SF Green Party School Board Endorsement Questionnaire 2014


Candidate Name: Trevor McNeil
Phone Number: 415-754-8490
Web site: www.democracy.com/trevormcneil
E-mail: teachertrevor2014@gmail.com
Name of Campaign Manager: me
Signed voluntary spending limit: Yes
Campaign Manager: me
Major Endorsements: San Francisco Democratic Party, District 5 Democratic Club, San Francisco Young Democrats, and the Building and Trades Council. Among elected leaders I have been endorsed by a majority of the Board of Supervisors. Also, Phil Ting, Carmen Chu, and Fiona Ma.


Favorite Incumbent School Board Member: [these two items I respectfully would like to edit - I am really excited about the creativity and process Matt Haney brings to the board and I continue to be impressed with the depth of knowledge people like Jill Wynns bring and want to emulate the passion for keeping the actual students and parents who need our help most as Commissioner Maufas does. I do not have a 'least favorite board member']

1. How are you currently involved in the SFUSD -- or how were you involved in the past?

One of my first jobs out of college was as a paraprofessional at
Leonard Flynn. During that time I also taught afterschool programs at
Paul Revere and Glen Park. In my credential program at SFSU I did my
student observing at Lawton (Ms. Fung's class). After I got my
credential I was a substitute teacher throughout the district, most
often at Denman, SF Community School, and Burton. I have been a tutor
with the San Francisco Education Fund and 826 Valencia working with
students in our SFUSD and in particular students at John O'Connell. I
have attended dozens of Board of Education and subcommittee meetings,
as well as community meetings including but not limited to LYRIC,
Parents for Public Schools, Coleman Advocates, Teachers for Social
Justice, and the current PEEF-reauthorization and Choose Health SF
initiatives.

2. Why are you running for school board?

I want to restore the relationship between the school board and UESF:
I am a third-generation public school teacher and the sole union
member running for this position.

I want to make good schools part of the discussion around
affoirability in the city: I am a San Franciscan living paycheck to
paycheck worried about the prospect of being able to stay in the city
I love. I want to make sure we are accountable to voters and parents,
we are fighting the 'school reform' agenda, and that while we keep our
eyes on the vital issues of equity and funding, that we not forget the
little easy-to-reach sucesses that do exist.

A lot of what motivates me to run for the school board at this time is
that as a public school educator I feel bullied. Bullied by
"reformers" who think they know how to do my job better than
me. Bullied by districts that said we needed to give cutbacks due to a
bad economy, and now that the economy's good (for whom?) we see no
re-compensation. Bullied by judges who want to take away tenure and
seniority threatening my chance of investing long-term in this
profession. Enough is enough.

As someone who has worked as a para, a sub, a teacher, and in random
after school programs all over San Francisco, I think I am uniquely
qualified among the current candidates to relate to issues working
class families and individuals face. I think that we need fresh voices
and perspectives on the school board.

3. How do you feel about the current school assignment system? Would you make changes, and if so, which ones?

I think that the system is currently a big cause of concern and stress
for most parents or its not actually being used as an effective tool
by the parents who need it the most. School choice in inherently
inequitable. The current system we have might have great intentions,
but is not working as planned and maybe even exacerbating inequality
because of the way some wealthier families are able to best navigate
the system because they have time, resources, and 'savvy'

I think the repeal of consent decree has caused a real sea-shift in
how we think about school assignments. I think it is a shame because
the Board needs to be held accountable to the requirements of civil
rights and desegregation. But I am also willing to admit our current
system isn't working. I do not propose a radical, immediate change
towards neighborhood schools, rather I want to make sure every
neighborhood has world-class schools. I think it is a legitimate
concern to raise that many families are uncertain, not of the
"quality" of the school, but the process. I think the district right
now does not do a good enough job of collecting information on how
parents feel in the assignment system.

4. How can we redistribute the more experienced and higher paid teachers throughout the city? What do you think the school
district needs to do to attract and improve the retention of good
teachers who are willing to work in socially stressed schools?

