Anil Pesaramelli is a software engineer at Kaiser Permanente, a health care company, and a member of the district’s Community Bond Oversight Committee, which reviews and monitors capital projects outlined in BVSD’s 2022 Critical Needs Plan.
According to a June 2023 presentation from district officials, Latino students and students who qualify for free and reduced lunch score lower than white students on literacy and math tests, reflecting a longstanding disparity in academic achievement. How would you seek to close this gap?
Closing the achievement gap between Latino and white students is a long-term commitment that requires collaboration, persistence, and focus on equity and inclusion. BVSD is a high performing school district but there are some achievement gaps in certain demographic groups. The gap is even wider when we bring the economic situation into picture. I would ensure that schools serving Latino students receive equitable funding and resources. Disparities in funding can lead to unequal educational opportunities. I would focus more on recruiting, retaining, and supporting high-quality teachers who are culturally competent and can relate to the needs of Latino students. We need to provide the teachers with professional development opportunities to address the specific needs of Latino students. I strongly believe in mentors and look up to their advice and guidance. I will establish mentorship programs that connect Latino students with successful Latino role models in the community who can inspire and guide them. I will revisit the current evaluation methods for teachers, schools, and districts to make sure the unique needs and challenges of Latino students are met. BVSD is currently on the right path towards addressing this issue but more work needs to be done to reduce this gap.
Overall, out-of-school suspensions declined during the 2022-23 school year, according to BVSD data. But Latino students were still about three times more likely to be suspended than white students. How would you help reduce disproportionate rates of student punishment in BVSD’s schools?
I will collect data first and then start implementing restorative justice practices that focus on repairing harm, building relationships, and promoting a sense of community within the school. Usually the cause of any punishment is due to inbuilt bias. I will build bias awareness and mitigation training for teachers and staff to help them recognize and counteract unconscious biases that may contribute to disparities in discipline. I will consider Positive Behavior Support (PBS) framework that emphasizes the reinforcement of positive behaviors rather than a punitive approach. Cultural competency training for school staff, including teachers, administrators, and support personnel needs to be provided. This training can help reduce bias and stereotyping. I will ensure that discipline policies are clearly defined, consistently applied, and communicated to all students and parents. When discipline policies are applied consistently and fairly to all students, regardless of their background, ethnicity, or cultural differences, the confidence in students increases and they feel they are treated well and the rebels inside them calm down. We need to understand that teens are rebellious and tend to not agree sometimes. Promoting positive teacher-student relationships and a supportive school culture that values diversity and inclusivity will help in the long run.
For a variety of reasons — including the cost of housing in the City of Boulder — student enrollment districtwide has been declining over the last decade. It is expected to decline in future years, too, requiring the district to spend disproportionate resources on smaller schools or face the tough question of closing schools. What should the district do to address declining enrollment?
Long Range Advisory Committee was appointed to do research on declining enrollment. I will utilize enrollment data, academic performance data, and other metrics to make decisions about school improvements and resource allocation. The declining birth rates and high housing costs coupled with limited housing stock inhibits the ability of families with young children to live in BVSD. We might have to make tough decisions if this continues. I would foster strong relationships with the community and parents. Listening to their concerns and involving them in the decision-making process is important. Some solutions i can think of are:
1) Exploring dual enrollment partnerships with colleges or vocational training programs
2) Expand open enrollment boundaries
3) Collaborate with neighboring school districts to increase enrollment
4) Make combo classes
5) Create more affordable housing so that living in BVSD becomes affordable.
If we are forced to make some tough decisions, I would create groups based on critical enrollment. The schools in the first group will need to be closed/consolidated and alternatives need to be thought about. This needs community leaders, parents and teachers to all come together and make some tough decisions. Develop a long-term strategy that protects equity and quality of education.
Earlier this year, the Denver school board voted to reinstate police offices in schools. Some parents have called on Boulder to do the same. What are your thoughts on BVSD’s decision to remove school resource officers from its schools?
Critics argue that SROs often disproportionately target and discipline students of color, particularly Black and Latino students. I believe the presence of an SRO will deter students from doing stuff that can put them in trouble. Even people who have ill intentions will back off. We need to teach our young generation to believe in SROs and that they are there to protect us and not harm us. Why do we call 911 when in danger? We get some help from professionals who are trained to handle escalations. If we remove the SROs, we are telling our next generation not to trust them. SROs are sometimes involved in handling routine disciplinary matters that may be better addressed by educators and counselors. Their involvement in these issues can escalate situations unnecessarily. We should use all other methods such as counseling, restorative justice practices, or in-school discipline to handle minor infractions. We also need to set some policies around when SROs should interfere. We need to find the right balance by reevaluating the role of SROs, ensuring they receive training in youth engagement and conflict de-escalation, and working to minimize their involvement in disciplinary matters.
The Colorado Board of Education last year updated the state’s social studies standards to include references to racial and ethnic groups and LGBTQ people. Meanwhile, parent groups and activists are urging school districts to ban books that contain LGBTQ content. What are your thoughts on BVSD’s academic policies related to LGBTQ people?
Banning books limits academic freedom and restricts students’ exposure to diverse perspectives, ideas, and experiences, which are essential for critical thinking and personal growth. Banning LGBTQ-related books can be seen as discriminatory and exclusionary, sending a message to LGBTQ students that their experiences and identities are not valid or worthy of discussion. Banning books raises concerns about censorship and freedom of speech. I agree that books containing LGBTQ content can provide educational value by fostering understanding, empathy, and discussions about important social and cultural issues. These books can serve as a catalyst for open dialogue about LGBTQ issues, diversity, acceptance, and tolerance, helping students develop critical thinking and empathy. I believe the LGBTQ is a topic something even some adults have trouble understanding and accepting. There is a reason why we don’t introduce Calculus in kindergarten and voting rights until they are 18. I suggest introducing this in middle school along with sex education is the right age.
Emergency department visits for suicidal ideation by Boulder County residents ages 10 to 17 were 18% higher in 2022 than in 2021, and the highest since at least 2019, according to data from Boulder County Public Health. What can the school district do to improve the mental health of students?
Mental health education should be integrated into the curriculum along with PE. We need to encourage physical activity and exercise, as it can have a positive impact on mental health. Engaging in sports can take the anxiety and stress out. We shouold promote healthy eating and nutrition programs to ensure students are getting the necessary nutrients for their mental well-being. Students should learn about stress management, emotional regulation, and the importance of seeking help when needed. Providing access to school counselors, social workers, and mental health professionals who can offer individual and group counseling to students will help. Mental health awareness campaigns to reduce stigma and increase understanding of mental health issues within the school community should be organized. Teachers and staff should be trained to recognize signs of distress in students and provide support or referrals to appropriate resources. Parents should be educated about the importance of mental health so that they can support the students at home. Support groups for students dealing with common challenges, such as anxiety, depression, or grief should be created. Designated safe spaces should be provided so that students can go if they need a break, feel overwhelmed, or simply need to relax.