Los Alamitos Unified School District Board candidates answer questions

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For the first time, voters will elect candidates to the Los Alamitos Unified School District Board of Education in a system with trustee voting areas. LAUSD made the transition from an at-large voting system to one based on five trustee voting areas earlier this year.

LAUSD has six elementary schools, two middle schools and Los Alamitos High School and encompasses Seal Beach, Los Alamitos, Rossmoor and small portions of Cypress and Long Beach.

Elections are being held in Trustee Area 2 and Trustee Area 5. In Trustee Area 2, retired principal Chris Forehan, professor Jody Roubanis and parent and project manager Paurvi Trivedi are running for the seat. In Trustee Area 5, current LAUSD Board of Education President Meg Cutuli is facing challenger Matthew Filler, a retired engineer.

Scott Fayette will be appointed to represent Trustee Area 4 after no other candidate filed paperwork to run for the open seat.

Each candidate was emailed the following questions this week and given equal space, a total of 800 words, to respond to all of the questions. These are the answers from the candidates who responded by the deadline.

LAUSD students have returned to classrooms for in-person instruction in the hybrid setting and a return to full-time is expected, although a date is not clear. What, if anything, do you think could be improved upon in how LAUSD schools are operating during the COVID-19 pandemic?

Chris Forehan, candidate for Trustee Area 2

“My two grandsons are involved in hybrid at a Los Al elementary school. Their parents and I have found that everything that was planned for is in place and is working. This is working because it involved all key stakeholders. It is also important to have conversation with parents and staff who are participating at “Los Al at Home” (LAUSD’s online-only academic option) to consider what is working and what needs adjustment. I would want to see that on a regular basis all the stakeholders, including parents are involved in defining what is working and what needs revision. It is critical to continue this effort to revise and adjust for safe school learning for all students AND all staff.”

Jody Roubanis, candidate for Trustee Area 2

“Students of LAUSD schools were among the first in the county to have access to face-to-face learning.  Parents and teachers had the option to select their preferred environment:  a 100% virtual learning/teaching or a hybrid of virtual with limited face-to-face time.  In opening LAUSD schools, the district went beyond the safety measures set by the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) and provided air purifiers in all classrooms, along with desk shields and safety protocols to protect against the spread of the virus.  Importantly, the LAUSD instituted a Dashboard (available on the district website) to quickly communicate about the virus in LAUSD schools to parents and community members.  With fewer than five cases of the virus, the district has done a good job protecting the safety of students and staff.  Unfortunately, the cost of these safety measures is predicted to be over 6 million dollars by the end of the school year.  The great majority of this cost is funded by state and federal legislation, and if these safety standards are to be maintained the school district will need to be prepared to fund the short fall through its general fund.  It is not clear when or even if 100% face-to-face learning will resume this academic year, or even next, but it is clear that depleting the school district budget is a major operation concern during the COVID-19 pandemic that will have future consequences.”

Paurvi Trivedi, Candidate for Trustee Area 2

My son has returned to the classroom for in-person instruction in a hybrid setting and so far, it is going well. Parents, teachers and students had the choice to select what worked best for them: Hybrid, in-person instruction or 100% virtual learning (Los Al at home). The district worked tirelessly and reviewed all safety measures set by the California Department of Public Health. This included but not limited to providing clear desk shields for every student and air purifiers for each classroom to help protect the spread of the virus. Also, the launching of the COVID-19 Dashboard (located at losal.org) will prove to be an invaluable tool for the students, parents and the entire staff of Los Alamitos Unified School District.

Meg Cutuli, candidate for Trustee Area 5

“We are doing a great job in our reopening.  Adjustments to the schedule have been made to make things go more smoothly.  If Los Al finds that something needs to be changed, we will address it and make the necessary changes.  We have followed and exceeded the guidelines from the State and [Orange County Public Health Care Agency.]  And everyone needs to be aware of their actions outside of school and the potential effects for students and staff.  We are in this together!”