While respecting tenure and working with the union I think there are
great, creative systems to pair young teachers with experienced
teachers. This has to be a voluntary, incentive-based system. I think
we also have to use any program as a strategic way to create
multi-year cross-generational partnerships. Right now, the culture
that has driven the schools results in the a very high concentration
of more-qualified teachers working at Lowell and other schools with
high-performing kids. Those kids need the challenge, yes, but the
district needs to continue supporting things like the Superintendent
zone (again, within the law and while respecting tenure. A lot of the
things I am talking about in this race are "easy fixes" that can lead
to great solutions.

One example of this could be Mission High's simple solution of
scheduling people from the same department to have the same prep
period - they work together and love it. Teacher retention at Mission
is very high.

There are some small, almost pilot, programs the district has
implemented to attract teachers. I think we can learn from districts
(Chicago and New York in particular) that attract young teachers. We
need to pay our teachers so they can live in this city. But we also
need to listen to teachers - some teachers would be willing to work in
hard-to-fill schools if they had a little more freedom over their
curriculum, specific prep periods, extra professional development,
partnerships, and recruitment strategies.

Also, 45% of sf teacher teach in private schools that don't
necessarily pay better, but rather have more reliable and organized
outreach and recruitment systems (career fairs, set hiring calendars,
etc) and I would like to learn from their best practices as we can. As
someone who has gone through dozens of application processes with
SFUSD I am committed to making the system work better for recruits,
for teacher teams, and adminsitrators.

5. Some of our schools receive significant funding from parent fundraising. Are you concerned about the inequality in fundraising
between schools in rich and poor neighborhoods, and if so,
what ideas do you have to make things more equitable?

I am concerned about unequal fundraising. I think the solution should
be partnerships between schools. Some of the schools where we've seen
great advances in fundraising actually don't have a drastic difference
in the per-capita income of the families, rather through a fluke of
the great recession, we saw some parents who were professional
fundraisers enroll right when upper-middle class families started
coming back to the SFUSD and funding hole in the budget. Partnering
with schools who have trouble with fundraising would be a great first
step. I do think that sharing a certain proportion of those funds with
low-income schools is appropriate but want to be very careful because
funding will dry up (if other local districts are a good barometer). I
say listen to parents and trust them - private school parents know
that their tuition goes to scholarships, I say we talk to the parents
at public schools that have outstanding fundraising capabilities and
talk about partnerships, enlarge our SFUSD community, and work to
bridge opportunity gaps not only within our student body but in the
parent/guardian body as well.

6. What is your position on JROTC in the public schools?

I am against military recruiting in schools and am concerned that we
have people instructing these classes in lieu of actual, credentialed
PE or other teachers. Some JROTC instructors don't even have a BA and
that is a problem.

7. Would you support district elections for school board members?

I would though I am worried it would exacerbate tensions that already
exist between the westside schools, the south-east schools, and the
30% of families that aren't in the SFUSD school but instead enrolled
in private schools. If we did move forward on such a proposal I would
be interested in seeing two or three at large seats and then
district-elected commissioners. I think smaller districts, like with
the board of supervisors, allows for people to rise up with new ideas
and not necessarily huge amounts of money (which I generally consider
toxic in politics). But when we vote for school issues I do think it
is important to remember that we are all one district and we need to
help eachother not just look out for our one closest community.

8. What do you think of the public comment policy at school board meetings? How (if at all) would you change it?

Public comment at board of education meetings is fine now but I am
worried that the public is not seeing the full view of how policy,
contract negotiations, report requests, and budgeting actually takes
place. In terms of changing it I would like to see a chance for
families and citizens to turn in online public comments (like a radio
call-in show like KQED Forum for example) since we are doing a good
job streaming meetings online now, but it's always hard for parents
and others to make it downtown on a Tuesday night.

9. How would you expand the opportunity for staff development for paraprofessionals? What do you think of the district's staff
development programs?

I support an effort to "professionalize" the paraprofessionals who
devote themselves to a career of working in our public schools
providing valuable support and leadership to our students. These folks
deserve a pay raise, benefits, and systems for being real leaders,
mentors, and partners with school policy. I would expect to work very
closely with UESF on this as they have advocated for a similar
strategy in the past. I think the districts' staff development
programs vary from site to site but generally are lacking creativity,
reliable funding, and accountability for what the deliverables are.

