October 4, 2020

Cheryl Blau

Pronouns:She/Her
School DistrictFarmington Public School District
City:Farmington

How long have you lived in your district?

34 years

Have you received any endorsements?

Farmington Mayor Sara Bowman, Farmington City Councilwoman Maria Taylor, Beloved Community Initiative Leadership Team

Are you an incumbent?

No

Why do you want to be a school board member?

With 30 years of K-12 teaching experience, a doctorate in educational leadership, masters degrees in both education and psychology, expertise in best practices in teaching and current brain research on learning, and decades of involvement in our community as a Farmington Area Arts Commissioner, Beloved Community Initiative leader, Farmers Market and Warner Mansion volunteer, resident, and parent of two Farmington High graduates, I am eager to draw upon my skills and knowledge for the benefit of our students, teachers, and parents.

What does education justice mean to you? What does it mean specifically in the context of your school district?

If the shoe doesn’t fit, is it the foot’s fault? Of course not. You keep trying on different shoes until you find the best fit for your particular foot. Yet this is not what most children in America’s classrooms experience. We keep expecting children to change to fit the shape of the school rather than changing our schools to fit the ways children learn. I want to help facilitate change in our schools so that all of our children can thrive during their K-12 experiences.

Many parents, students, and teachers are frustrated by our district’s failure to fully address diversity, equity, and inclusion issues. New policies, training, and curricula must be implemented to identify and remedy these issues at every level. Additionally, we must be brave enough to design an educational system that supports students of all learning styles and ability levels, including expanding vocational education opportunities. Overall, our board must be more accessible to our community and more responsive to its needs.

If you could completely reimagine the way schools look after this public health crisis, what would they look like?

Continue encouraging teachers to implement creative, experiential, and project-based instruction while differentiating for learners’ varied abilities and needs.

Group students in multi-age classrooms, especially in grades K-5, so that students have the same teacher or teaching team for two years in a row.

Teach students how to better manage stress, anxiety, and strong emotions while also reducing the unecessarily high level of stress and anxiety our current K-12 system creates. We can have a rigorous curriculum without doing so much damage to our students in the process.

Make recess part of every student’s school day, K-12. They need the mental break and the physical activity, and even just 15 minutes of aerobic activity helps the brain focus for the following 2-3 hours.

Eliminate standardized tests and the Common Core State Standards so that teachers can invest their time and energies in truly educating our children rather than being pressured to teach to these tests and sacrifice precious class time to have students prepare for and take these tests throughout the school year. There are other, more reliable, less intrusive ways to measure and document student learning and growth as well as teacher performance. If we seek alternative sources of funding for our schools, we will be less dependent upon state funding which might enable us to make some of these changes. Perhaps our district could pilot alternative means of evaluating, documenting, and reporting student and teacher progress that enahnce rather than detract from teaching and learning in our schools.

When will we be willing to risk creating schools that meet the needs of our 21st century students rather than expecting our students to fit a model of schooling designed 150 years ago? Let that time be now, and let Farmington be the district courageous enough to pioneer this important work. Our students lives and futures depend upon it.

Describe how you think parents, students, and families should be involved in making decisions within your school district?

Our board must establish vehicles other than public comment during board meetings via which members of our school community can communicate their concerns and recommendations. Board members must listen more carefully and respond more rapidly and fully to comments raised and suggestions offered by community members.

Who (if any) are your top financial supporters for your campaign?

Neighbors, Community Members, Colleagues, and Friends

What are your top 3 educational priorities/goals within your school district?

Parents, students, and teachers are frustrated by the absence of action on the part of our administration and board to address issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion in the individual cases when they occur and systemically. New district policies, initiatives, and curricula must be put in place to address and remedy these issues at every level throughout our school system.

Second, with teen suicide on the rise, we must balance our academic expectations with the overall well-being of our students and be willing to consider new instructional models that support our students’ physical, emotional, and psychological health and growth as well as their academic progress. Expanding our vocational education options can be part of this process by providing our students with more than one pathway to success and enabling more students to graduate from high school career-ready.

Third, our board members must be more responsive to our community’s concerns, more respectful to one another, and must hold our superintendent accountable for accomplishing actionable items at predetermined dates throughout the coming school year.

What are your top 3 educational priorities/goals at a state level?

Find less intrusive, less time-consuming, more reliable methods for evalutating student progress and teacher performance than standardized testing.

Remove the shackles of these tests and their connection to school funding so that districts are free to explore better ways of grouping children for learning and healthier, more humane ways of fostering student learning.

Provide a wider array of graduation options to better meet the varied learning styles, abilities, and needs of students throughout our state.

What challenges do you anticipate this school year to COVID and what do you think your school district must do to keep students & staff safe?

While I believe our district has made the right choice for student and teacher safety by going all virtual thus far this school year, this has placed our teachers in an impossibly difficult situation as they adjust to the new Learning Management System the district implemented this fall and cope with continuing uncertainty about what the remainder of the school year will require. We must make sure we are attending to the overall well-being of our students and teachers alike as we all continue to cope with the many unanticipated challenges this pandemic presents. Are our students and teachers being given opportunities to discuss what they are experiencing and seek assistance if needed? What support systems are in place? How easy are these support systems for our students and teachers to access? The psychological and emotional health and well-being of our students, parents, and teachers is as important as continued academic progress.

What should be your school district’s top spending priorities in their budget? Alternatively, what should not be prioritized your district’s budget?

District-wide anti-racism, bias, and equity training is a must, and not just a “one-and-done” inservice. Our district must invest in this work as an ongoing process. In June, a group of Farmington High School students presented a detailed plan to our Board and Superintendent for systemic sociocultrual sensitivity training that ought to be revisited and explored.

