Santa Clarita Valley residents enjoyed pizza and politics Wednesday night at Vincenzo’s Pizza Newhall, where CA25 United for Progress hosted its school board candidate forum.
During the event, the six Saugus Union and William S. Hart High school district candidates who were invited participated in a one-on-one session with co-chair Hilary Schardein before the prospective representatives took the stage as a group to answer specific questions about pressing topics that are important to the parents and voters of the SCV.
Laura Arrowsmith was the first to take the stage, where the longtime educator discussed professional development, district-level assessments and how her career in education would benefit her as a board member.
The candidate for Saugus Union’s Area No. 2 said her experience will allow her to ask questions from the perspective of a teacher in the classroom.
For example, the district talks a lot about Measure EE money and what it should be used for, Arrowsmith said. “I think teachers need to be involved in decisions that affect their daily work,” whether it pertains to their classroom, professional development or teaching methods.
Arrowsmith added that the district must realize that test data is the only consistent tool available to measure student achievement across the district and state. “However, testing tends to have a narrow focus on the curriculum,” which could lead to a disregard for subjects like history and civics.
“Thank goodness P.E. is tested,” she said with a laugh, adding that she’d introduce internal benchmarks at school sites, so the district can have more in-depth information on how to best help its students.
“Data doesn’t haven’t to be numbers,” she said. “Data can be reflections (or) a museum exhibit. It can take all kinds of forms.”
The first topic discussed with David Barlavi was his motto, “Make America Fun Again,” which can be confused with another well-known motto, Schardein said.
Barlavi, a candidate for Area No. 1, clarified that fun is a great way to encourage learning in the classroom.
“If we can maximize the fun for the kids in education, then they will continue on to college and graduate school because education will be enjoyable for them,” rather than it being seen as something that they have to do for people other than themselves, he said.
Later, during his one-on-one session, Barlavi called for the creation of a more in-depth physical education program, along with arts and music, which he has sought ever since his child attended school in the Saugus Union School District.
“I want to bring sports to all of the kids,” he said. It helps them become more healthy, establishes teamwork and it shows them how to win and lose with honor.
“These are what I’ve brought from my experiences,” Barlavi said, before he mentioned that he’d also like to see security guards, cameras and bag checks instituted at school sites.
Chris Trunkey is running for re-election in Area No. 5 this November, which prompted Schardein to ask Saugus’ current board president to share the accomplishments that he’s been proud to partake in during his four years as a governing board member.
“The thing I’m most proud of is the progress the district has made in regard to Measure EE, which was a $148 million bond measure passed in 2014,” he said, adding that he is also proud to have participated in the district’s search for a new superintendent.
Trunkey said he is always seeking feedback from local groups, businesses and citizens — even those who live outside the district — about what they think the children of Santa Clarita need from an educational standpoint.
“All of those things combined give us the tools that we need to not only advocate on behalf of our kids locally,” Trunkey said, but also in Sacramento, where school board members can speak directly to legislators and meet with representatives to push for changes that would benefit local districts.
“We did that again this past March,” Trunkey said, “and hopefully I’ll be in a position to do it again next March.”
As the first Hart District candidate to speak on Wednesday, the prospective representative, who’s running to represent area No. 2, said she’d like to see schools partner with businesses.
“I know businesses can always use help in the form of student projects,” Robert said. “The students are learning. It’s valuable and everybody wins.”
Having worked as a substitute teacher across the Hart District, Robert said, “I get to see the best of every school and some of the worst practices of every school,” which don’t always receive the attention they should.
Robert believes she can use her master’s of business administration degree and unique knowledge as substitute to implement the programs that will truly be effective in the classroom.
On stage, Kelly Trunkey was emotionally fighting tears as she discussed the inclusion and diversity efforts that she’d like to establish in the Hart District if she represented the district’s Area No. 5.
“This job doesn’t end when you walk out the classroom,” she said. “It’s important that everything you do and everything you say is for the benefit of the students.”
Anything out of a board member’s mouth should be for the good of the children they’re representing, Trunkey said. “What I (also) want to change is that we have a board that wants to go out and find out where the problems are as opposed to sitting there and waiting for people or groups to come in front of them and tell them what the issues are.”
Werthe, who is running for Area No. 2’s seat on the school board, focused on Measure SA, the district’s lack of transparency and communication during his time on stage.
Citing the modular improvements that have been made during the years of district bond expenditures and the still-under-construction Castaic High School, Werthe shared the multiple issues he has with the distribution of resources in the district and what Werthe described as its tendency to not inform the public of where the money is going.
“Career technical education is an excellent program,” Werthe said, so opportunities should be offered to students at every school, because everybody can’t go to Castaic.
Werthe also focused on the district’s special education program, which he feels should be revamped after he and his child have had many frustrating experiences during their time in the program.
“As far as special education,” Werthe said, “It means a great deal to me and when we have (nearly) 300 special-ed students in our system that are on track to not get a high school diploma,” then there’s obviously room to grow.