I am very suspicious of corporate-paid-for professional development
that only teacher teachers and administrators how to use those
corporate tools in their craft (the recent SF Business Times article
highlighting the efforts by Deloite to train principals made me very
worried). We have to make sure that if we accept charity and
partnerships from outside consultants, that they are held accountable
for promises made within the confines of the district's strategic
plan.

10. What is your stance on allowing noncitizen parents, guardians and caretakers of students to vote in school board elections?

I support it and have in past elections. I think in lieu of a charter
amendment, there could be a 'caucus' organized by the district or an
organization like Coleman advocates where a representative (either
voting or non-voting - think DC congressional rep) would be a good
first step to show the value of engaging all parents.

11. In what ways would you work to increase teacher input in administrative decision-making? How would you work to increase the
voice of school site councils (parents, students and staff), in
administrative decision-making?

There is a movement to have more teacher-run schools that are based on
consensus, partnership, and end up having more resources to devote to
smaller class sizes. For my money, SF Community School is one of the
best schools in the city and I loved working there as a
substitute. That is one model. But I also think that we can reform
public comment to let teachers participate on Tuesday afternoon
meetings at the Board of Education even if they can't be there in
person (too many teachers don't live in San Francisco) and like my
answer to #10 I think there could be a teacher-representative on the
school board (again to provide a teacher's voice and a voice for those
teachers who aren't citizens or don't live in the county). We haven't
elected a teacher to the school board in a decade and if I am elected,
I am very confident I will be advocating for greater teacher voice
across the baord.

12. Would you strengthen the voice of the elected student representatives, so that they could introduce legislation and vote on
measures?

I hope my tenure as school board commissioner reflects my teaching
philosophy which includes ideas of trusting and empowering young
people. Yes I would want to strengthen the voice of student
representatives. What I would really like to do is create a mechanism
for students who have recently graduated our SFUSD to have a voice to
help student representatives or actually impact decisions
themselves. Any move to give students an actual voice needs to be done
carefully I think for the integrity of the voting process and the
experience of the student themselves as young people.

13. How do you see the role of the School Board in comparison to the role of the superintendent?

The board hires and oversees the Superintendent and general
counsel. We set policy and the district implements it. I think we both
are accountable to families but, because we are "political," I think
there is more of a need that we represent families immediately to the
district. If elected, I will seek to be collegial with the
Superintendent, but will always hold reports, statements, and
declarations of policy achievement under scrutiny - that's also our
job. Having been to almost every board meeting since December, I have
to admit that I think I will be much more suspicious than current
commissioners of facts, figures, and "this is the way things are"
statements that come from representatives of the Superintendent's
office. We make decisions for them to implement based largely on
information they give us. I think that's not a natural recipe for
transparency and accountability, which are a main platform of my
campaign.

14. A portion of SFUSD income is from rental of various properties. What changes should the district make to increase the income from
these properties?

Like the Presidio Trust, I think that we should tread lightly as a
district in squeezing our current properties for rent. I don't want to
make money by any means necessary (we probably shouldn't invest in 8
Washington…) but I do want to make sure we're not giving anything away
to interested businesses. Some school board property (like our
beautiful Van Ness building) is used, again like the Presidio, to
house partner non-profits that do great work and I don't want priced
out of the schools.

15. What should the district do to make its schools more environmentally friendly?

Right now, after salaries, our biggest expense is
transportation. After our free MUNI for kids efforts and reforms of
the school assignment system I think this can be addressed. As a
teacher I know how much paper is wasted, always, in the classroom.
I'm thrilled that we're changing our food policies because the
environmental benefit of having a central kitchen instead of carting
in food frozen in Illinois, is going to be epic.

