KPCC's LA school board candidate survey: Allison Holdorff Polhill, District 4

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151967 full

Allison Holdorff Polhill is running for the Los Angeles Unified School Board in the March 7 primary election. Holdorff Polhill hopes to represent District 4, which covers much of west L.A., Hollywood and portions of the southwest San Fernando Valley.

Holdorff Polhill is one of four candidates running for the District 4 seat. Click here to view survey responses from other candidates in the race.

KPCC lightly edited all responding candidates' answers for spelling, grammar and style. KPCC is presenting candidates' answers in full, but does not vouch for the accuracy of any statements they make. Here are Holdorff Polhill's responses to KPCC's candidate survey:

Why do you want to be a member of the L.A. Unified School Board?

I'm a product of public education myself – public high school, a graduate of UCLA and Loyola Law School. I've taught debate and ethics at the high school and college levels. My three children have graduated from our local public school. I've spent the last 18 years immersed in local public school governance, most recently as a member of the board of trustees at Palisades High School, a school with a $30 million budget and 3,000 students from 100 zip codes from all over our city – one third at the poverty level. During my time on the board, I'm proud that we balanced the budget, improved our relationship with teachers, and embraced our diversity as a communal strength.

The Los Angeles Unified School District Board is in dire need of a fresh perspective and hands-on, in-the-trenches experience. The district has been enduring tremendous financial pressures and systemic sub-par graduation rates. I strongly believe that my passion and background as a social justice advocate, a parent and a businesswoman will help reset the table and revitalize the potential of one of our country’s greatest and most diverse school districts. My goal is to realize the promise of equal education for all our students. That’s where it all starts with the students.I will work tirelessly – and full-time – to build a legislative agenda and budget that will put the interests of our students and our classrooms first and foremost.

With my experience, I can bring the board together and find solutions to the current problems facing LAUSD. So, put me to work. I’m ready. And, I can hit the ground running because I have done this work. Here’s my plan:

(1) Unify the board to be student-focused. I’ve done this. I took a fractured board and brought people together, by listening and coming up with student focused goals.

(2) Support all education models – whether traditional, magnet, pilot or charter schools. Let’s use what works. We need to end the polarizing arguments, and focus on what’s important – the students.

(3) We need to fix this budget. LAUSD currently has $13 billion in unfunded liabilities and a multimillion dollar deficit. This is dangerous. If we don’t address the deficit, the results will be catastrophic, and will lead to teacher lay-offs, increased class sizes, and cuts in instructional time.

Superintendent Michelle King is in her thirteenth month in the district’s top job. On an A-F scale, how would you grade her first year? Please explain your answer.

It is early to determine Superintendent King’s success to date, as many of her plans have long-term goals that are far from complete, such as graduation rates. That said – I would give Superintendent King a “C” for her performance so far. This grade is based on the district’s academic performance and her handling of the budget crisis.

She has made great strides in preparing a comprehensive strategic plan and conducting a year-long Listen and Learn Tour to determine how to raise scores and increase graduation rates. The strategic plan underscores the fact that effective teachers facilitate active learning and that each school needs to implement a solid instructional plan, which should include “what is taught, how are we teaching it, and what do we do when students do not learn the first time?” This makes sense and I wonder why this revelation has surfaced now. For example, charters and pilots are specifically required to provide solid plans and annually show proof of goals accomplished. At this point, every school should submit plans to the Superintendent. If they have not, it is the responsibility of the Superintendent to do so to ensure transparency to all stakeholders. Assuming these plans are submitted they should establish criteria for determining how students learn best and set benchmarks for success. Everyday that passes is one less day for our students to be educated. The superintendent must move with great speed. This is a job requirement. Why was it necessary for an LAUSD insider to delay taking action? Regardless, the consensus of the Board was that her strategic plan lacked a clear mission.

Swift and accurate action must be taken to address the budget. With $13.6 billion in unfunded lifetime health benefits, a $1.5 billion deficit by 2018, a pension deficit projected of 20 percent by 2020, and a projected decrease in state and federal funding per average daily attendance, this District is in a budget crisis. The November 2015 Report of the Independent Financial Review Panel (IFRP) has sound recommendations that must be implemented quickly. It is my understanding that pre-existing committees have been convened, but not a lot of action has taken place. Time is of the essence to avoid teacher layoffs, increases in class size and cuts in instructional time. Superintendent King does not enjoy the luxury of allowing decisions to idle and drift in lengthy inactive committees.

