According to the district’s website, CVUSD serves about 17,000 students. The district covers 66.3 square miles including El Cajon and Rancho San Diego. CVUSD includes 19 elementary and six middle schools, in addition to other campuses of magnet schools and academies.
CVUSD Election, Part One
By Robin N. Kendall
Photo: Karen Clark Mejia, left, and Monica Hinton, right
October 19, 2020 (El Cajon) - Cajon Valley Union School District (CVUSD) is the largest school district in East County. Two of the five seats for Governing Board Member Trustee are on the ballot this year with the incumbents facing one challenger each. Current board member Karen Clark-Meija represents Area 4 and faces behavioral health specialist Monica Hinton on the ballot. Jim Miller represents Area 5 and is challenged by Stacie Hoover, a retired paralegal.
In this part one of our election series on the Cajon Valley School Board race, we will cover Area No. 4. In part two, we will cover Area No. 5.
One third of the students in the district are English language learners, mostly from families speaking Spanish, Chaldean, and Arabic. The district also serves recent immigrants who speak Kurdish, Farsi (Persian) and Pashto. Over 70% of students qualified for free or reduced-price meals. Source: http://www.ed-data.org/district/San-Diego/Cajon-Valley-Union
Area 4 of the district is roughly the southern portion of central El Cajon reaching up towards Mt. Helix. Schools in this area include Anza, Chase, Fuerte, and Meridian Elementary as well as Emerald Middle School. This area is represented by the incumbent, Karen Clark-Mejia who serves as the clerk of the trustees.
Clark-Mejia has not yet replied to our repeated invitations to answer questions via email. Her campaign website states that she is endorsed by: Senator Joel Anderson; Mayor Bill Wells; CVUSD trustees Tamara Otero, Jim Miller, and Jo Alegria; El Cajon City Council Member Steve Goble, and Council Member Phil Ortiz; Republican Party of San Diego; and Cajon Valley Teachers Union – CVEA. Her Facebook page is at https://www.facebook.com/KarenClarkMejiaCajonValleyUnionSchools.
Monica Hinton, CVUSD Area No. 4 Challenger
Dr. Monica Hinton has lived in San Diego County for 20 years. She moved here from Houston, Texas, in order to attend graduate school. She has lived in El Cajon for one year, previously residing in Bay Park, Scripps Ranch and Ramona. According to her campaign website, Hinton has a doctorate in clinical psychology and currently works at SHARP McDonald Center as a Behavioral Health Therapist. She provides medically supervised mental health and substance abuse tools for the substance abuse recovery program. She has also worked as the Program Director of Alpine Special Treatment, Inc., which is a 24-hour secured setting that offers supportive, rehabilitative services for people suffering from psychiatric and substance abuse disorders. She is the President of the Association of Black Psychologists, San Diego Chapter. She is also a board member and membership chair of the San Diego Psychological Association (SDPA). Hinton comes from a family of teachers and currently is the aunt/coparent of a nephew who lives in her home.
Below are Monica Hinton’s answers to ECM’s questions.
1. What do you view as the biggest challenges facing the district this year, and how would you address those if elected? Please include your assessment of how the district is handing the on-going challenges of in-school versus distance learning during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Remote access education for students during quarantine for COVID-19 needs a quick assessment, follow through system design and implementation within 90 days. I am aware that every child has access to a Chrome book, but that it may not have access to Wi-Fi. Success can only be achieved if every child has the same access and equitable chances. I would want to collaborate with the El Cajon City Council to set up a citywide internet service as is being accomplished in other counties. This can only be accomplished through everyone offering the same passion and focus for its success. WE CAN DO THIS.
I am actually very pleased that the school district has figured out a way to have in-person education. At the same time, we must ensure that parents and students electing to attend school remotely receive equal education. I believe that the best way to ensure that education is equal would be to assess frequently. This would ensure immediately identifying the children when they need attention to barriers and filling in gaps. We must openly gain feedback from both teachers and parents in order to make the appropriate adjustments in changes. This would be accomplished by a simple single form reporting tool so as to not create more work for the teacher. As this will actually help them to stay on top of things instead of getting behind.
Mental and emotional health: In this time of COVID quarantine and unusual community and home practices, increased racial and simply environmental unrest is affecting our children and some are experiencing some form of increased depression and anxiety. It is important that mental health providers are made available to the students and parents with cultural sensitivities and practices to ensure optimal use of the school’s ability to be available for their respite and balance, daily. Many close contact activities such as PE, music and theater, sports, and playtime have been limited or eliminated altogether. As we all know, there is plenty of evidence-based proof that these are invaluable resources and pay for themselves in the rewards received by the stability these tools provide those that receive them; and, those that are tasked with the supervision and oversight of such populations. I realize there is already much of this being practiced already, but these practices would need to be included in the assessment mentioned in above.
2. What are your views on curriculum priorities and academic needs? Please include your assessment of the World of Work program, and also any changes you would propose so that all schools can meet the state’s academic standards measured by Dashboard testing in math and English, which several district schools have failed to meet.
