This fall, voters will choose two candidates for the Livermore Valley Joint Unified School District (LVJUSD) Board of Trustees.
Of the five candidates who will appear on the ballot, one incumbent and three newcomers participated in interviews with The Independent this week. From distance learning to balancing school district budgets during tough times, Yanira Guzman, Charles “Chuck” Rogge, Asa Strout and Kristie Wang shared their perspectives. Kandiss Hewing was unable to participate.
Guzman is an educator with a BA in sociology from UC Berkeley and an MA in education from San Francisco State University. She taught for more than eight years in the Hayward Unified School District and the Pleasanton Unified School District as a Spanish bilingual/dual immersion teacher. Between work for a statewide college preparatory program and designing learning plans for customers in the tech field, Guzman said learning and teaching are in her DNA.
Guzman has two children in the district. As both a parent and a teacher, she noted her conversations with parents to reflect a broad spectrum of concerns raised: effective distance learning, support for students with special needs and college preparedness, among others.
“Understanding and recognizing that there are multiple voices (user groups) within the larger parent community is the first step towards finding resolutions for each unique situation,” she said.
Guzman’s experience with school district budgets goes back to 2011, when she first served on the Citizens Oversight Committee for LVJUSD’s Measure M parcel tax. She said she would work to identify budget cuts that wouldn’t directly impact sports, arts, music and other important extracurricular activities.
On the heels of COVID-19 and the subsequent distance learning, Guzman pointed out her extensive background in creating e-learning modules and hosting virtual trainings. She would like to see teachers provided with opportunities for professional development on not only technology for distance learning, but also on how to create engaging learning modules appropriate for students’ developmental needs. She also noted the district should promote classes for parents and caregivers on how to use the required learning technology.
“There are families that do not have the technical skill set to navigate the various e-learning platforms that are being used,” she said. “Although I am a techie and know how to speak English very well, some of the learning platforms are not user-friendly.”
She commended the current board for taking immediate action in transitioning to distance learning, and added that the district has been proactive in providing hardware and connectivity for students. She’s supportive of a phased and flexible approach for returning to the classroom. She supports a hybrid return to school.
Guzman expressed her pride in the dual language program at Junction Avenue, along with the tutorial videos she created on using Schoology (a learning management system) for the Spanish-speaking audience. She noted the district’s strengths to be a genuine care for students and families, as evidenced by many academic and creative programs. She further stated that the LVJUSD could work on stronger inclusivity in regard to its Spanish-speaking community. For Guzman, issues around diversity, equity and inclusion need to be addressed by representation of the different communities on the school board.
“There are cultural differences and nuances that I am familiar with and able to capitalize on in increasing the district’s reach into the Latino community,” she said. “Together, it’s a bridge that we can continue to build.”
For long-term goals, Guzman said she will work on changing the narrative about some Livermore schools. For example, when she intentionally chose Junction for the dual-immersion program, the reaction from some was negative.
“I am extremely proud of the education that my children are receiving and the work of the Junction teachers and staff,” Guzman explained. “Whereas some view Junction as poor and low-income, I see hard-working and resiliency. I see a community, in which I am extremely proud.”
CHARLES "CHUCK" ROGGE
Rogge attended Livermore schools from kindergarten through 12th grade before heading to Chabot College and Cal State University, Hayward. His daughter also attended LVJUSD and recently graduated with the Class of 2020. Rogge has served as the track and field coach at Livermore High School since 2005.
As the lone incumbent trustee, he said he has a solid understanding of the school budgeting process, curriculum, and student and staff safety necessities.
“The LVJUSD is an exemplary district,” he said. “Our board is cohesive and listens to our parents and overall community to make good decisions. Since I have been an active participant in this process, I am seeking re-election to continue the success of LVJUSD.”
He outlined the current issues to include a safe return to the classroom.
“As a current board member, I have supported the direction the superintendent has taken our district, by asking for waivers to start … in-school instruction,” he said. “I have sought and received feedback from students and parents on what works and what does not work with distance learning and passed this vital information on to the district. I have fully supported the loaning of laptops to students to advance distance learning. However, even with the systems our district has successfully implemented, there are still more known and unknown issues to address.”
As a board member, Rogge noted that he has been active in monitoring the school budget since he was first elected 12 years ago. He’s found the ups and downs to be cyclical, depending on policies, politics and the dependence of the “one percenters who pay the most taxes.”
“In our district, the taxpayers have historically supported education,” Rogge said. “The current state budget is forcing the district to borrow funds to fill in the state’s delay in funding, aka TARP. Our funding is fragile, because our state revenues are fragile. This year, we have a pandemic, massive fires and business closings. I feel we will be able to educate our students even if it means sitting in a grass playing field.”
Rogge said it’s inevitable that there will be a gap in education due to the pandemic and subsequent distance learning, but that the district is proactively working to support students’ needs.
Rogge supports a hybrid return to school for the short term.
“The issue will be money to support parallel learning systems,” he said. “If less than 15% of families opt for distance learning it may come down to economic feasibility to continue. But if distance learning is mandated by the state, budget cuts and possible program reductions will occur unless the state is forthcoming with additional funds.”
Rogge said he was proud of the student-led Pledge of Allegiance at every public board meeting and the art displays at the board table. He noted LVJUSD’s strengths to be its teachers, staff, and strong relationships with labor groups, but said the district is understaffed.
On equity and inclusion, Rogge believes in equal opportunity in all areas of education, in addition to enforcement of policies and regulations to benefit all.