Please name one idea or policy you don’t see Superintendent King, district leaders or the school board discussing often enough that — if elected — you’d work on either implementing or expanding in L.A. Unified?

In order to increase academic performance at all schools and increase graduation rates, Superintendent King and the district should be increasing localized control at individual schools and complexes with specific educational plans and ensuring the majority of monies follow each student. That is particularly important for our students most in need – homeless, foster, low income and English learners. There are remarkable examples of highly effective pilot schools in the district that take over 90 percent high need students and graduate 94 percent of their student population. This can be done. Every school needs a specific plan and every effort must be made to have monies follow each student to the school site.

Superintendent King and the board could spend more time addressing why the district’s middle schools are failing at an alarming rate. Middle school years are a time of enormous growth and change. All of this can be confusing for both students and teachers. Students can and do slip through the cracks. There are no specific teaching credentials for the middle school grades. Providing training for middle school teachers so they can identify and address social and emotional issues is imperative. When all middle school teachers are taught how to reach adolescents who are going through developmental changes, students are more likely to succeed and enter high school more likely to graduate.

Do you believe expanding “school choice” policies (giving parents more ability to choose the school their child attends) is a force for eliminating or exacerbating the educational opportunity gap between privileged and less-privileged racial, linguistic or socioeconomic groups? Please explain your rationale.

Expanding choice for families and their students decreases the educational opportunity gap for our less-privileged racial, linguistic and socioeconomic groups. Whether it is a traditional, magnet, pilot or charter school, if the school is showing growth and students are thriving, the district should share best practices and duplicate these models. We need to put an end to this stale debate of traditional versus charter schools and support all successful public school models. We have over 600,000 students and we need to ensure that every student can graduate and that is not happening now.

Empirical evidence of decreasing the achievement gap is here within the district. There are numerous examples of high performing choice schools. The Social Justice Humanitas Academy at Cesar Chavez Learning Academies (pilot) and STEM Academy (pilot) schools do an incredible job inspiring and graduating students that are “high need.” Both of these schools have graduation rates of 94 percent with populations over 90 percent poverty. Green Dot Public Schools take the bottom one percent of LAUSD’s middle school students that are articulating to high school with reading and math scores at the third and fourth grade levels. These schools achieve better student outcome rates and higher graduation rates. Supporting school choice by maintaining, supporting traditional, magnet, pilot and charter schools will likely assist in balancing LAUSD's budget.

According to Superintendent King’s 2016-2019 Strategic Plan, “every school needs to implement a solid instructional plan that includes what is taught, how are we teaching it, and what do we do when students do not learn it the first time.” This criteria is currently mandated for pilot, magnet, and charter schools, all schools under the district’s umbrella should prepare these plans as soon as possible. Once plans are approved, the district can provide adequate oversight.

How, if at all, would you change L.A. Unified’s approach to “authorizing” and overseeing charter schools? (Your answer may touch on any facet of the relationship — from vetting applications to open new charter schools; renewing or revoking existing charters; monitoring charter schools’ performance, governance and finance; handling Prop. 39 campus-sharing arrangements.)

The district’s current regulation of charter schools is rigorous. I know because I have worked with the LAUSD Charter School Division for the last 18 years as a school board member and helped prepare three separate charter renewal documents. LAUSD has authorized over 250 charters.

Before a charter is granted, a petitioner must present a charter document that includes 16 elements along with other legal requirements. I will advocate that all charters provide a governance policy to ensure proper oversight of the academic goals, budget and the leader of the school. Governance is critical for the success of the school. I have extensive experience in preparing governance documents. Under the law, the district must approve the petition unless the board adopts findings showing that certain limited reasons for denial exist. Some of these limited reasons include situations in which the petition does not meet the standards of the 16 elements, or cases in which demonstrably unlikely to successfully implement the program set forth in the petition. This district has made it a practice to deny charter petitions based on factors superfluous to the law, such as whether the charter school agrees to certain conditions the district wants, perceived saturation of charters in the district, and ideological hostility to charter schools. I will advocate that the district deny charters based on the law.

In the past, LAUSD has taken a hands-off approach once co-located schools are paired. I will advocate for "master planning" to be woven in as it is a highly critical area impacting both co-located schools which cannot wait to the last minute. I believe LAUSD should help co-located schools learn to navigate the process. I will advocate for new policies where school leaders and stakeholders of the traditional neighborhood and the charter school are encouraged to communicate and incentivized to collaborate together on a co-located site. I will advocate that all communications be transparent and timely and shared with all stakeholders. It may be helpful to have a liaison representing the traditional and charter school directly involved in district discussions.