Matthew Filler, candidate for Trustee Area 5

“So far, the State’s tier system applies only to business reopenings, and has not yet addressed full reopenings. I expect full school reopenings will require at least the same yellow tier that Orange County needs to meet for Disneyland and Knott’s to re-open, at least for schools with passing periods. This tier demonstrates a low level of general risk of clusters and outbreaks that is needed before one can safely even consider allowing large numbers of students to be in closer proximity. The County is saying that won’t happen until next summer.

The only way for most of the community to be and feel safer and to reopen schools more fully is to commit to getting our neighbors to work with us to do everything needed to get to that level. This is the path to opening more businesses more fully and keeping them open as well. Given our climate, if New York and Europe could spend much of last summer at or close to those criteria, we should be able to do so in fall and spring in Orange County. Unfortunately, that would take leadership from above and the sort of near-universal individual participation that we don’t seem to have. I’d like to see the District include in the daily COVID-19 reminders information about how things are going both educationally and from a health standpoint, starting with a link to the dashboard. Those communications should also provide more tips for parents to slow the spread in the community. In general, the way to get to a full reopening is to slow the spread in the community. Two of the schools have a building with a ventilation system that distributes air centrally between classrooms, which the District has so far maintained cannot be upgraded to provide the MERV-13 level of filtration that is appropriate to preventing spread of COVID-19 between classrooms. These upgrades are possible, and need to be accomplished.”

What is your message to parents who are dealing with unprecedented times in the education of their children?

Chris Forehan, candidate for Trustee Area 2

“My message to parents, is to continue to be involved in following the expectations set in the LAUSD Master Plan for reopening and maintaining safe classrooms. Rely on school staff when you
have questions and understand that in working together we can get through this “new normal” successfully. Get involved in parent workshops to assist all parents with the new normal…especially for the parents with “Los Al At Home” children.”

Paurvi Trivedi, Candidate for Trustee Area 2

We will get through this and we are all in this together. We are all working towards the “new” normal and so many things in our lives have greatly changed. Communication and being informed is essential and don’t be shy asking for help. We are all better together!

Jody Roubanis, candidate for Trustee Area 2

“In dealing with these unprecedented times, be on the lookout for mental health concerns – including your own.  Never before has public education placed more stress on parents as instructional gatekeepers and without a precedent of what normal looks like.  Parents are their child’s most important teacher, and children sometimes learn most by example.  Reaching out for help when it is needed, reflects wisdom.  See the school district website (www.losal.org) for resources for parents, especially those related to mental health.

Remember that these times are unprecedented for all of us, including your child’s teacher who is working to bring your child instruction in a virtual learning environment.  Teachers and staff are struggling to develop and to implement strategies that best engage your student in the given learning environment, yet not all teachers in the school district are fully fluent in the language of virtual learning.  It is a new paradigm that we are all struggling to master.  Patience and communication are important attributes for parents right now, but also optimism that this pandemic is focusing us to re-evaluate how we do education and what we can do better.”    

Meg Cutuli, candidate for Trustee Area 5

“To our parents, hang in there!  The pandemic has impacted families in a way not seen before in history.  Having the family together, all on computers, trying to work and attend distance learning is a daily challenge.  And the longer it lasts, the more difficult it becomes.  Hybrid school attendance is helpful but the schedule can be brutal for working parents.  Our day care centers are restricted on the number of students it can take and our space is more limited.  Holidays and celebrations have changed.  So much of our lives is different.  Stay tuned to your children’s social-emotional health – and your own!  Ask for help if you feel you need it.  The pandemic will end and we will get back to a more normal life.”

Matthew Filler, candidate for Trustee Area 5

“Every crisis is also an opportunity. We need to realize that while this pandemic seems like it is lasting forever, ultimately it will be just a year or two in the lives of our children.  While every year is important, kids do benefit throughout their lives from a wide variety of experiences, and many will learn a lot from this, particularly if we encourage them to do so.  The thing to do is to take advantage of these experiences to grow, to expand our ways of learning, and to experience being closer together. For example, while my grandson lost out on important social skills opportunities and reading reinforcement that we couldn’t really provide at home, he discovered ways that he could learn and practice languages he has been interested in on-line, and made some real progress with on-line math programs. He now often includes the Duolingo program in his independent screen time.”

What is the first thing you would like to accomplish if you are elected?

