Happy Valley Elementary School District candidates on the biggest issues facing students and teachers

Students in a classroom
(Via Pixabay)

Sixteen candidates are running for nine seats in five school districts across the county. Lookout sent questionnaires to all of them asking about the most pressing issues facing their schools. Here, we take a look at Happy Valley Elementary School District.

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Ahead of Tuesday’s election, Lookout is diving deep into school district races around Santa Cruz County with a three-part series exploring the biggest issues in education, school board candidates and bond measures.

This week, we launched the second installment: school board candidates. (You can find Part 3, an analysis of Santa Cruz City Schools’ ballot measure K and L, here.) Here we look at Happy Valley Elementary School District.

Voters must choose three among four candidates: incumbents Jacob Willet, Rachel Click Richardson and incumbent Clifford Hodges, and Edward “Teddy” Wood, a teacher.

Students, parents and administrators previously told Lookout that their top issues are teacher pay and retention, equity, mental health, declining enrollment and learning loss from the pandemic.

We asked the candidates how they would approach each issue. Here are the highlights from their answers. Willet and Click Richardson didn’t respond to requests for responses.

Wood did not provide answers to most of the questions, but he did provide a written statement.

Hodges’ full responses to the questions are below, along with Wood’s statement. Both have been edited for length and clarity:

Question: How important is it to your district to pay teachers and staff competitive salaries compared to other higher-paying districts? How would you propose increasing pay? If not, why not?

Clifford Hodges: Providing competitive pay is extremely important for any district. Happy Valley is a very small district and we have still done our best to remain near the top of the county when it comes to pay scale.

Our superintendent is in charge of teacher union negotiations and we as a board approve decisions. The union negotiated an immediate increase to pay and benefits within the past year, and we are also in the process of negotiating a more favorable long-term salary schedule. Currently our teachers union, administration and board are all working together and negotiating amicably and productively.

As voters head to the polls to decide on school board candidates and school bonds, what are the concerns those in the...

Question: Do you think there are enough mental health resources in your district? If not, how would you change or add to them? If you do think there are enough resources, have the recent additions of more mental health counselors schools had a positive impact?

Clifford Hodges: As a small school district we do have the benefit of truly seeing every single student on a daily basis (literally). I believe we have provided an extremely healthy and nurturing environment for our students and recent parent surveys would back up that claim emphatically.

Question: Do schools have enough resources to address learning loss caused by the pandemic? If not, what do you propose your school district do to close the learning loss gap?

Clifford Hodges: Currently yes, in my opinion, we do. We have an extra aide in each room in addition to the teacher and an intervention teacher who floats between classes. I feel we are appropriately meeting our students’ needs at this time.

Question: How do you plan to address declining student enrollment?

Clifford Hodges: Happy Valley school district does not currently have this issue.

Question: Do you think schools address diversity, equity and inclusion issues adequately? If not, what else should be done in your district to address equity issues?

Clifford Hodges: Diversity is certainly an issue at Happy Valley due to the makeup of the district population. The issue is also not easily solved [by] allowing more interdistrict transfers because the school already has a critical mass issue with capacity.

We have certainly undertaken diversity training programs for staff and faculty. And [we] have also made an effort to upgrade classroom materials and curriculum for our students to include more modern and progressive content, such that our children are receiving an education that acknowledges and investigates diversity.

Question: What other issue most concerns you and what would you do about it?

Clifford Hodges: I think one of the most important things we can do as a district right now is to provide continuity. In a time when so many school districts have faced a lot of infighting and contentious subjects over the past few years (such as COVID restrictions, inflation/cost of living/salary negotiations, teacher union strikes, scandals, etc.), Happy Valley has done extremely well in creating an environment where the board, administration, and staff/faculty see each other as a team and not opponents.

We have an at-large election coming up with three open seats and we have three incumbents running for those seats — myself (Clifford Hodges), Jacob Willet and Rachel Click Richardson. I would highly encourage our constituents to vote for the three of us to allow us to continue to do the work we have put so much time into over the past few years. I believe the teachers and administration would agree.

Edward “Teddy” Wood: I’m running for school board mostly so that teachers can be treated with the respect that they deserve, which is currently not the case.

From being in the classroom, I’ve seen how multiple school districts in Santa Cruz do not address serious issues such as students using their cellphones to make threats, to splice and photoshop teachers into whatever their imaginations can think of. I’ve had guns photoshopped next to my own head. Most of the school districts do not have the teachers’ backs on these issues, and rather seem to be more scared of well-to-do parents.

I hope to change that. Teachers need to be respected. Students need to be respected also, but if a teacher asks students to not use their phones in class, and the student disobeys the teacher, it should not be the teacher who’s put on the defensive just because the kid comes from a wealthy family.

Kids may be asked to not use their phones in class; if they do, probably a warning is best. They do it again, their cellphone is confiscated for as long as the teacher desires. If the teacher is photoshopped, or threatened, and the parents help provide the tools (i.e the cellphone), the parents can be held responsible.

Schools and teachers shouldn’t need to be defensive when it comes to threats and attacks on teachers. Classrooms are a place for love, learning and respect — but also responsibilities — for all involved, including the school administration. Teachers need the resources, but also the support and backing to do their job, which I believe is not the case now. This is why I’m running for school board.


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