L.A. Unified faces long-term financial challenges, including declining enrollment and rising costs for pensions and employee benefits. A blue-ribbon panel in Nov. 2015 also highlighted further issues that cloud the district’s financial future. If elected, what immediate steps would you take to address these financial challenges?

I will immediately advocate to address the 2015 audit and additional audits that have been conducted. I will address the district ‘s $13.6 billion unfunded liabilities through union negotiations. We need to fix this budget. LAUSD currently has $13 billion in unfunded liabilities, a multimillion dollar deficit, a shortfall of 20 percent of the pension by the year 2020. This is dangerous. If we don’t address the deficit, the results will be catastrophic and will lead to teacher lay-offs, increased class sizes, and cuts in instructional time.

Every year for the last six years I have balanced a budget of $30 million - making sure to minimize cuts closest to the classroom – and established reserves for long-term sustainability. It is imperative we do this at LAUSD.

Balancing LAUSD's budget will be challenging. To focus on what is best for the students, swift action must be taken. I believe that balancing the budget and hearing presentations related to the IFRP and any proposed solutions should be urgently prioritized. Supporting school choice by maintaining, supporting traditional, magnet, pilot and charter schools will likely assist in balancing LAUSD's budget. We need to decentralize spending decisions and hold schools accountable for managing their finances. Right now there's very little financial accountability embedded in the system. Some of the ideas in the independent panel report are must dos: for example, reducing absenteeism amongst students and teachers and running the food services without a deficit.

The L.A. Unified board has set a district-wide goal of a 100 percent high school graduation rate. How, if at all, would you change the district’s approach to meeting this goal? (Or would you change the goal itself?)

The district-wide goal of reaching 100 percent high school graduation rate is a serious objective that must be endeavored and met. Every student should graduate with an excellent education. We have the resources, the talent, the will, and the dreams and aspirations of the students and their parents to drive this. If elected, I will fight vigorously and work hand-in-hand with the school system to measures that push us towards this objective, including:

  1. Addressing the serious budget shortfall so that students do not experience increased class sizes, teacher layoffs and fewer instructional days.
  2. Implementing Superintendent King’s strategic proposal requiring each school to execute a solid instructional plan that includes, “what is taught, how are we teaching it, and what do we do when students do not learn the first time?” Pilot and charter schools already are required to outline their specific plans and as a result have enjoyed tremendous success.
  3. Increasing effective teaching. The research confirms this is the single most significant factor to improving education.
  4. Finally, I will work to ensure that middle school age students do not slip through the cracks, that students with special needs will be welcomed and accommodated, and that early education and classroom safety programs will be instituted to eradicate bullying and hate crimes on campus.

To increase achievement in all district schools, I will advocate to support teachers by maintaining low class sizes, increasing professional development, and ensuring ample resources are available in the classroom. On the board of a high performing, large, diverse high school to improve low scores for various subgroups our board: set specific goals; provided focused professional development; implemented intervention measures, including reducing class size, and creating remediation classes focused on targeted deficits; increased mentoring and tutoring; and implemented programs to identify “at risk” students and assist with articulation from middle school to high school with bridge programs. I will advocate for educational programs for parents to support their student. For example, the Parent Institute for a Quality Education (PIQE) “was successful in increasing high school graduation rates and establishing a college going culture among parents from Los Angeles,” according to Chia Her’s SDSU Longitudinal Study.

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KPCC lightly edited all responding candidates' answers for spelling, grammar and style. KPCC is presenting candidates' answers in full, but does not vouch for the accuracy of any statements they make.

  • How does this election work? This is a primary election. Voters select candidates from their own board district. If a candidate emerges with a majority of the vote on March 7, that candidate wins the seat. If no candidate wins a majority on March 7, the two candidates who received the most votes move on to a runoff election which will be held on May 16.
  • Can I vote in this election? It depends on where you live; each L.A. Unified School Board seat represents a specific geographic area, or "board district." This year, the seats in District Two, Four and Six are up for election. Plug in your address here to find out if you can vote. 
  • How can I register to vote? Here's a website where you can begin the registration process, and here's another website where you can check whether you're already registered.
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