Patch sent out a questionnaire* to each of the candidates, and we will be posting their individual responses.
Here, we profile Dallas Lawrence, currently raising children Emma, 5, and Abby, 1, with wife Sarah, a former school teacher.
Patch: Can you tell me a little bit about your background and why you think you are qualified for the position?
Dallas Lawrence: I am running for school board because I believe our great district faces immense challenges in the coming years that will require leaders with experience navigating complex education and budget policy issues who are also willing to serve as a champion and public cheerleader for our schools, teachers, parents and administrators. I believe I offer a unique perspective on the key issues impacting education policy today. As a former director for the United States Department of Education, I witnessed first-hand the critical importance effective policies (and ineffective) can have on educational outcomes. I am also one of the only candidates with young children in the district. While clearly not a stand-alone qualifier, I believe ensuring a diversity of experiences and perceptions on the Board is critical if we are to truly represent the entirety of our community. Lastly, in addition to my current role leading corporate communications for Mattel, and my previous experience serving as a United States Naval officer for more than a decade, I am honored to have the opportunity to teach at USC where I have experienced firsthand the challenges our students face as they enter into a globally competitive higher education system that many are simply not prepared for. These experiences have guided my belief that we must ensure our schools have the resources to educate the whole child to ensure they are prepared to successfully compete with students from anywhere in the world.
Patch: Why are you running for school board?
Lawrence: As the parents of two young daughters, our family moved to our community for the outstanding educational opportunities afforded by LVUSD. I am running for the school board as someone who cares passionately about creating a world class public education system and knows firsthand the challenges our schools face. I am running because I feel it is an obligation of those with the time and energy to give back, to bring a district-wide policy approach to the Board and to offer the Board my perspective and experiences as a teacher, father, businessman and former education department professional.
Patch: What do you think are some of the biggest issues the district will face during your first term if you are elected?
Lawrence: Without a doubt the two biggest issues facing our district in the next few years will be the implementation of Common Core education standards and the widening funding gap between what it takes to provide a world-class education and what the government provides. Common core with usher in evolutionary changes in how we teach, measure and ensure student success as we move from testing breadth of knowledge to truly providing our students with the depth of knowledge necessary to understand the key concepts and foundations behind the curriculum. Along with new methodologies and testing, we must ensure our teachers and administrators are given the support – and breathing room - necessary to successfully implement Common Core. One of the key roles our board must play in the next 12 months is to educate our community on the standards, what they mean and why they are a benefit to our schools, our children and our future.
Patch: What's the first thing you would like to do if elected to the board?
Lawrence: We are blessed to live in an amazing school district with great parents, teachers and community leaders who understand the critical role our schools play in the community. A key role for our board moving forward will be to expand outreach and education efforts on core initiatives that will significantly impact our community. If elected to the board, one of my first priorities will be to immediately develop a district-wide education initiative to ensure our parents and community members are aware of the evolutionary changes our schools will undergo next year as a result of Common Core. These changes are powerful, systemic and will change how we teach, measure and benchmark our schools. They will also usher in dramatic reporting changes that, if not properly understood, will raise concern from many in our community. We must lay the public information groundwork now for the transition to ensure we have strong community and parent support for the process that is about to take hold.
Patch: What do you think of the job the current board has done?
By all accounts our district has weathered historic budgetary constraints better than most. Our teachers, administrators, parents and our elected school board members all deserve credit for managing through the tough times. The opportunity with this election is to bring fresh perspectives to the board as we enter a new phase for our district. California ranks 49th in per-pupil spending in education–and Las Virgenes ranks even lower than the state average due to the funding formula for school districts. The funding gap between what it costs to provide the education we want for our children and what the government will provide will not close–if anything it will likely only continue to widen in the years ahead. We must foster a deeper understanding of this funding reality and invest in developing a sustained culture of community and business support for our schools to help offset the funding gap. We have evolutionary changes coming to our curriculum and testing methods that will change how we teach and measure and will require a far more active community role for the board as we educate and engage the public. As the board and the district move into a phase, I believe they will both benefit from fresh–and diverse–approaches to these complex issues.
Patch: Do you have any ideas or programs in mind that could help generate some additional funding for the district?
Lawrence: Las Virgenes has wonderful parents who care deeply about our schools. Many of our parents and community members give hundreds if not thousands of dollars every year to support their local school and to support the district’s non-profit T.H.E (Together Helping Education) Foundation. Where I see immediate room for opportunity is through engaging our local business community and fostering a deeper culture of sustained giving to our district that is embraced and championed by those most reliant upon great schools and successful adults: our businesses. This has not happened in Las Virgenes to the extent we see in neighboring communities that successfully raise multiple millions of private dollars to augment government funding. I believe it is a core responsibility of the elected leaders to serve as visible and vocal champions for closing the funding gap and to help convene the business and educational communities to find innovate ways to support the increasing unmet needs of our schools.