Jim Long, Real Estate
WHY ARE YOU RUNNING FOR SCHOOL BOARD?
I’m running for the La Mesa-Spring Valley School board to return to the board. I served from 2016-2020. Due to our transition from district-wide to trustee area elections, another board member was in Trustee Area 1 at the time of the 2020 election so I had to leave. The board member in Area 1 chose not to run again this term so I’m stepping up. One reason I’m running is that several people asked me to run again. They appreciated how I worked hard to build relationships with the teachers, staff, administration, other board members, and the community and to make decisions in support of the important work of our district. Another reason I’m running is that I love our district. I’m able to use my experience in human resources, accounting and finance, operations, and marketing to make decisions from the dais, whether it’s to support or challenge what’s brought before the board. Let me add one more reason: the fact that both of my boys attended schools in our district and have been very successful in high school and beyond, so I feel like I owe it to the students, staff, teachers, administration, families, and our community to give back to our district by serving on the board. I’ll never be able to repay everyone for what they’ve done for my family and the many others in our community, but this is one little way I can contribute.
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?
We all agree that students are behind due to the impact of Covid on our country. There isn’t one easy solution for closing the gap, and I don’t think it’s the job of the board members to provide the solution. We have amazing teachers, staff, and administration who can collaborate as the experts to bring solutions to the board, along with the reasons why those solutions are the ones they want to implement. I believe that we have the great people doing great work in our district every day and I would never assert myself into their roles and presume I have all the answers. I trust them.
ARE YOU A PROPONENT OF ARMED TEACHERS IN CLASSROOMS AS A WAY OF ADDRESSING SCHOOL SAFETY?
Arming teachers in classrooms? I remember sitting in a districtwide school safety meeting when I was on the board previously and heard that in the event of a horrific event on one of our campuses that teachers were expected (and teachers said they were willing) to lay on top of the children to keep them safe. I was in tears, outraged that we’re asking them to do it. They’re willingness makes me love them even more, and as I write this, I’m in tears again. But this is an absolutely unacceptable job duty, and we must do better. But better is absolutely, positively NOT arming teachers, staff, or leadership. I believe installing rigid perimeter fencing where it’s needed, creating a single-access point to the schools with a secure check-in system, security cameras, and a partnership between schools and law enforcement, just like most high schools, to have officers at the schools are the best solutions for this problem.
HOW WOULD YOU ADDRESS SCHOOL SAFETY SO PARENTS AND VOLUNTEERS COULD ACCESS CAMPUS WHILE UNWANTED INDIVIDUALS ARE KEPT AWAY?
Access to our campuses was addressed in question #3 but I will elaborate. I remember when I went to school in the 1970’s that we had completely open campuses. We never had any concerns about people being on campus who shouldn’t be. We opened windows and propped open doors to let the breeze blow through on nice weather days. And my parents could walk right to the classroom to greet me when I came out. Sadly, that’s not what we have today. I am thankful, though, that our district has done a very good job creating a check-in system at the schools for parents and visitors. And in 2020, the voters approved a $140 million bond that addresses the issue of school safety, along with many other issues, and that does mean construction of fencing and creating single access points. I want to thank the voters for approving the bond, which is so necessary at our schools. The last thing we need, then, is funding to provide the partnership with law enforcement. I want to do everything I can to see that happen.
HOW CAN THE DISTRICT SUPPORT HOMELESS STUDENTS?
It breaks my heart that we have homeless students. It angers me that our politicians haven’t done their jobs in this area. We shouldn’t have homeless families and children in the US in 2022, and instead of the problem getting better we all know it’s getting worse. I love that our district provides meals to students, both breakfast and lunch. And I love our teachers and principals who have shared stories with me of going to the store to buy shoes for students who need them, along with many other things. By the way, they pay for these out of their own pockets! We have some amazing people who work every day for our students. I can’t say that enough. I believe our district is doing a lot. We need to use our collective voices to get those in positions of responsibility to fix this. Our state has a surplus of tax money, and they need to use it correctly.
UNDER WHAT CIRCUMSTANCES IS IT APPROPRIATE TO BAN BOOKS FROM SCHOOL CLASSROOMS AND LIBRARIES?
