September Meeting Report – What’s Happening With Our Schools – A Panel Discussion

Sara Deen, Ami Gandhi, LaRae Bechmann, Kelly Baranick

By Nancie Silver —

The Palos Verdes Democrats met in person and on Zoom on Sunday, September 18 to hear a panel discussion about what is happening in our local schools and district.


Editor’s Note:  To help the reader delve more deeply into the details of the presentation, we’ve annotated the time (e.g. 1:30 is 1 minute 30 seconds) that the discussion occurs in the video.  The video is provided at the end of this article.

00:09  Ann Nye, 2nd Vice President and program moderator, shared some recent awards won by the district, and reasons why this topic was chosen.

02:50  Ann introduced the four panelists, two of whom are currently running for office in the November election:

  • Ami Gandhi, PVPUSD Board Member and Candidate for the one two-year seat (she has 1 opponent)
  • Sara Deen, PVPUSD Board Candidate for one of the three four-year seats (she has 6 opponents)
  • Kelly Baranick, Peninsula High School Head Counselor and PV Faculty Association’s Bargaining Committee Member
  • LaRae Mardesic Bechmann, Ridgecrest PTSA President

04:32  Each panelist introduced herself and shared some reasons why this topic is of interest.

13:48  Ann also recognized Rick Phillips, who is currently serving on the school board, and was on the Zoom meeting.  Ann then began asking the panelists to share their thoughts on the prepared questions.

14:22  Ann asked what each panelist’s experience has been with the communication that has come from the district and local school administration. What do you think has been the best and the worst, and what do you think needs to be improved?

15:36  Panelists highlighted concerns regarding gaps in communication with teachers, the makeup and role of the PV Faculty Advisory Committees, basic issues of customer service and follow ups to phone calls by parents, HOA presidents, or others, safety threats, transparency, excessive homework, HR constraints to transparent communication, the plethora of advisory committees to communicate with parents, communication techniques and styles, parental language and computer literacy barriers to communication, curriculum adoption, and more.

27:33  Ann asked about the cases in which the state and county mandates policies or requirements; how do you think the district board members work together?

28:17  Panelists discussed certain mandates that must be followed, the polarization of the school board by some members of the community, the flexibility that the district has in following mandates, and other issues.

31:29  Ann asked panelists to discuss what they think are the top facility improvements needed in the district.

32:24  Panelists highlighted vermin issues, deteriorating buildings and fields, youth access to fields, how programmatic needs have changed, lack of air conditioning at schools, the way schools are funded, budget choices and priorities, critique of the recent bond initiative campaign, various state and federal funding sources for infrastructure, and other issues.

38:17  LaRae said, “There is no way to avoid a bond initiative…and there is no other platform or mechanism in which to pay for all the deferred maintenance throughout the district. Amen.”

42:10  Rick Phillips asked if he “could clarify some things. The responsibility of the school board is to put the bond on the ballot…and set the maximum level of the bond.  The Campaign Committee was a separate entity, and the district is actually prohibited by law from campaigning in support of the bond measure.”

50:34  Ann asked panelists how the district is addressing curriculum issues, such as the ethnic studies class (which some parents thought was critical race theory) and the books some parents want banned?

51:13  Panelists discussed the role of the curriculum advisory committee and how the process works, the importance of educating students about the diversity of cultures and beliefs, increasing tolerance and respect for others, politicization of curriculum changes, details about the ethnic studies requirement passed by the CA legislators, to name a few.

59:57  Sara said “We really need to do everything we can to empower our kids to understand pluralism…I think these classes help our kids learn how to work in a global economy…and to interact with other people who have different experiences.”

1:02:11  Ann asked about student mental health concerns and how the district is managing these issues.

1:02:47  Panelists discussed a variety of mental health concerns, the resources and personnel that are currently available, and what else is needed to address the severity of mental health concerns at all grade levels, and more.

1:03:26  Kelly said, “Before I die, we will have a comprehensive school counseling program; we still do not…it’s hard when I feel like I’ve been set up to fail every day because we are a reactive district to mental health.  We don’t have counselors at the elementary schools.”

1:19:25  Ann asked about how the panelists think about how the district is addressing or should be addressing school safety and security?

1:20:21  Panelists discussed the importance of understanding how school shootings happen, the CA extreme risk law, background checks, responsible gun ownership, what we (parents, teachers, students) can do to prevent shootings, the importance of teaching students the difference between reporting vs tattling, pros and cons of physical barriers to shooters, district-wide best practices, importance of communicating with students following any school shooting, and more.

1:27:45  Ami said “There are a lot of easy solutions, …simply going back to something that’s been around since we were in school, see something, say something, the more our community is actively engaged in being vigilant about what’s going on at the campus, including the parents visiting, the teachers, the students…it’s such a small thing but it goes a long way.”

1:29:31  Rick Phillips said, “The school board also supported the Palos Verdes Faculty Association (PVFA) resolution [curtailing gun violence and mass shootings in American schools and public places] on a 4-1 vote…the one vote against the resolution was from Matt ‘assault weapon’ Brock who stated that the only reason he would not support the measure was because it included a ban on assault weapons.”

1:30:18  Ann Nye shared PVFA President Tim Coleman’s endorsements for the PVPUSD race – Ami Gandhi, Sara Deen, Linda Kurt and Jean Christian.



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