The WHY, the HOW, and the WHAT

Screen Shot 2018-07-29 at 12.30.04 PMI am going to write this blog in two parts. One to share my enthusiasm for what I am doing and the other to take care of a responsibility.

This morning I attended an event that was billed as a candidate training. During the first part, the amazing facilitator prompted us to reflect on why we are running.

I am running for Conejo Valley Unified School District school board to encourage district staff to provide programs and policies that will give each individual student the opportunity to grow and discover their passions. I am excited about being a board member and observing CVUSD students participating in Career/Technical Education (CTE) programs where they are growing their career skills. I look forward to seeing social and emotional health programs where students will learn to understand themselves better and respect others. I look forward to seeing students use critical thinking skills and creativity as they collaborate and communicate their thoughts in passionate, thought-provoking classroom discussions. I look forward to seeing preschoolers’ eyes widen with enlightenment and adult school students learning in programs that are enriching their lives every day! Warning to principals and directors: I will ask your permission to come to your campuses frequently to observe our students in your quality programs! This is to observe the sheer joy of learning in Conejo’s great programs!

Now for the responsibility: Those of you who are excited about my joining our board, the second part of this morning’s program was – how do we make this happen? To ensure I get on the board this fall, it is going to take a “Cheers” environment, where everybody knows my name! Today’s seminar said yard signs don’t accomplish this. Even being in the newspaper only partially gets my name out. The most effective way to get my name out? MAILERS! Mailers will remind everybody what I stand for and help to get out the vote! Yes…ironically enough, the most effective way to campaign is also the most expensive.

Recently, when I announced my official filing of my candidacy, I received a lot of positive feedback and support and I appreciate that support so much! If it is important to you for me to be on the board, I humbly ask you to go to my fundraising platform, and join the team by helping me buy mailers to send out to the community.

If you are reading this, you are already following me. Thank you. Please share my website and Facebook page with your friends in the community. Let’s do this together! Thanks!

Bill

The Students Who Inspired Me

During the beginning of this campaign, I have been asked, “What made you want to be a counselor?” Let me tell you about two students who majorly influenced this decision of mine, and my life overall.

In my second year of teaching at a primary school in the Pasadena Unified School District, I had a little boy named Tommy in my second grade class. Tommy had a history of behavior problems and incidents of anger. He was very physical. One day while the class was at recess and I was inside doing some planning, the office was notified that Tommy had “lost it”. He was swinging at anybody he could. He was screaming, hitting, and punching kids and playground supervisors. All the students on the playground were watching (from a distance) to see what was going to happen.

Tommy was my student. I ran out to see for myself what was going on. I saw Tommy wailing and screaming and running and swinging at anybody not fast enough to evade him. Playground supervisors and teachers had surrounded him and were yelling at him to stop. Tommy was in an anger trance. I broke through the adult border, wrapped my arms around Tommy in a bear hug, picked him up, and talked very softly to him. The reaction I saw was like releasing steam from an out-of-control engine. He regained consciousness of where he was, going limp on my shoulder. Everyone screaming at him was increasing the build-up of his anger, so in his mind, he had to get wilder to get above the hysteria of the situation. The noise and yelling was creating a barrier between himself and those yelling at him that prevented him from hearing the directions to stop. Soft talk directly in his ear penetrated the defenses he created against his surroundings. Learning how to reach him this way helped me realize that you can’t out-yell anger! He or she who CALMLY and quietly takes control of the angry situation diffuses the volatility.

Years later, I was teaching math at Moorpark Memorial High. My math classroom was in a converted auto shop: cement brick walls, cement floor, and one whole side was a steel rolldown garage door. You can imagine how any sound reverberated off the walls, floor, and that steel door. One day, I was at my desk waiting for my class after lunch to arrive. One particular student came in and yelled at the top of his lungs, “Hi, Mr. Gorback!! How ya doin?” I immediately thought, “I wonder how much sugar he had at lunch…” I tried to tone down the volume by responding to him in a low voice, but my student continued in his same volume as each of his classmates entered the room. I knew the whole class wouldn’t survive his boisterousness, and within minutes I had to send him up to the office. When I called his mother at the end of the day to report the in-school suspension, I learned that my student and his stepdad hadn’t talked in seven months. No support or guidance from his same gender role model in his household- no wonder he was acting out.

I knew right then that I wanted to work with students one on one as their counselor. I have been fortunate enough to have two callings thus far in my life: teaching, and then counseling. Now, I am pursuing a new calling as a potential school board trustee. I am intensely passionate about ensuring that school policy benefits each and every individual student and working with staff to provide programs to help these students grow into informed, humane, responsible citizens.

