Four candidates are vying for three available seats on the school board of the Manhattan Beach Unified School District. The election will take place Tuesday, Nov. 5 at polling places in the city.
The candidates are incumbent Ellen Rosenberg and Kathleen Paralusz, Jennifer Cochran and Christine Cronin-Hurst.
Manhattan Beach Patch has asked each candidate to answer some questions. Here they are.
Manhattan Beach Patch: How many years have you lived in Manhattan Beach?
Jennifer Cochran: 10 years.
Patch: Have you had or do you have children in the school district? If so, what schools are they in now and what grades did any who have graduated attend in MBUSD?
Cochran: I have three children who are at every level of the district--Mira Costa High School, Manhattan Beach Middle School and Meadows Elementary.
Patch: In the last four years, what are the three biggest accomplishments of the current board?
Cochran: There have been many but three that stand out include:
- The completion of the Math and Science building at Mira Costa and continuing to manage the Measure BB building project on time and budget.
- Successful implementation of the Columbia Writer’s Program. This was a great example of engaging teachers in the process, sharing best practices, collaboration and providing training with both outside resources and master teachers. I’d like to see this training/roll-out model duplicated for future implementations.
- Weathering the economic downturn and state funding cuts without making significant cuts to teachers in the classroom or instructional time. Manhattan Beach had no furlough days when many other districts did and even gave teachers raises last year.
Patch: What will you bring to the board?Cochran: I am a proven leader in our schools, serving as a PTA president, Manhattan Beach Education Foundation executive board member and leader of the district's political advocacy team. I’ve been advocating for our students for six years in Sacramento and understand the complexities of state and federal education policies and how they impact our district. This experience and knowledge will allow me to hit the ground running on the board.
Professionally, I have an MBA and years of experience in human resources strategy, training and development. These skills are critical, as over 80 percent of the budget is comprised of personnel. Our district will be undergoing major change over the next two years as we implement the national Common Core Curriculum. Not only will we be adopting new texts and teaching methods, but we will also be preparing all students and staff for state computerized testing. It will be incredibly valuable to have a board member who is experienced in managing organizational change, recruiting, training and staff development.Patch: What to date are your two biggest personal accomplishments as a member of a board, commission or volunteer organization in Manhattan Beach?
Cochran: Leading and being a part of the district’s advocacy team for the past six years has been very rewarding. I was proud to lead the effort to get groups of district representatives including board members, district staff, teachers, PTA leaders and MBEF leaders to Sacramento to meet with legislators, share our suggestions and concerns and bring back crucial knowledge that translated into board budget decisions. This group has been incredibly successful and has actually seen terminology from our proposals translate into legislation that has benefited our district and many students in California.
I served on the Meadows PTA executive board for five years, and my biggest accomplishments were during my two years as president. I started my term by hosting a series of brainstorming sessions and open meetings to bring participation up and to make people feel included. From this came a complete overall and new marketing campaign around PTA membership and participation at the school site. The “Super Stang” program was designed to foster a deeper understanding and awareness of the relationship between PTA and MBEF. This program has now spread across the district, adopted by all but one elementary school, and benefits our entire school community, reinforcing the parity concept among our schools and keeps our parents engaged in the education of our students.
I pride myself on being innovative, creative and collaborative, working with and learning from others to move an organization or team forward. I firmly believe my success comes from my ability to build strong and healthy relationships, build consensus and motivate people.
Patch: The current board has come under attack from the teachers union as to how funds are used as related to being funneled to teachers vs. other aspects of running a district. What is your comment in regards to this?
Cochran: This is the same challenge that any organization faces--finding the correct balance between staff costs, capital improvements, operations, supplies, etc. Of course, it is complicated in our school district by the fact that revenue has fallen consistently since 2008 and we’re all faced with an unpredictable state that often “pulls back” money that’s already committed for the year. Our teachers and staff are our greatest asset (making up over 80 percent of the budget), and it is very difficult to put a value on what they do for our students and community. In addition, the reality of keeping up with aging facilities--our district is now 100 years old, operating a school system with changing funding formulas, and continuing to invest in programs for the future are all real costs that cannot be ignored.
Patch: The current board and the one that included Amy Howorth have seemed very cohesive. What are the positives and negatives of a board that works well together?
Cochran: Having led and been part of many boards in this district, I always strive to create a cohesive and respectful board. As in any workplace, a functional team is far more productive and creates a more positive environment--one where everyone is free to share their opinions and ideas and respects those of others. In our district, it also ensures that talented volunteers are engaged and motivated to continue giving of their time and serving our schools.
Specifically for the school board, members’ working relationships with each other, with the superintendent and other staff, and with our Manhattan Beach community have a profound impact on the overall effectiveness of the board. This directly affects the board’s ability to come to consensus about the direction of the school system, advocate with credibility and establish a positive climate that encourages the best from staff. Even the most cohesive boards have passionate disagreements on many issues but they’re able to come together with solutions that work for all parties.
Patch: Is a diversity of opinion important on this board? Why or why not?
Cochran: No two people are alike. We all approach the world through a lens that is made up of our upbringing, cultural experiences, professional experiences, education, etc. For example, my world view includes international working and living in Asia, 20+ years of following a school board in another state as my mother served on the board for decades, experience taking multinational companies through organizational change, and human resource strategy and professional development, to name a few. This lens is different from anyone on the current board or among the candidates. It is this diversity that ensures both creative, new ideas and also questioning and challenging of the status quo. We all benefit from listening and learning from others, as we add life experiences to our world lens.
Patch: What is important as a district moving forward?Cochran: It is most important that we continue to focus on providing the best possible education for our students as we prepare them for the future. This should be at the heart of everything that we do as a board or anywhere in school district leadership. As we evaluate programs, curriculum, policies and spending, we should constantly be asking ourselves whether it contributes to our students’ experience, whether it be academic growth, personal growth or social well being.
- Ensure that every student is challenged to think critically, collaborate and communicate.
- Engage, empower and support our teachers to further our goal of world-class education.
- Update, maintain and utilize our facilities and property for maximum efficiency, usage and safety.
- Protect our financial reserves, maximize revenue and budget conservatively while continuing to advocate for adequate funding for our schools.
Patch: Much is said about each candidate's financial background. Why do you think a financial background is important, and what skills beyond financial ones are important for a board member to have?
Cochran: Financial experience is important and a firm grasp of the intricacies of school funding is crucial for each and every board member. I have a top notch MBA, I built and ran my own business, I managed a school budget for three years and have been involved in MBUSD budgeting from both the State funding side as well as the PTA and MBEF grants perspective. However, this is only one aspect of what makes a good school board member. What about the business of providing a top notch education for our students? Everything must come back to the impact on the students we serve in this community. It is incredibly important for our board members to be critical, collaborative and creative thinkers. The numbers and the financials are important but the people are what really matter most. Eighty percent of this business is the people--the recruiting, retaining, training and management of our excellent teachers and staff who are responsible for our students’ education. I am uniquely qualified, as a human resource professional, to examine these issues with experience.Patch: What is the duty of a school board and district as you see it?
Cochran: The role of the school board is to set the vision and direction for the district that reflects the collaborative efforts of the board, the superintendent, district staff and the community. The board employs the superintendent, sets hiring policies for other personnel, sets direction and adopts curriculum, establishes funding priorities and adopts a budget. As community representatives, the board is also accountable to the public for the performance of the schools including student achievement, program and fiscal accountability.
Patch: Anything else you'd like to add?
Cochran: Thank you to all for caring so much about our schools and engaging in these important discussions about the best direction for our district.
I respectfully ask that you vote for Jennifer Cochran on Tuesday, Nov. 5th.