Chris Forehan, candidate for Trustee Area 2

“Firstly, I would visit ALL classrooms and all departments in our school district. I would find a way to “shadow a student” to see what their day is like, and how we are meeting his/her needs. I would like to review what plans are in place to ensure that any learning gaps in students that have occurred during the spring are addressed and planned for. I would want to be sure that our students with special needs are back in programs (either on campus or at home) that are meeting their special needs. I would want to make sure we continue to address issues around diversity, and continue to provide an outstanding program for all students in academics, the arts, athletics and activities. I would want to review the budget and plan for additional needs during these times, but ensure that our dollars will be there to meet our needs in future years.”

Jody Roubanis, candidate for Trustee Area 2

“I plan to work collectively with members of the board to understand how systemic and institutional cultural biases are perpetuated.  Being cognizant of biases and other factors that can limit the scope of critical thinking for both students and staff, I strive towards teaching and learning environments that are culturally responsive to students and to staff with the premise that relationships are foundational to understanding the experiences of others.”

Paurvi Trivedi, Candidate for Trustee Area 2

I would like to visit every classroom on all 9 campuses in our school district. We need to review, and access learning loss faced during the pandemic and how to best support our students including social/emotional well-being.

Meg Cutuli, candidate for Trustee Area 5

“We need to get through the pandemic.  Then we will need to see about learning loss and how to support our students.  The State budget will have a big impact on education in California.  We are looking at probable reductions in funding when we actually need more money to support all our students.  I will support getting our students “back” to where they should be.  This will also include supporting the social-emotional aspect of the student.”

Matthew Filler, candidate for Trustee Area 5

“I’d like to improve communication between the District and its various stakeholders, particularly parents, teachers, staff, and the community at large. Unions need to be seen as partners, not adversaries. I’d like to see a report on Board meeting results and other school news published within a day or two of each meeting. I may do this myself, much as some Seal Beach councilmembers have started doing, but I also see that as an opportunity for student journalists.”

Name three issues specific to your trustee area that you think need to be addressed by the Board of Education.

Paurvi Trivedi, Candidate for Trustee Area 2

The budget will be the most difficult to craft since the deep recession of a decade ago. Having managed multimillion-dollar marketing budgets for automakers and other clients, I have the experience to:

• Ensure funds are spent directly on resources for students.

• Make the learning environment safe.

• Improve classroom instruction.

Mental health and student well-being are serious challenges facing the district. Building on Superintendent Dr. Andrew Pulver’s CHOC partnership for student wellness centers at our middle schools. I will pursue additional resources to help address mental health needs.

Inclusion and diversity are among the district’s top priorities, and I support  that initiative. I will work to create campus environments where every student feels safe, valued, and supported.

Chris Forehan, candidate for Trustee Area 2

“I have now walked and knocked on every door in Trustee Area #2. Having walked the Trustee Area, I have met dedicated residents who have shared their smart thinking and given me the time to get to know them. For this I am thankful. You can’t represent a Trustee Area unless you know what concerns they have and what successes they see. I will ALWAYS remember that our Trustee area includes not only part of Rossmoor but residents who live adjacent to the High School in Los Alamitos and in other areas of Los Alamitos. I will also represent part of Leisure World and a Mobile Home Park adjacent to Oak Middle School with senior residents. I will find ways to communicate with all specific areas so any concerns they have can be addressed in a timely manner. It is imperative that we continue to work closely with the residents adjacent to the High School on use and appropriate times that the fields are used at the High School. It is important that I always have an ear to each and every part of our Trustee Area #2.”

Jody Roubanis, candidate for Trustee Area 2

“The new trustee area election system allows the school board member to be attentive to their constituents in their trustee area while working collectively with other board members to pursue identified goals of the school board.  Three issues of concern follow:

1. Traffic.  Over the last ten years, I have worked with various agencies in Trustee Area 2 to promote Safe Routes to Schools.  These agencies include the Rossmoor Community Services District (RCSD), PTA, LAUSD School Board and City of Los Alamitos.  I plan to continue to promote active transportation for our students.  The benefits include less car traffic around school and more exercise for students.