Meeting With the Community — It Matters!

IMG_20180623_143023Last weekend I enjoyed talking with community members at my meet and greet event. I am so grateful for Lori Jacobs and her family’s hospitality and those who attended, both old friends and new.

The meeting gave me an opportunity to listen to concerns, as well as share my opinions and possible solutions. The primary concern I heard was the need to have more programs to meet the specific needs of individual children. I shared my belief that it’s important to meet children where they are and bring them to their greatest potential. We discussed that CVUSD has programs focused on developing good character in addition to meeting strong academic standards. Community members and parents appreciated that different schools in the Conejo offer support for different interests based upon needs and learning styles of individual students.  

Another topic of concern that came up is district support for the Horizon Hills Parenting program and Conejo Valley Adult School. Parents participating in the Horizon Hills program learn how to raise children who are independent, responsible, cooperative and respectful. This contributes to success throughout school and life. Correspondingly, the Conejo Valley Adult School is an invaluable resource for parents who want to become more fluent in English, which will then allow them to be more involved and invested in their children’s education. This is in addition to the continuing education the adult school provides in various subjects and skills, which allows adults in the community to embrace the concept of lifelong learning and model it for their children.

We also discussed the difficulty in dealing with waiting lists and getting into high demand programs like EARThS Magnet, Discovery Academy, The Schoolwide Enrichment Magnet at Acacia, or The Leadership Program at Conejo Elementary as well as others. Parents in and around the Conejo Valley seek programs that best fit their children. We discussed the possibility of replicating high demand programs at additional campuses with similar personnel and materials. Providing the necessary professional development and materials to expand the success of programs to other settings to make sure we include all students who want to take part is a priority.

We discussed inclusivity, another topic about which I am passionate. All students deserve to be in programs where they are given space to maximize their abilities. And “all” means “all”.

Expanding programs led to a discussion of the budget. Expenses must be prioritized. Expenses that have the greatest direct benefit to students should always come first. I will look for savings on expenses furthest away from direct benefit to the classroom. Most important will always be the physical, social, and emotional safety of children and district personnel.

I will look for ways to alleviate our district’s budget deficit by increasing revenue. We will do this in two ways, First, we will increase and replicate successful programming to attract more families and children to our schools, from within and beyond the Conejo Valley. Second, we will increase marketing efforts using a wide variety of social media platforms and traditional outreach strategies. We should improve our district web page school list to include highlights of special programs at each school, such as links to videos that show students in these programs “in action”. We have to make it user-friendly in order for parents to learn about the quality of each school and its unique offerings. I believe we can increase enrollment and therefore revenue through more complete communication of the quality of the programs at each of our schools.

And, while this wasn’t all that was discussed during a very interactive 2+ hours, it was great to start getting more time with our community. I’m looking forward to participating in more meet and greets in the future and would love for you to reach out if you’re interested in hosting, or if you’d like me to come walk your neighborhood and introduce myself.

Like my cake at the meet and greet said: “It’s about the kids!”

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The Caring, Kindness and Courage Project

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When I was splitting my counselor time between the two middle schools in the Maricopa (Arizona) Unified School District, I initiated the Caring, Kindness and Courage Project.

Caring

Caring, of course, is a feeling. When you see someone suffering, and alone, obviously unhappy, I suggest that you put yourself in their shoes to better understand and empathize with them. When speaking to various classes, in order to help students understand their feelings, I had them participate in writing and/or drawing projects where students communicated times when they might have been sad at school over something going on in their lives. I also asked students to write about or draw about times when they became aware of a schoolmate who they thought appeared to be sad.

The immediate result of these discussions was the students’ surprise that others had indeed felt like they had, and in effect, they learned they really weren’t alone.

Kindness

Showing kindness is a behavior. When working with kids on this behavior, I would have students recall either a time when they reached out to show an act of kindness to someone else or a time when someone else showed an act of kindness toward them. This practice was done in order to enable kids to have a level of consciousness about their “better side,” bringing awareness to acts of kindness that either they were the giver of, or the receiver of. Through this exercise, we were able to discuss how they felt to be either the receiver or performer of acts of kindness.

The result was that, in teaching students how to recognize their behavior of kindness and in encouraging students to be in tune with their feelings of caring, students were able to be more conscious of when they were internalizing these feelings and behaviors. When kids have learned to recognize and develop feelings of caring and empathy, and then carry that into the behavior of reaching out with kindness, valuing and advocating for the kind treatment of others comes naturally.

