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Joe Navarro Wins Seat on School Board

Susan Notes:

In June, I posted a letter by Joe Navarro announcing his acceptance of early retirement. I admit I read this was more than a little grief, thinking Joe's strong teacher voice would be lost.

Over the years, longtime subscribers to this site have seen Joe's letters speaking out for what's needed in education.

Now, I've learned that Joe Navarro has been elected to serve on the Hollister, CA board of education. Yahoo! To me, this is protypical of what teachers are about: taking on tough challenges because it's the right thing to do.

In an e-mail, Joe notes, "This probably the worst time to be elected to a school board, but my passion for genuine education reform overcame my fear of tackling this problem." He also notes that out of a field of eight candidates, three retired teachers were elected.

During his campaign for this position on the school board, Joe issued this statement:

What I Stand For

by Joe Navarro

1. My credentials for being a school board member:

I have been a teacher for 16 years, including 15 years at Sunnyslope School in bilingual education and sheltered English immersion classrooms. I am currently a parent of a 3rd grade student at Sunnyslope School. I can represent the interests of students, families and teachers. I have also done extensive research, while working on my Masters Degree, on good teaching practices and I am a member of the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, which provides useful and up-to-date research on trends in education.

2. I support public education:

I believe that education is a right, not a privilege. All students—all ethnic and religious backgrounds, girls and boys, different abilities—have a right to a fair and equitable education. Receiving a good education in public schools gives students greater opportunities in life to pursue further educational or career goals. Public schools teach everyone, regardless of their backgrounds and abilities. They are part of a democratic tradition and offer a hope to all people of being able to improve their lives and becoming meaningful contributors to our society. Public education is the most intelligent response to ignorance, poverty and injustice.

3. Teaching mastery of subjects and problem solving skills:

The primary focus of schools should be to help students develop mastery of subjects, which means learn and understand the content of each subject, then move on to the next subject. Too often, students move from subject to subject without understanding what they are studying. Too often homework forces parents to teach subjects because there was not enough time in the classroom to learn, and sometimes parents do not understand the subjects being taught. Students need to learn more than formulas, rote memorization and drill and skill instruction; they need to learn how to address problems and figure out how to solve them.

4. Successful learners:

High scores on tests is only one small part of determining whether students are successful learners or not. Students should be taught on multiple levels and be given opportunities to explore ideas and concepts in their studies.

The question is: do we want students to become successful at remembering disconnected facts, recalling information through rote memorization and knowing how to fill in bubbles? Or, do we want learners who think critically, figure out how to solve problems and have a well-rounded education?

5. Students should be expected to “enjoy” literature and given opportunities to choose the literature they read. School libraries should be sufficiently stocked and staffed:

Students are often given reading assignments, then required to look for specific information as they read. Reading is often not interesting or enjoyable for students. Yet, research demonstrates that children who enjoy reading become successful readers, and students who choose what they read also enjoy reading. Learning how to research information and using guided and shared reading in younger students to learn about reading strategies is very useful, but also has its limitations. When children are given multiple opportunities to choose reading materials, they will want to read more. Unfortunately, not all children have access to lots of books. Therefore schools have an obligation to ensure that books are accessible through libraries, with sufficient, qualified and trained staff to assist students.

6. Ensure the teaching of social sciences, history, science, art and physical education:

Every lesson in every subject area should be an opportunity to learn, whether it is reading, math, writing, literature, art, social studies or science. For example reading takes place in reading literature, but can also be developed in math, science, social studies, or reading about art. Higher order thinking skills can be developed when participating in science projects, comparing artists, learning about geometry in art, making timelines in social studies and history or using art for problem solving. There are multiple connections. We cannot continue teaching each subject in an isolated context.

7. Teach to the whole child:

Children’s learning depends on many factors, including what is taught in the classroom, resources at home, internet access, travel experiences, language spoken at home, and more importantly, the health and well-being of the child. Children who have lack of access to a nutritious diet, are in poor health, or who have deep emotional issues are going to have the most difficulty studying and being successful learners. I would support improving our nutrition program and developing partnerships with other agencies to make resources accessible to students who need them.