16. What is your assessment of how adequate the School Board Sunshine regulation is?

One of the four main planks of my platform is accountability and
transparency because right now I see too much collusion with the
District rather than oversight, I see appendices to the budget with
vague allusions to hundreds of thousands of dollars transferred to the
private sector for "consultants," and I hear from parents a continued
worry that parents are here for approval after-the-fact when in
actuality I think they should be part of every step of the budget
process. I also think that accountability is important. By this I mean
constantly checking back on past votes to make sure progress is being
made. I mean making it clear prior to approving budget items what our
values on budgeting is. I mean not hiding items deep in budget
appendices without explanation. If money being tight is going to be
the narrative the district uses to explain why we aren't paying fair
wages to educators, supplying our classrooms with needed adequately,
and not addressing class size, then I will be a school board
commissioner that requires every cent spent on outside specialists,
consultants, training programs, 555 Franklin raises, and technological
innovations to be explained. I think the district's sunshine laws can
be strengthened, outreach needs to be done to explain them to parents,
and the budget/policy process can be more inclusive.

17. Should every high school have a functional, open, operating library? If so, how could we make it happen?

Yes. And with PEEF funding we're actually very close to this goal. But
I still think there are ways to make sure libraries thrive
today. There are partnerships with SFPL that are already in the
works. And they can be 'tech' (which for kids can mean 'cool').
Students can go online and research a book, order it, and then if gets
delivered. The result is still the proper process of real research and
discovery with a 21st century tie-in. We have to meet students where
they are and they are online. Libraries are invaluable, especially for
students who come from homes without a large collection of
books. Libraries are places with trained staff who know how to guide
students through research and towards novels that expand their
minds. Libraries are also community spaces where people can gather. It
is a very tough sell in this economy and in this century to invest in
libraries, but I think they are worth fighting for and I think there
are creative, low-cost ways to maintain that they are open and
functional in the modern world.

18. Would you ensure that all San Francisco students have access to a public pre-K program? If so, how?

We have to reauthorize the PPEF and protect that money from possible
poaching from the rainy day or other places. Public preK needs to be
the absolute norm and wave of the future for our city. But it takes
money. However, money exists that we can leverage from the federal
government and work with local family and housing agencies to partner
and create budgets to support this work. Of course it's not just
enough to say you support it, on the board and in politics actions
speak louder than words. I have been active with the Children's Fund
campaign over the last year and will be campaigning for PEEF
reauthorization (while campaigning for myself!). San Francisco is
about inclusion and properly funding EED programs is a
working-family-friendly priority of mine. I would love to see PEEF or
new funding used to support wraparound services for children from
birth to Kindergarten to make sure we have a public pre-K program in
place.

And the added problem is we already do quite a few programs helping
close the affordability gap when it comes to preK programming supplied
by the public. I want to make sure we are doing all the outreach we
can to engage families early on in the process - especially in
non-English as a primary language communities. I want to see how we
can offer summer employment for teachers for tutorials for early
education workers and even parents. I want to support the district's
PreK-3rd Grade Initiative and make sure it fits in with coordinated
recruitment/support efforts of existing staff. I will push for more TK
implementation at early education sites and review the eligibility
process since we expanded these programs in VisValley and the Bayview
(yet I hear when I'm out in the community that people are unaware of
what's offered). There is little information offered to parents
currently (and none translated that I've seen) to help them figure out
the petitioning process to get their kids in EDD. I also want to
support certificated staff who aren't covered by Prop A funding to
make sure they are receiving a livable wage should new monies come
into the district. These are trained teachers, not babysitters. In
this vein, the final thing I want to do is see if there is a way to
support teachers' voices in the TK assignment process - having parents
push for enrollment is great, but preK educators know how students are
progressing and which might need extra support in those critical early
years. 'Trust teachers' is my motto in a lot of policy areas.

19. Did you support SB 1381, the proposal that raised the age requirement for students entering kindergarten? How will you
ensure that Transitional Kindergarden is available to all students?

I was very wary of this bill when it came about because I saw it as a
cost-saving measure and schools are not where we should start that
especially when they are an unfunded mandate that fall particularly
hard on poorer districts. The other problem was one of timing: if we
had a robust preK program ready for all income levels that worked with
trained (and hopefully unionized professionals) on strategic
implementation of curriculum, then it could have worked better. It
comes down to forcing parents to pay for private preK or preschool or
making the process seamless, equitable, and stopping the opportunity
gap before it starts.