Courage

An important component to this project was teaching kids how to embrace their own courage to speak up when they observe injustices occurring. In order to do so, I had them participate in exercises in which I had them reflect on times in their lives when they stepped up to help someone else who was being mistreated and times when someone else came to their aid when someone was mistreating them. We talked about ways to exhibit courage — just telling bullies to stop, or if you don’t want to risk physical confrontation and safety, going to get appropriate help.

Bullies, who in most cases, are former bully victims, depend on approval and acceptance for what they do. They want that crowd around them to yell, nod approval, and laugh and join in when they pick on their victims, whether they be smaller, racially or ethnically different, or have different abilities than fellow classmates. Bullies depend on the unifying of the “us” versus “them” (anybody who shows an obvious difference) mentality.

Courage is standing up for someone who may be different in some way or another, who is being picked on.

Courage is telling the bully to back off and being a voice for someone who cannot speak up for him/herself.

Courage is telling the bully you disapprove of his/her picking on someone.

Courage is making sure you let others see that it is OK to disapprove of the bully’s actions — that it’s OK for others to join you in disapproval rather than joining “crowd think” and laughing/yelling, adding to the embarrassment or and suffering of the victim.


I believe we need to work with our district to implement a similar program, that’s age appropriate for grade levels, or a Mental Health for Teens program, as is circulating in the Northwest. Good citizenship and positive mental health is the best prevention in handling the bullying epidemic we’ve seen in our schools. Further, with the rate of suicide increasing among children and teens, we must provide them with social and emotional support tools to combat this tragic epidemic and it starts early on, through exercises like these.

Core Literature in the CVUSD

In the fall and early winter of last year, the Board confronted the issues of alternative assignment and core selection policy. The Board consensus was that it was a bad idea to have one member write the policy. Therefore, they unanimously voted on creating a superintendent’s committee — a committee comprised of district staff and teachers, with oversight from an ad hoc committee comprised of two board members — Ms. Sandee Everett and Ms. Pat Phelps — to develop a policy for discussion.
However, when it came time to review a policy for discussion, the board majority proceeded to ignore the teachers’ policy (superintendent’s committee) in favor of a policy written primarily by one board member — Ms. Sandee Everett. The board majority then, ignoring dissent and concern from other board members, hastily voted in favor of this policy to go into effect by the start of the January 2018 semester.

It’s important to note that this policy referred to verbiage from the California Dept. of Education (CDE), in order to justify its use of asterisking certain literature titles, annotating them with blanket warning language that wasn’t accurate to all books notated with these asterisks. Upon learning of the Board’s attempt to misuse their literature annotations for purposes not intended, the CDE removed all annotations from its site.

That brings us to the present — the May 15 board meeting taking place tomorrow night. Since the policy in effect now includes verbiage alluding to written annotations that no longer exist, the CVUSD Board is reexamining this policy — as well as reviewing the policy that was first developed by the teacher’s committee — that until tomorrow night’s meeting, has never been placed on the agenda for discussion.

The Board needs to take the time to offer appropriate consideration of both an alternative assignment policy and a core literature selection policy as two separate and distinct policies, and give appropriate consideration to the teachers implementing these policies. The Board needs to partner with the teachers in our district in formulating these policies.

Now is the time to consider these policies in a comprehensive way without a rush to implement them before they are thought out. This is also an opportunity to show the district’s teachers that we are all partners in the district’s education policy-making process and that the teachers are RESPECTED as partners in this process.

If necessary, why not create two different teams to write the two distinct and separate policies — 1) a committee to address a procedure for individual student and family requests for an alternative literature project and, 2) another committee to write the core selection policy?
Let the Board use every opportunity to show we respect and value our teachers’ opinions, especially when it comes to curriculum decisions which educators are the experts in choosing and evaluating. I implore the Board to take the time to do it RIGHT!

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The Journey Begins

 

Good company in a journey makes the way seem shorter. — Izaak Walton

Often. in the classroom we teach lessons related to the standards and the Framework based on the state approved curriculum. On other occasions our students will learn lessons outside the classroom.

Today, many of our students learned a lesson they will remember long beyond graduation day. You can teach American Government and US Constitution, but today our students didn’t just study it — they lived civil disobedience. Our students joined waves of students in each time zone across the country in joining with students who lead the movement that says “Enough!” They walked out in solidarity with the student led movement that is calling on lawmakers to among other things end mass killing machines in our schools, on our streets, and in our religious centers and movie theaters. Our students joined in walkouts then returned to class.

This student movement is definitely not over. This generation of leaders will bring results that the generations before were unable to accomplish.