I’d also like to see more teachers hired, smaller class sizes, and fewer high-level administrators along with additional learning support personell and options, particularly for those students who do not qualify for learning support services under current state IEP and 504 guidelines.

Additionally, expanded vocational education opportunities and a wider array of course offerings at our high schools would give our students greater opportunities for success and career-readiness, especially for those not headed to college right out of high school.

What role do you think standardized tests should play in your school district?

None. Eliminate standardized tests and the Common Core State Standards so that our teachers can invest their time and energies in truly educating our children rather than being pressured to teach to these tests and sacrifice precious class time to have students prepare for and take these tests throughout the school year. There are other, more reliable, less intrusive ways to measure and document student learning and growth as well as teacher performance. If we seek alternative sources of funding for our schools, we will be less dependent upon state funding which might enable us to make some of these changes. Perhaps our district could pilot alternative means of evaluating, documenting, and reporting student and teacher progress that enahnce rather than detract from teaching and learning in our schools.

If you could have an impact on your school district’s curriculum , what changes would you make? What, if anything, would you keep the same?

Our Social Studies curricula must be revisited and revised so as to provide our students with a more accurate, less-Eurocentric perspective of World and American History.

When will we give students the opportunity to learn and practice such essential life skills as communication, conflict resolution, navigating relationships, and managing stress, anxiety, depression, anger, and other strong emotion? How about now?

And why does every high school student have to take the same Algebra 1 and Physics classes? While all students can be required to take both Math and Science classes throughout high school, I have known many wonderful, hard-working students who were able to learn some of the Algebra 1 skills and concepts but needed a much slower pace to learn and master them than is typical in a regular 9th grade Algebra 1 class. Why aren’t we making more options available to these students? Instead, we force them to take these classes in which they spend hours and hours working as hard as they can and then, even if they pass the class, they have not mastered the learning. Furthermore, this takes a sometimes irreparable toll on these students’ confidence in their ability to learn at all as well as their self-esteem. This is completely unnecessary if only we would be willing to provide alternatively-paced courses with adjusted content.

Additionally, expanded vocational education opportunities and a wider array of course offerings at our high schools would give our students greater opportunities for success and career-readiness, especially for those not headed to college right out of high school. If our students could pursue training, internships, apprencticeships, and certifications in skills sets such as graphic design, carpentry, electrical wiring, plumbing, cosmotology, and the culinary arts, they could graduate from high school career-ready.

What responsibility do you believe your school district has in supporting students’ and staffs’ mental and emotional health/wellbeing?

With teen suicide on the rise, we must balance our academic expectations with the overall well-being of our students and be willing to consider new instructional models that support our students’ physical, emotional, and psychological health and growth as well as their academic progress. Disciplinary problems descrease when students are taught communication, collaboration, and conflict resolution skills along with how to safely manage stress, anxiety, anger, depression, and other strong emotions. Teaching our students these skills will benefit them now and life long. We can also provide additional support personell (social workers, psychologists, counselors) in our schools so that these individuals and their services are more regularly and readily available to our students and teachers.

How do you think your school district should handle student discipline/and make schools a safe place for students and staff?

I recommend that we replace our punitive displinary process with a restorative justice model of holding students accountable for their behavioral choices and supporting their development of better decision-making skills. Disciplinary problems descrease when students are taught communication, collaboration, and conflict resolution skills along with how to safely manage stress, anxiety, anger, depression, and other strong emotions. Also, providing additional support personell (social workers, psychologists) and making these individuals and their services more regularly and readily available to our students and teachers would be more productive and proactive than having a poice officer in the building.

What are your top priorities around special education in your district?

We need additional learning support personell and options, particularly for those students who do not qualify for learning support services under current state IEP and 504 guidelines.

And why does every high school student have to take the same Algebra 1 and Physics classes? While all students can be required to take both Math and Science classes throughout high school, I have known many wonderful, hard-working students who were able to learn some of the Algebra 1 skills and concepts but needed a much slower pace to learn and master them than is typical in a regular 9th grade Algebra 1 class. Why aren’t we making more options available to these students? Instead, we force them to take these classes in which they spend hours and hours working as hard as they can and then, even if they pass the class, they have not mastered the learning. Furthermore, this takes a sometimes irreparable toll on these students’ confidence in their ability to learn at all as well as their self-esteem. This is completely unnecessary if only we would be willing to provide alternatively-paced courses with adjusted content.

Additionally, expanded vocational education opportunities and a wider array of course offerings at our high schools would give our students greater opportunities for success and career-readiness, especially for those not headed to college right out of high school. If our students could pursue training, internships, apprencticeships, and certifications in skills sets such as graphic design, carpentry, electrical wiring, plumbing, cosmotology, and the culinary arts, they could graduate from high school career-ready.

What is your perspective on working towards achieving equity within your school district?

Teachers, parents, students, adminstrators, board members, and staff all need to have time and opportunities to come together to discuss our district’s equity issues. We also, all of us, must develop new skills for identifying and addressing these issues as they arise. District-wide anti-racism, bias, and equity training is a must, and not just a “one-and-done” inservice. Our district must invest in this work as an ongoing process. In June, a group of Farmington High School students presented a detailed plan to our Board and Superintendent for systemic sociocultrual sensitivity training that ought to be revisited and explored. Furthermore, our Board must do a better job of modeling respectful discourse during our meetings, particularly when we disagree with one another.

Any other information you want to include or share?

Our current K-12 educational model developed during the Industrial Age. While the assembly line-approach may work for building automobiles, it does not work well for educating and nurturing human beings. Our one-size-fits-all American education system leaves many of our students behind. Farmington can lead the way in developing something that better meets the learning needs and nurtures the overall well-being of all our students. May we have the courage to do so.