I will push for more TK implementation at early education sites and
review the eligibility process since we expanded these programs in
VisValley and the Bayview (yet I hear when I'm out in the community
that people are unaware of what's offered). There is little
information offered to parents currently (and none translated that
I've seen) to help them figure out the petitioning process to get
their kids in EDD. I also want to support certificated staff who
aren't covered by Prop A funding to make sure they are receiving a
livable wage should new monies come into the district. These are
trained teachers, not babysitters. In this vein, the final thing I
want to do is see if there is a way to support teachers' voices in the
TK assignment process - having parents push for enrollment is great,
but preK educators know how students are progressing and which might
need extra support in those critical early years. 'Trust teachers' is
my motto in a lot of policy areas.

20. What do you think of the current rules regarding teacher tenure?

I think attacks on tenure are not helpful and will likely side with
labor in any dispute arising from the attack on this professional
requirement for my profession. It's ridiculous to say teachers and
not historical/institutional racism, acute poverty, and woefully
under-funded inner-city schools are the cause of educational
disparity. I think the recent Veraga decision was about power and
about an agenda that comes back to the profit-motives that drive
educational reformers efforts to privatize schools. Blaming educators
is not a policy solution and seems to be based on junk statistics that
don't take into account the reality of students' backgrounds.

As a young teacher I am acutely aware of the financial difficulties in
pursuing education as my long-term career. But things like seniority
and tenure/due process are protections that encourage me and let me
commit to at least some semblance of stability (any teacher knows,
tenure or no tenure, it's very possible to get fired). We have a
nation-wide teaching shortage and Vergara is no solution. The cult of
testing has to be fought and San Francisco should be at the vanguard
of that movement. I will be a reliable voice in protecting union
rights, teacher due process, and fighting against encroachments on
financial and non-financial benefits for our educators.

Education is a civil rights issue. But this decision doesn't help. It
will lead to laying off experienced teachers then replacing them with
inexperienced, cheaper teachers doesn't help. Letting teachers be free
to exercise their judgment as a qualified and accountable professional
does help. Academic freedom, teacher morale, and the ability for
professionals, not millionaire activists, to weigh in on school
policy, are on the line. As a society we should be looking at
proactive ways to help students, not blame teachers.

21. Do you think Prop 13 needs to be reformed? If so, in what ways? How will you use your position on the Board to advocate for this?

Yes. This is always my number one state-level wish. The main reason I
am in favor of Prop 13 reform is that Prop 13 is the engine of
inequity. Prop 13 needs massive reform, especially around corporate
earnings, re-assessments, and business tax loopholes. I support a
split-roll property tax system. I assume as a school board member from
San Francisco I would take a position of leadership if possible along
with Assemblyman Phil Ting in tackling this long-standing and
sometimes difficult issue. I support more radical reforms and would be
thrilled with repeal, but will work with allies for now to make it
clear to Californians that almost all the ills of public schools in
this state can be traced to this Proposition.

22. Have you read Diane Ravitch's book, "The Death and Life of the Great American School System?" What lessons should the District take
from this work? Whether or not you've read the book, what role do you
see for charter schools in the public education system?

I am a Dr. Ravitch devotee and have emailed with her in the course of
this campaign for advice. While I like "Life and Death..." I think it
is more diagnostic of the problems and that her book "Reign of Error"
does a better job of outlining positive steps forward. Countering the
education reform agenda has to be a central goal of the SF school
board. Yes we have schools to run and improve, but we also need to be
the vanguard of a movement to offer ideas how to create rich
curriculum, value inspirational teachers, and fight the transfer of
public goods into private, for-profit hands. While some charter
schools are benign places of innovation in partnership with public
schools (I think of Creative Arts as an example), I am wary of charter
schools. Too many charter schools are taking public goods and putting
them in private hands, teaching only to the test. The charter school
movement risks dismantling the democratic concept that we as the
public are invested in the public goal of teaching the next generation
together, and these charters cherry-pick/expel students to maximize
scores. These are not schools, they are test-taking factories at best
and centers for profit and privatization at worst.

