Briana Coston, 28,
La Mesa/Spring Valley School District
Why are you running for school board?
I’m running for LMSV School Board because this district can be better. As a former student of the district, with siblings that attended LMSV schools and a mom who currently teaches at a LMSV school, I believe I’m in a unique position to support both students and educators. Kids are our future, and their first and foremost priority at school should be learning. Our schools must be safe communities for children to grow and find their truest selves without fear. As a public education system, I understand students and educators are all part of the LMSV community and the district’s highest responsibility is to ensure all school sites have the resources needed for success. I will support policies that make our students feel heard and safe on campus and will use my voice to support educators to be empowered and supported at whatever the world throws their way next.
With studies showing students are behind due to the COVID-19 pandemic, what would you do on the policy level in ensuring students behind are able to catch up?
I think it is important to be meeting students where they are. The achievement gap has grown due to the pandemic, and we need to make sure that the students who have fallen the most behind are getting the resources they need for success. When doing this we also need to make sure that students that haven’t fallen as far behind, or even succeeded during the pandemic are still being challenged and aren’t stalling in their education.
Are you a proponent of armed teachers in classrooms as a way of addressing school safety?
Absolutely not. Teachers need to focus on teaching in their classrooms and do not need added stress of being armed in the classroom. There are plenty of other measures the district can take to make campuses safer. I think improving local law enforcement response rates to campuses is an important alternative and ensuring law enforcement do respond immediately when contacted by school sites.
How would you address school safety so parents and volunteers could access campus while unwanted individuals are kept away?
The single point of entry is a good mechanism that many campuses across the country have implemented. This is difficult on many of the LMSV campuses due to the disconnected locations between parking lots for parents to park and the front office, so other check-in mechanisms should be in place to make it smoother for parents and volunteers to access campus.
How can the district support homeless students?
I think one of the biggest “small” steps we can take to support unhoused students is to be understanding. When educators understand the experiences, their students are having outside of the classroom, they can be better prepared to help support students if needed. Unhoused students might not be able to have a place to finish homework outside of school so providing this assistance on campus is critical. Ensuring these students also have access to after school programs such as ESS at no cost is also an important way to continue support outside of the classroom.
Under what circumstances is it appropriate to ban books from school classrooms and libraries?
I don’t think it should be up to the school board to ban books from classrooms or the library. Teachers and library staff are hired with the understanding that the district and school board trust them to do their jobs. Dictating which books can or cannot be in the classroom and library violates this trust.
What are your top three goals, if elected?
My top three goals are updating the family life curriculum, addressing educator burnout and equity between our campuses.
This summer, the current board voted against updating the family health curriculum to bring it into compliance with state law. The current curriculum does not do enough to recognize and support LGBTQIA+ students and is more or less an abstinence only curriculum. This is something that is especially important to fix as reproductive rights and freedoms are being attacked by the Supreme Court.
There is also a significant issue around educator burnout. Educators have had to juggle teaching during the COVID-19 pandemic, the increasing threat of gun violence on campus, and taking on increased workloads and responsibilities all while not having enough resources to do so. We must ensure all teachers, on all our campuses, have enough support to handle what comes their way.
I aim to help increase equity across campuses especially as it relates to students from disadvantaged communities, especially the LGBTQIA+ community. There shouldn’t be a difference between “good” and “bad” schools within the same district. They should all be providing quality education and supporting ALL students in feeling safe and secure on campus.
What curriculum or activities would you advocate for to better challenge advanced students?
I think it’s important to encourage students to dive deeper into their passions and keep the spark of learning growing in their minds. When I was in school, the Gifted and Talented program was a great way for me to keep growing my mind while in school. Advanced students, but also all students need to be able to grow their minds in different ways. We need to be reinvesting in music and the arts on all our school sites for creative minds to be able to grow. Another way to continue to grow the minds of students is increasing the quantity and type of after school clubs being provided on campus such as Science Olympiad, Academic League, Poetry club and Robotics.
How would you connect with the neighboring community?
It’s important to find ties with the neighboring community because these are community schools and students who attend them are part of the neighborhood. There are many community groups around town that can bring new learning opportunities into our school sites and expand the student’s views to our world. Some funding has been cut for the school gardens that have grown on some campus sites and I would like to see the district team up with community groups that could help provide horticulture education on campus. Community groups could also be a source of funding assistance for field trips that the school/district budget doesn’t allow for.
Which past efforts from your board would you choose to amplify or grow, and which would you choose to end or phase out?
The state recently passed legislation providing additional funding for music, arts and expanded library access. I would like to see more of this money allocated towards giving all our campuses, not just La Mesa Arts Academy access to good Visual and Performing Arts programs for their students.
At a recent board meeting, the district’s financial services department presented on the updated budget based on changes to state funding. There was enough additional funding to allow for a social worker for every campus. This is a good step forward in providing mental health support for students, but I would also like to see mental health resources allocated to support educators as well. The last few years have been incredibly difficult for educators, and many are experiencing burnout at unprecedented rates. We should also ensure our educators have the mental health support they need to best support and teach our students.