The World of Work (W.O.W.) Program: I had the opportunity to interview with the superintendent. He explained this program to me. There are three Core Components: The Journey, My Story, and Self-Awareness. I love how this program takes the students and family members from where they are to where they want to go. It helps the child build upon his or her self-esteem. It allows the child to explore and witness their own potential come alive! W.O.W. uses the psychological RIASEC model as a predictor for career enjoyment by breaking down the career options into six (6) personality traits: Realistic, Investigative, Artistic, Social, Enterprising, and Conventional. This helps the child consider career option goals from an early age. I also believe that this should not just stop at the middle school level. As children grow and develop so does their personality. I am confident that dropping the W.O.W. concepts support just as they are entering high school and beyond is definitely not good timing for their confidence training and leaves them at exactly the wrong time. Another program that I encourage being continued is CVUSD collaborative involvement with TedEd. I give props to those that are introduced to it and are continuing this program as it also assists students in creating their own platform and learning how to speak in a formal public setting, encouraging forward thinking for the greater good of their communities, and the individuals within them. This makes it a real-life experience and is priceless.
Again, implementing Parent Workshops and Labs engaging parents in career development fully utilizes several of my experiential skillsets for knowing the challenges and offering solutions and what is needed to offer optimized support. Also, CVUSD introduces local community members to the students having them share their histories and success stories. All of these components make this program extremely relevant for our students and parents to envision themselves being able to take their abilities, just as they are right now, and utilize them as capabilities, just like their community counterparts.
State’s Academic Standards: According to the 2019 Dashboard data on the California State Board of Education’s website (https://www.cde.ca.gov/dashboard), Cajon Valley Union School District as a whole is performing as follows: English Language Arts – 25.5 points BELOW standard; Mathematics – 52.2 points BELOW standard.
THIS IS NOT ACCEPTABLE, NOR SHOULD THIS HAVE BEEN ALLOWED TO BE AS SUCH FOR MORE THAN 3 YEARS. This is fixable! Transforming education is already in the framework of the CVUSD! They have the W.O.W. Program. They have the TedEd. They have Parent Workshops. So, they have already set a foundation and connection ability with the communities. From my experiences this sends up a flag for a simple fix for me as the Trustee to design a confidential questionnaire--a survey offering input as to what each level of servicing providing staff and board need to do, bottom-up & top-down, fact finding to address the staffing and community’s needs for the children and their families. There has to be some disconnects or this would not be as such. This would definitely be unbiased and definitely not punitive in any form as collaboration and inclusion through non-violent communication design always gives best results.
One additional proposal for a solution is: If CVUSD are not already (I cannot see that they are) collaborating with the AKA Head Start, and NHA Head Starts they would definitely benefit to. This way children’s preparatory health and wellness, and academic skillsets AND needs for them and their families will already follow them into the CVUSD system.
Systemic practices need to be reviewed, and any disparities made uniform so that every child and their families are receiving the same services. Many of these families are forced to move several times due to financial or familial circumstances and the saving grace of educational continuity is critical to their sustainable successes in their present and future. This can be done with a small collaborative team being given each schools’ Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs).
School assessments are needed to see where the schools are, then find out where the disconnects are and identify what needs to be adjusted. Concurrently another team can assess the classrooms in person and remotely.
Get teacher input and suggestions to create collaborative plans for increasing test scores. After all, they are the experts of the subject matters and for students’ struggles that prevent their successes.
At the same time we should be making sure that children have all the tools they need; this includes: physical and mental health needs, appropriate meal plans, supplies, tutoring where needed – and this can be done with pairing up children who are excelling with children who are struggling. Those who have already achieved an area can help others. This will alleviate some of the burden on the teachers as well as foster self-esteem for the students.
An English as a Second Language (ESL) program could be implemented. This can begin with a Head Start collaboration that will follow them into Kindergarten and beyond.
Research supports that physical activity improves concentration, memory overall and cognitive functioning. It would be beneficial if some sort of physical activity were incorporated into their curriculum despite COVID restrictions.
Phonics is crucial to reading and writing and could be reintegrated into their English education, from the certified phonics teachers in El Cajon already.
We then need to have a systemic recording of this and its successes and failures so that we can steer our results in accordance with The California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress (CAASPP) System. This is not a punitive review. It is a Needs Assessment review to offer help and solutions where needed so good money and time is allocated with the greatest and optimized results/benefits.
3. For incumbents, what accomplishments on the board are you most proud of? For challengers, what do you most hope to change?
I am a challenger. I see both areas where there is great success and areas for improvement. As a school board member, I would like to accomplish: Create innovative strategies to get children excited about learning; Improve curriculums that are inclusive of cultural histories and technology; Safety, health and mental health of children and families by increasing counseling and social work services; Oversight and Strong Leadership with use of school funds to improve upon food services, infrastructure, technology, school nursing staff, and teacher needs; Improve communication between the School Board, Superintendent, the Faculty/Staff, Students/Families, and the El Cajon Community.