In terms of charters, in an ideal world I would like to see for-profit
schools banned. I think charter chains don't work unless seriously
overseen by a local body, charters should be required to recruit
dropouts or students with special needs/from difficult circumstances,
salaries should be closely aligned with the local school system, and
no matter the charter they need to work closely with public schools. I
think non-profit charter schools in San Francisco should not be
allowed to hire for-profit consultants to a certain extent. I say get
charters back to the original purpose - they're not about transfer
public schools to private hands but to foster models of (reproducible)
innovation free of excessive regulation. My ideal charter school would
be one whose innovations and systems are reproducible - a charter
school should be able to become a normal public school after a decade
or two if they are truly successful.

23. What do you think of the District's and state's standards for curriculum, and the federal Common Core mandate? How would you
increase student achievement levels?

I think the collegial nature of common core standards implementation
has been a good step away from NCLB. Higher standards are always a
good thing but as a teacher I know that we need to maintain a growth
mindset while we move forward both with common core and Ag
requirements. I think that the emphasis on skills and critical
thinking is a breath of fresh air for NCLB plagued schools. But if the
only assessment tool is going to be testing, its going to be
problematic. I also have a problem with the subject-specific focus on
common core at this phase in the implementation. I think that all
subjects deserve a foundational base from which further excellence can
be achieved. I don't consider art and music and health electives --- I
want to fight for a whole-child education.

24. How can the public schools better address the needs of Special Education students and ESL students?

One of reasons I am running is that I am dyslexic and hear a concern
from many families that, while students who qualify for IEPs and 504s
are accommodated, students who are on the spectrum of Learning
disabilities but not knee deep are left out. I hope to be a voice for
those parent and student concerns. One of the reasons I'm passionately
against the cult of testing is that I recognize not all students fit
into boxes and neither does their learning ability. Under the current
board we certainly have made great strides. Mainstreaming alone has
been a huge culture shift in the right direction. Regular review, new
staff, and accountability systems for classroom-by-classroom policy
review are excellent recent additions.

One thing I will bring to the board is a desire to generally, but
especially with special ed, make sure we are following policy from
'macro' to the 'micro' implementation. That's what a classroom
perspective of a teacher is all about. Yes, special ed mainstreaming
has seen more interventions chronicled. That's great. But what are
those interventions? How many of them are 'just' preferential seating?
What have been observable results from these interventions? Do the
suggestions of the original 504 or IEP work well in a larger classroom
social and learning setting? What is the rate of parent communication
and follow-up (across social-economic and racial groups)?

25. Please describe how you make your political decisions. What is the main basis for your decision making (e.g., consultation with your
constituents, political consultants, colleagues, unions, businesses,
donors, or your gut feelings)?

This is a very interesting question. I think I am wary of anyone being
100% any of these. I like having a gut reaction, but if that's all
you're doing, you're not accountable to others. I like consulting with
constituents, but sometimes tough unpopular measures are called for. I
think working with (and sometimes compromising with) labor and
political allies isn't un-noble - sometimes those coalitions help
gather people and can help you do great things in the future. It's all
about balance. Ultimately I also call on my own experiences. As young
teacher hoping to raise his kids in our SFUSD schools, living paycheck
to paycheck, and working in my community in the Inner Sunset, the
Tenderloin, the Haight, and the Mission I trust I am aware of the
policy implication of decisions I make. I always make my decisions in
the open, I always wait till I hear all sides, and I will always make
myself accessible to constituents. I have made a pledge to hold
"office hours" at every school site or PTA chapter in the city on an
annual basis. That kind of feedback is why I'm running: I'm not only a
public school teacher, I'm also someone who has enough experience in
community organizing and politics to know how to reach out, listen to,
and maintain relationships with my constituents. When I think of
political leaders and political movements I connect with, I value
democracy and people's voices, I value humility, I value efficiency,
and I value courage.