“The reality is we may never have 100% of equity and inclusion, for we are a country made of differences and those differences define who we are or want to be,” he said. “The first step is to listen.”
As co-founder of Unify Livermore, Strout stated his goal is to increase community engagement in local politics and create an environment of honesty and transparency in local government. His 3.5-year-old daughter will enter the LVJUSD, and, if elected, Strout hopes to address such issues as school safety, inequity, transparency and accessibility of board members. He also hopes to improve school infrastructure and technology.
Strout noted the recurring issues raised to him during his campaign to include accessibility and engagement with the school board.
“The parents in Livermore want to know that their school board members are available to them outside school board meetings,” he said. “As a community advocate, I will make a point to be the school board member who is accessible to our parents and actively participates in community engagement activities. That is one of the primary responsibilities of any elected official, to be available to your constituents.”
He also said the second issue has been the inequity within the school district, as some parents are told the best school in the city is on the southwest side of town. He noted that some of that is an inaccurate perception, but that there are also historical truths that need to be addressed.
“(Addressing inequity) will require ensuring those schools are getting the right level of support for their needs,” he said. “That could mean some schools that are not performing as well as others are getting more support per student than the successful schools to increase the performance of the other schools.”
Strout noted that, while he doesn’t have experience with school district budgets, he’s worked with large corporate budgets in his professional career. On tackling budgetary issues within the district, he prioritizes keeping teachers and not adding to the record-high unemployment rates across the nation. He said he would work with the community and partners like Livermore Valley Education Foundation and local businesses.
“If the budget gap is not addressed through partnerships with the community, we can start looking at the cost of personnel and some programs that do not make sense during a pandemic,” Strout said. “It would be unfair to ask every employee of the school district to take a pay cut; instead, we should look at the high-earning employees and have a conversation about pay reductions in lieu of layoffs.”
Strout noted that he has a professional background in application technology and managed the implementation of the e-learning platform, called Skilljar. He outlined the importance of giving teachers enough time to properly understand new applications and technology. He also said there is a student population that’s being underserved in terms of technology. He believes students from lower-income households will fall behind, due to a lack of technology, adequate learning spaces or parental engagement caused by work schedules. To address this, he would aim to provide tutors for those struggling.
Strout does not support a hybrid return to school, noting that other districts struggle with balancing the online and in-person students at the same time. Instead, he supports a phased approach to reopen schools, placing in-person priority on those with special needs and students with suboptimal learning environments.
On the district’s greatest strengths, Strout said it’s the people who make up the community. His long-term goals include moving the district to a more progressive, equitable, inclusive and modern school district.
“As an elected member of the Livermore school board,” Strout continued, “I will fully support building a curriculum that addresses and highlights important events in the black community, Native Americans, and other persons of color to create a more honest and inclusive American history.”
Wang holds a bachelor’s degree in education policy from The University of Chicago and a master’s degree in public policy from Harvard University. She worked for a national policy organization called Children Now, where her work included tracking education policy and funding in California and advocating for universal preschool.
She has two children in the district — one recently graduated and the other still in high school. Over the years, Wang has participated in PTA, served on the Technology Committee and the Citizens’ Oversight Committee for Measures M and G, coached the fourth- and fifth-grade math team, and volunteered in the classroom. In the last two years, she’s worked to build community education around youth vaping.
In addition to serving on the Oversight Committee, Wang said her in-depth conversations with district officials and the past seven years of research on Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF) have given her a strong understanding of school district budgets.
“I have good relationships with officials in nearby cities and in Sacramento. I’m the only candidate endorsed by our Assemblymember Rebecca Bauer-Kahan, who serves on the Appropriations Committee,” Wang said. “My connections and knowledge of the policy process allow me to advocate for additional resources to our district. My extensive background in the nonprofit world also gives me experience with corporate donations and grants.”
She further noted that she has ideas that will bring new energy to community fundraising efforts. Where cuts have to be made, she said she will work with stakeholders and reach out to groups that may be disproportionately burdened.
On e-learning, she noted that, in addition to her work on the Technology Committee, she recently spoke to the district's chief technology officer, who communicated the district is able to hire additional tech support staff.
“Our technology team has done a heroic job with limited time and resources to provide internet access to all of our students,” she said.
While Wang absolutely believes there will be a learning gap in need of addressing, she also pointed out other discrepancies.
“This pandemic made inequalities impossible to ignore. The longer it goes on, the wider the inequalities,” she said. “The fact that some families were trying to decide between various high-tech set-ups for their children, while others were waiting for a hotspot and laptop from the district so they can access the internet makes those inequalities clear. And we’ve seen that it is possible to make a laptop and hotspot available to every student who needs it. Some students still have to go to school every day to pick up food. I would like to see us keep working to close these gaps.”
If it’s what families want and resources allow for it, Wang supports a hybrid return to school. She pointed out that hybrid education could also present opportunities for students to take courses that the schools aren’t able to offer in person, such as a higher math level or certain languages.
“We need to listen to the groups that are most affected and fight the tendency to be dismissive. I’m a member of both the LVJUSD Coalition for Change and the city’s Equity and Inclusion Working Group, and will be working through these issues in our schools and in our city,” she said. “I’ve suggested we convene a youth panel to shadow the city’s Working Group, so our youth have their own space to discuss and offer solutions to something for which they have a lot of passion and energy. It’s more important than ever that we have board members with a deep understanding of racial injustice.”