Additionally, I believe that education is more than academic progress. It also includes teaching children positive behaviors and routines, so that all students can attend schools that provide safe and enriching learning environments.

8. Assist struggling students to improve their academic progress. Develop strategies and programs we will use inside and outside the regular classrooms:

I want to look at intervention strategies and programs that we provide students. I believe all students are capable of learning. We have to provide the most optimal learning conditions. No student should be neglected because she/he is too far behind or too far ahead academically. Grade retention is a failure of schools to meet the needs of students. If a student falls behind academically, then we have an obligation to develop learning strategies for that student to improve their learning.

9. Improve the teaching of English Language Learners. The benefits of bilingual education:

English language learners need a structured program to assist them to improve their academic skills in reading, writing, oral language, understanding math problems and understanding vocabulary in science, social studies, art and physical education. Many English language learners have not made sufficient progress in developing academic understanding of the English vocabulary. Some remain language confused because they are immersed in English without yet having a foundation in their first language literacy skills. Since 1997 we have been increasing our literacy program to be English immersion, yet it has not produced the results that were promised. I support finding the most current research on how children become successful learners in English as a second language and using those studies to guide our teaching in Hollister.

10. Provide necessary resources for special needs students:

Our school board needs to strengthen its understanding of the best practices to meet the academic success of students with special needs. We need to solicit input from special education teachers, parents of students with special needs and study the most current research in order to make the best informed decisions.

11. Decisions should be based on common sense, research on good educational practices and feedback:

Any decisions that the school board and district administrators should be made to, first and foremost, evaluate the impact that the decisions will have on students, teachers and staff. We should also consult with teachers and staff, and read the research on good educational practices in order to make well informed and sensible decisions.

12. Schools should provide a safe, fun and challenging learning environment with a reasonable teacher to student ratio:

We must evaluate the impact of increasing the ratio of students to teachers on the academic progress of students. We know that the number of students will impact the ability of teachers to meet the students’ needs. I would also encourage the school board to look at the district’s budget to determine whether we can utilize the current budget to redirect funds into the classrooms. Additionally, I would support pro-active lobbying to encourage the state and federal government to increase funding to local school districts in order to reduce class size.

13. End obsessive testing as a means to punish students, teachers and administrators. Use assessments for the purpose of improving teaching:

I support less testing and more teaching. Our school cultures have become test-driven. We engage in year-round test-taking and a lot of energy is spent on preparing for test-taking and often use the results to punish students, teachers, administrators and schools. I support meaningful assessments for the purpose of improving teaching and figuring out what areas students need to improve their understanding. I also support teacher-made assessments and utilizing teacher observations and evaluating student work throughout the year and creating portfolios of samples of student work.

14. Give teachers more classroom control. Do not rely on scripted curriculum and pacing calendars to determine what is taught:

Teachers are ultimately held responsible for the progress of their students, yet our district requires teachers to use scripted lesson plans, strictly follow pacing calendars and discourages any flexibility on the part of teachers to determine how the lessons should be taught. I support giving teachers more autonomy in their classrooms as long as they accept responsibility for the progress of their students. I also support giving teachers more resources to improve their teaching, including training, peer support and supportive supervision from site administrators.

15. Administrators, teachers, parents and students should be partners in education and work together to find ways to improve the learning environment:

I support the encouragement of cooperation among administrators, teachers, parents and students to discuss ways of improving the learning of students. We must recognize that administrators have the ultimate responsibility of the success of student learning. At the same, time we must recognize that teachers are professionals in the field of education. Teachers have attended universities to learn about educational theories and practices. Additionally, parents are the first teachers of their children. Students have insights as to what works and what does not work in education that can be useful and that we can learn from. I would encourage ongoing school committees where teachers and staff can discuss the best ways to teach students. And I encourage the participation of parents in on-going school site committees in conjunction with school staff to get regular feedback and ideas.

16. I will meet with parents, teachers and the community to learn about their concerns:

If I am elected to the school board I will meet with parents, teachers and the community to learn about their concerns regarding educational policies and decisions. I will give people an opportunity to let me know how they feel about our schools and what solutions to the problems they propose.

— Joe Navarro


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