4. Who has endorsed your candidacy?
San Diego County Democratic Party
5. The Cajon Valley School Board has experienced a tremendous number of problems in the past few years, including a grand jury report calling for improvements, aging buildings, media scrutiny for spending half a million dollars on promotional videos, controversial travel expenses, disruptive trustee behavior, lawsuits and a restraining order, as well as limited access to tape recordings of past meetings. What would you do to deal with past issues and create a more productive, open and peaceful school board? How would you prioritize spending? Do you support a renewal of the Superintendent’s contract?
I had the opportunity to meet the superintendent, and he really seems to enjoy his job. I do not know enough about what he has or has not done to make a comment on whether or not I support his renewal. If elected Board Trustee, though, this would be a task I would be capable of assisting with through research and oversight as requested or assigned.
Concerning the other issues, there’s not much I can do about the past. However, for the future my focus would be on the students, their parents, teachers and staff. I would focus on determining where best to allocate funds. I believe in transparency and would encourage the release of public meetings as well as the minutes. It is also important to receive feedback and input from teachers and parents.
As the trustee, it is my duty to be unbiased. According to CVUSD P&R Code: 900BB, “The Governing Board has been elected by the community to provide leadership and citizen oversight of the district. The Board shall ensure that the district is responsive to the values, beliefs, and priorities of the community. The Board shall work with the Superintendent to fulfill its major responsibilities, which include: Setting the direction for the district through a process that involves the community, parents/guardians, students, and staff and is focused on student learning and achievement; Establish an effective and efficient organizational structure for the district; Employing the Superintendent and setting policy for hiring of other personnel; Overseeing the development and adoption of policies and uphold them; Establishing academic expectations and adopting the curriculum and instructional materials; Establishing budget priorities and adopting the budget; Providing safe, adequate facilities that support the district's instructional program; Setting parameters for negotiations with employee organizations and ratifying collective bargaining agreements; Providing support to the Superintendent and staff as they carry out the Board's direction; Establishing and adhering to standards of responsible governance; Making decisions and providing resources that support district priorities and goals; Being knowledgeable about district programs and efforts in order to serve as effective spokespersons; Ensuring accountability to the public for the performance of the district's schools; Evaluating the Superintendent and setting policy for the evaluation of other personnel; Monitoring and evaluating the effectiveness of policies; Serving as a judicial (hearing) and appeals body in accordance with law, Board policies, and negotiated agreements; Monitoring student achievement and program effectiveness and requiring program changes as necessary; Monitoring and adjusting district finances; Monitoring the collective bargaining process; Providing community leadership and advocacy on behalf of students, the district's educational program, and public education in order to build support within the local community and at the state and national levels; The Board is authorized to establish and finance any program or activity that is not in conflict with, inconsistent with, or preempted by law.”
None of these duties include “a grand jury report calling for improvements, aging buildings, media scrutiny for spending half a million dollars on promotional videos, controversial travel expenses, disruptive trustee behavior, lawsuits and a restraining order, as well as limited access to tape recordings of past meetings.”
6. Please discuss your views on how you, if elected, could address the issues of both bullying and racial inequities in the school district. For example, do you think there is a need for more diversity training?
Bullying: According to CVUSD P&R BULLYING Code: 5131.2 BP, “The Governing Board recognizes the harmful effects of bullying on student learning and school attendance and desires to provide safe school environments that protect students from physical and emotional harm. District employees shall establish student safety as a high priority and shall not tolerate bullying of any student. No individual or group shall, through physical, written, verbal, or other means, harass, sexually harass, threaten, intimidate, retaliate, cyberbully, cause bodily injury to, or commit hate violence against any student or school personnel.”
It is important that this code be properly implemented and followed. In addition, the Board could initiate an anti-bullying and anti-racism campaign. This would include training for teachers, staff, students and parents on how to recognize when children are being discriminated against and/or being bullied. I recommend a weekly class meeting could be started for the students. This is an opportunity to talk about differences and prosocial behaviors, bringing about increased self-esteem and a chance to practice assertiveness skills. It is crucial that children feel safe and supported when reporting incidences of bullying and discrimination without receiving retaliation from peers. Lastly, I believe the Board should be involved in assisting with creating a school environment in which students feel welcomed and excited to learn by knowing that there are practices in place that support their safety and well-being.
Diversity Training: America is now more diverse than it ever has been. The community of El Cajon is one of the most diverse communities in San Diego County. Diversity education should be developed and offered at every grade level as well as for parents, teachers, and staff. Over the past 10 years I have participated in providing diversity training for the County of San Diego mental health providers and for the SHARP Health Care System. Understanding and accepting each other fosters and supports self-esteem and healthy relationships.
In conclusion I will end with this. Maya Angelou once said, “We all should know that diversity makes for a rich tapestry, and we must understand that all the threads of the tapestry are equal in value no matter what their color. There is strength in diversity.”
I may be new to the Cajon Valley School System, but am passionate at the prospect of being able to participate in the role with a fresh set of eyes. I look forward to rolling up my sleeves and meeting CVUSD challenges and needs shoulder-to-shoulder with all involved. Again, coming in from the outside allows me to see the gaps that need to be filled.
Hinton’s campaign website is at https://drmonicahinton.com/.