director of Community Outreach. This person will be developing new, more effective outlets of communication for all students, parents, staff and community. This will help ensure parents/guardians are informed and afforded the opportunity to be involved and participate in their child’s education and school experience.

District staff enjoys seeing parents/guardians involved at the school site, but understand that people also work. Having current, up to date information available to parents is vital for those parents unable to attend school activities so they can engage in conversations with their child about their school experience.

The district must continue to update social media apps regularly to ensure current, correct information is reaching parents. Because we all know not all flyers placed in our child’s backpacks make it home.

Angela Greenough

Following the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, several local students expressed their concerns about safety at their schools. What are your thoughts on the safety of Del Norte County schools? What more do you think the school district can do to ensure student safety?

Everyone in our community is concerned about safety in our schools. Student and staff safety is a huge concern of mine.

Del Norte County Unified School District first needs to reinforce the current school security measures on campuses. We are a small-town community and I love that about us. But it has been a policy for many years that any person who walks on our campus must check-in with the office if they are to be on grounds during school. It is so difficult to enforce since our schools were originally designed to be open campuses and so few staff to enforce the rule.

DNUSD needs to make sure we have the proper security on our campuses. It could be a school resource officer, a simple lock that can be quick to engage in a moments notice or even no longer having open campuses. There are some great ideas out there and there needs to be a community conversation about these issues.

Besides the security of our campuses, we need to continue training appropriate emotional and behavioral techniques to use on campus to help students in distress. In all the cases there was a cry for help beforehand, we need to take them seriously and hopefully can help the student.

And most importantly there is always room for improvement when it comes to the communication between parents, students, and staff if a problem arises. And not just from DNSUD but also to the district. Besides the cry for help, someone noticed something and didn’t say anything.

School safety should not be a polarizing issue. We need to work together to find solutions.

What are your thoughts on the current sister school relationship with Del Norte High School and Takata High School? What more do you think the school district could do to further that relationship?

The relationship with Rikuzentakata and Takata High School can be described in one word: fate.

Who would have thought that a small boat would make it across the vast Pacific, land on our shores and bring people together to raise awareness about the emotional, physical, and economical healing from devastating trauma?

During one of the first visits with all our local emergency responders and the delegation from Japan, Cindy Henderson gave her presentation about what Del Norte County would do during a cataclysmic tsunami. Some of the first words that came out of one of the delegate’s mouth, “We thought we were prepared too.”

The room was silent.

And since then, there have been some major reworking and awareness of our disaster plan.

Which goes back to emergency preparedness in our community. All staff in the Del Norte County Unified School District can be called upon in a major emergency. But do our staff actually know what to do if a disaster strikes? We need to ensure they are prepared to respond if a disaster occurs.

The relationship between Takata High School and Del Norte High School is a perfect example of how easy it is to make friends. We forget that as adults. We get stuck in our way of thinking and if someone doesn’t agree, we write them off.

These kids have never met each other and you would think they have been friends their whole lives. I love seeing the faces of each group that goes and the realization that there is a much much bigger world out there with so many different things. Our kids are amazed by the rules and expectations in Takata High School. Their students were amazed by how much flexibility Del Norte High School students have. Both have shared with each other the loss of family, loved ones, friends, but also the hope of things getting better.

These relationships can not happen over a conference call, fax, or letter. These relationships have been formed because we came face to face with each other. Cried with each other. Built hope with each other.

I truly see Rikuzentakata as our Sister City and I can not wait for our communities to share more with each other.

Recently local schools have been struggling in several areas. Test scores have been low for the last three years or so and recently the district has hired a consultant to find out why certain students aren’t succeeding and what needs to be fixed. Why do you think certain student populations aren’t succeeding and what should the district’s role be in helping them succeed?

DNUSD is now in the fourth year of the new testing style mandated by the state. And we are still learning our student’s strengths and weaknesses.

When I see the scores my first question is, “How was the test administered?” Our tests are now all done on a computer with an internet connection. We have worked on improving our data and technical services. It does our students a disservice if we can not even give them or our teachers the ability to take the state-mandated test if they do not have the proper tools to do so.

With the technical details out of the way, I can dive deep into the issue of “Are we updating our curriculum to be sure we are meeting the state standers?” Over the past four years, we have been getting new textbooks and training for our teachers. We are looking at better strategies to help a student when they are struggling with a subject. But whether or not a student is successful on the test not solely based on what is happening in the classroom.

Though a child spends most of their year in a classroom, there are outside contributing factors that play into the student’s success. “So how do we, as DNUSD, partner with other organizations to help students succeed?” I applaud our staff with finding ways partner with organizations to help our students. The Seamless Summer Food Program, the foster youth coordinator with the county, and even our annual conference, Del Norte Now!, are excellent partnerships to help bring awareness and support to students.

We cannot have ensured student success if the student is not getting their basic physical and emotional needs met. Having partnerships and practices with other agencies and parents has been very beneficial as we can not do this thing alone.

Even though you come from different candidate districts you will represent the entire county if you are elected, have you researched issues that affect students districtwide and which ones would you like the school board to address if you are elected?

Though we have to live in our district to be on the board, we are voted on by the whole county. Why? Because we offer free education available for all of Del Norte County residents.

Topics I have researched and looking to address:

Student attendance – a constant discussion.

School Safety – What is the staff’s role? How do we inform parents, students, staff? What are the protocols for a gunman on campus, tsunami, fires, displacement of families, road closures,etc.? How are we getting this information out to the community? How secure are our facilities to prevent theft of resources?

Career and College – How can ensure student success? How do we secure funding for our students to receive their certificate in a trade industry while still in school?

Involvement in State Decisions – Too many times things come down from Sacramento the School Board and staff are just to accept while it makes no sense for our community. How do we get more involved to be a voice for not just Del Norte, but other rural school districts?

For the past few years the school district has stated that parent engagement continues to be one of its priorities, what are your thoughts on how the district has gone about getting parents more involved and what more do you think it can do?

I have to commend our staff for taking the enormous task of parent engagement over the last four years. While things have not moved as quickly as I would have liked, DNUSD has implemented:

A new website (dnusd.org.)

A new app to notify parents of the school calendar, grades, and other important information (Search “Del Norte Unified School District” on the Google Play or App store).

More activity on the radio, newspaper and social media (Search for your school or DNUSD on Facebook).

Some of our teachers and principles have implemented “ClassDojo” or “Remind” to communicate with parents about homework, grades, other classroom information (Ask your teacher for more information).

And recently DNUSD has hired a public information officer/grant writer to help oversee our communication operations.

Even with all these means of communication we still have room for improvement.

We need to get better at communicating with our staff. A lot of our staff are part-time and are not always in the classroom when notifications are sent. How can we be sure they are in the loop with basic information and training. There are means of communicating with staff outside of email and we should pursue it.

We still need work on getting our meetings online and available to the public. Every other major government in Del Norte County has their meetings and their workgroups recorded and put online. The software is bought, the cameras are coming, but now we need to find a way to do captions to have our meetings accessible to everyone. This has been my biggest thing to push because I believe if we have our meetings be more transparent we can work better as a community.

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