2. Mitigation of learning loss.  Equity is a factor that is paramount in making decisions about allocation of resources.  Students with learning disabilities experienced and continue to experience greater loss of learning in the virtual environment, when compared to other students.

3.Down-sizing.  With decreasing enrollment and deficit spending of the budget, some difficult decisions need to be made to ensure that future generations of students will have access to similar standards of educational excellence that contemporary generations of Los Al students have recently experienced.”

Meg Cutuli, candidate for Trustee Area 5

“When I was walking through my trustee area and speaking with people, this is what I heard as issues: getting students back full time to mitigate learning loss, supporting the social-emotional well-being of students and supporting the work of our Human Relations Advisory Council.  And I am happy to say that the district is currently working on all of them.  We cannot return full time to traditional school until it is approved by the State and County health care agencies and our families and staff feel that it is safe to return to our regular schedule.  Our staff is hyper aware of the social-emotional needs of our students and address this concern in many different ways.  It may be as simple as talking one on one to a student or parent to referral to our school counselors and psychologists to referral to outside agencies for support and help.  Our Human Relations Advisory Council has been meeting virtually and last week held a fantastic parent [education] night that addressed student and parent mental health.  We have hired a TOSA (teacher on special assignment) to address diversity and equity issues and support the infusion of different cultures into the curriculum.  Covid-19 has slowed down our work and shifted some priorities but it hasn’t stopped us!  Like I said before, we will get through this together!”

Matthew Filler, candidate for Trustee Area 5

“There are in general student transportation issues, both in terms of bussing and sports, for the many students who must cross Pacific Coast Highway and/or the 405 and travel a longer way to get to school than in other parts of the District. Many elderly residents, including at Leisure World, have acute concerns about spread of COVID-19 that they feel are not the focus of the District.”

What’s the number one thing you want voters to know about you?

Chris Forehan, candidate for Trustee Area 2

“I have 38 years of experience in public education. I have been a teacher, principal and assistant superintendent for Pre-K-12th grade educational services. All students and staff in our school district deserve a safe, nurturing learning environment. I am in the race because I care about the children, parents, teachers, and staff in our school district. I have lived in Trustee Area #2 for 40 years, have two children who successfully went through the K-12 Los Al schools, and now two grandsons enrolled in the elementary school. I have volunteered, as well as subbed in our classrooms. I know what makes a difference in the classroom as well as what makes a difference for ALL Students at ALL grade levels. I am the candidate with the most experience in education who can help us meet the challenges that face our children, our schools and our community. I put kids first, involve staff, parents and students in decisions, and I value diversity. I listen, collaborate and take action. I have the “pulse” of Trustee Area #2 and have the experience and commitment to represent our trustee area ON DAY #1.”

Jody Roubanis, candidate for Trustee Area 2

“I am the only candidate who has children who have gone through the LAUSD system and recently graduated.  With vastly different learning needs, my twin boys graduated from LAHS in the Class of 2020.  I understand what it is to be a parent with aspirations for children who have a wide range of needs.  I bring the perspective that one size does NOT fit all when it comes to learning.”

Paurvi Trivedi, Candidate for Trustee Area 2

I am the only candidate with a child currently attending school in the Los Alamitos Unified School District. It’s been 10 years since a school board member had a child in one of the district’s schools. With the pandemic, the pressures of social media and other issues children and teens and their families are facing the parent’s perspective is greatly needed on the board.

Meg Cutuli, candidate for Trustee Area 5

“The number one thing that voters should know about me is that I am doing this for the kids.  In my heart and in my soul, I believe that education is the world’s great equalizer and that every child deserves to have the best education possible.  Anything that I can do to make that happen is a very good thing.  Every decision that I make from approving budgets that direct where we support kids to professional development for staff to maintaining our facilities is done with the question, how does this help kids learn?  It is the passion of my life and I feel very grateful to have been able to be on the Los Al School Board.  I wish to continue my work and I humbly ask for your support and vote.”

Matthew Filler, candidate for Trustee Area 5

“As a retired engineer, I will bring an important dimension of knowledge to the Board about overseeing the many millions of dollars that are being spent on construction from the Bond measure, as well as to the information technology, budget, and organizational aspects of the District.”