Banning certain books from schools is a very sensitive subject. There are parents who are troubled by books with certain subject matter being in schools, while others believe the schools should be providing these books to expose students to a variety of ideas. And because we are such a divided country, the two sides are not talking to each other. And as long as they’re not talking, the problem won’t be resolved. I actually believe there’s a solution and I have my own ideas, but for me to simply write them out here will just add fuel to the fire and it won’t be helpful. If the two sides are willing to come together, I think the district should bring in communication experts to help the two sides discuss their concerns, present ideas, and work with the district (teachers, staff, and administrators) to achieve a shared solution.
WHAT ARE YOUR TOP THREE GOALS, IF ELECTED?
My top three goals if elected are: 1, Pay and benefits – we need to ensure we are compensating our employees so that they can live in this expensive community as well as recruit and retain our people; 2, school safety and security as I discussed in questions 3 and 4; and 3, I want to continue to put pressure on the team responsible for spending the bond money to ensure the projects are done as promised despite the ever-increasing costs due to inflation.
WHAT CURRICULUM OR ACTIVITIES WOULD YOU ADVOCATE FOR TO BETTER CHALLENGE ADVANCED STUDENTS?
The question of curriculum and activities to challenge advanced students is one I will leave to the experts: teachers, staff, and administration to solve similarly to the answer I gave in question 2. I trust them to bring recommendations to the board to address all of the educational needs of our students.
HOW WOULD YOU CONNECT WITH THE NEIGHBORING COMMUNITY?
Connecting with the community is something I stretched myself to do when I was on the board. I’m an introvert, so getting up in front of people or approaching people I don’t know takes extra work for me. Because it’s important, I do it. For example, I was the board representative for the district PTA. Our school Parent-Teacher Associations do an amazing job for our schools, and it was my honor to attend their monthly meetings and social events. I felt welcomed and it was a pleasure getting to know them. If elected, I hope I can join as the board representative again. I also made a point of greeting every person who attended our board meetings before and after. It was hard when there were hundreds in attendance; but I did my best to say hello and thank them for coming. I also made sure to greet members of the teacher’s association and CSEA, the groups who represent the employees who do amazing work for our students and the district.
WHAT DISTRICT POLICIES WOULD YOU IMPLEMENT, IF ANY, IN AN EFFORT TO COMBAT CHILDHOOD OBESITY?
Childhood obesity is an outward sign of what is a crisis that is greater than what we see. We have a systemic problem that is connected to the lack of activity of our entire population (adults and children), untreated mental health issues related to self-image due to inputs such as social media, and the stress on families that makes processed food and eating out a solution for the lack of time and energy. I think our schools do a great job with their part by providing healthy meals in the cafeterias as well as physical education and classroom curriculum focused on health. But those things alone will not solve the problem. It’s a problem that’s beyond all the school districts in the US. I’m thankful that despite the overwhelming nature of the issue our schools remain committed to do their part.
WHICH PAST EFFORTS FROM YOUR BOARD WOULD YOU CHOOSE TO AMPLIFY OR GROW, AND WHICH WOULD YOU CHOOSE TO END OR PHASE OUT?
Listing items to continue and end board efforts is a tough one to answer. What most people don’t realize is that the majority of what the school boards do is mandated by law. Things such as approving the budget, the curriculum recommendations, providing the approval for staffing decisions and spending, and supervising the superintendent take up at least 90-95% of the work of the board. What I would like to see is more connection between the board and the community. Believe it or not, most board meetings are attended by less than 10 people from the community! When there are issues or concerns, or recognitions of students, teachers, staff, and volunteers, the board meetings are well-attended for the presentation portions. I appreciate the support attendees show to those important people and agenda items. But when the presentation portion ends, the crowd leaves. I wish that our board meetings drew more people who stayed to the end. In the past, parents and families were invited to school site meetings to give input to the district on various topics and board members attended those; I’d like to see that happen again. Sadly, though, when the district invites parents and families to attend meetings to review curriculum, historically few people attend. I get it, people are overwhelmed and there are so few hours in the day. But it’s really about priorities, not time. It’s so easy to spend an hour looking at Instagram and Facebook when we only intended to spend two minutes catching up or watch the overwhelming number of TV shows whether it’s news or reality tv or the latest Netflix series that just begs us to binge-watch. Believe me, I’m speaking to myself as much as I am to others. I want parent involvement and we need parent involvement. Our kids deserve no less.