While the three candidates for the Albany Unified School District agreed that overcoming fiscal challenges is one of the top two priorities in the district, they divided over what they believe is the other most important issue.
Charlie Blanchard wants to come to grips with state and federal mandates that sometimes conflict with local goals, while both Nadine Ghammache and David Glasser want to increase parent participation in district decision-making.
Charlie Blanchard is a longtime school volunteer who was appointed to an unexpired term on the Albany School Board in April of this year. Among others he lists the Alameda County Democratic Party, the Alameda County Green Party, Mayor John Ely, and Councilmembers Allan Maris and Jewel Okawachi as his endorsers.
“There is the question about how do we continue to provide quality education locally in the face of continued mandates from the state and federal governments,” Blanchard said. He listed the federal No Child Left Behind law as one such mandate, saying that it “tended to push toward a junior high model rather than a middle school model,” which is not necessarily what Albany wants. Blanchard explained that in Albany’s middle school model, students are brought gradually from a single classroom throughout the day to separate classrooms for each subject from the 6th through the 8th grades. But he said that with the No Child Left Behind law’s mandate of a “qualified teacher” in every class, 6th grade teachers are unable to teach all of the necessary courses in a single class, and that is forcing schools to adopt the junior high model of starting 6th grade immediately with “moving students from class to class, with a different teacher in each class.” Blanchard called reconciling Albany’s gradual model with the federal government’s mandates would be one of the Albany School Board’s most significant challenges in the coming years.
Nadine Ghammache has taught elementary and middle school in Lebanon, as well as Arabic at the University of California. She has been endorsed by School Board members Miriam Walden, Michael Barnes, and Sherri Moradi, as well as by Albany Teachers Association President Diana Lamson and Vice President Joanie Wichstom.
School Board Vice President Walden, who serves as Ghammache’s campaign manager, said that Ghammache’s “primary reason for running is to reach out and create structured and long-term ways that parents can participate in decision-making at the school district across the usual boundaries of participation.”
“What we tend to have is certain groups of parents who are able to participate and are active, and lots of parents who are not able to participate or else feel left out of the process,” Walden said. “Nadine wants to do constructive outreach and creating sustainable ways for parents to participate in their children’s education and participate in the decision-making as to how their schools are run across all the barriers that exist.” Walden called those barriers “language and culture and time and energy and the many things that families are dealing with today.”
Walden also said that Ghammache wants to “maintain and develop good working relationships with teachers and staff in the district. [While she believes] it’s important to maintain fiscal control, she also wants to look at what we are going to do with the district’s surplus in a way that respects teachers’ expertise and involves parents.”
David Glasser has worked in public finance for the past 21 years, including stints as Finance Director for Alameda County and vice president in charge of the Public Finance Department for the Bank of the West. “I think my long history in public administration—specifically in the financing, budget, and debt areas—uniquely qualifies me for the board of education. We really need to have a board that is vigilant in the fiscal area.” Glasser is endorsed by the Alameda County Green Party, Albany City Councilmembers Allan Maris and Jewel Okawachi, and Albany-Berkeley Chinese School Director Anthony Wang.
“The Board should be more open in its decision-making,” Glasser said. “They tend to have a lot of closed session items that they discuss and then bring the decisions to the public. I’m an advocate of having those discussions in public and making sure that they include and make more outreach to the community when they’re making those decisions. We need open decision-making and the outreach for that decision-making, not just to people who show up to the board meeting, but reaching out to communities that don’t come to the meeting. Immigrant communities—people who don’t speak English—people that work during the week and can’t make the board meetings.”