INTERVIEWER: What’s your background as a Venturan?
LOU CUNNINGHAM: I’ve lived here about 25 to 30 years, I moved here from Wisconsin, I’ve worked in Ventura Unified School District for nine years, I worked at Oxnard High School District for about 12 years, and I’m retired.
At the end of your term, if elected, how will Ventura Unified schools be using technology in ways they aren’t right now? What will be your steps to achieving that result?
CUNNINGHAM: I think one thing we have to do to improve technology is to pass Measure R because of Measure Q. I’m on the Measure Q oversight tax committee, and we’ve made sure technology is getting about a half a million dollars a year so kids can get more tablets in hand and things like that. I think the technology will increase, so that’s one of the things we need to do is to keep that access going.
We need to continue improving the technology and give the kids an opportunity to use it. We also need to look at hiring new teachers because we have a group of teachers that are leaving, and we need to make sure that the new teachers are technology savvy, and can use the technology that we can produce to a benefit to the students.
In your opinion, what is the next step to ensuring high school students are prepared for the SBAC (the Common Core standardized test)?
CUNNINGHAM: We need to keep working with what the federal guidelines are in getting Common Core in place and it’s basically a concept where Common Core is mandated by the federal government because of the funding. so if we don’t work with Common Core, we won’t be able to get the federal funding we need. It’s just a basic concept to look at ways to work with the students individually where it’s needed to continue that process.
The Ventura Unified budget for this year is around 180 million dollars. If I gave you ten million dollars more today to invest in our school district however you see fit, how would you spend it?
CUNNINGHAM: I would spend it on facilities, I would spend it on technology, and I would spend it on proper books for students. I would also spend it on teachers to give the teachers an opportunity to have equipment and books to help teach the kids better. That’s what I would do with 10 million dollars, right now most of our budget goes to salaries and benefits, so we need to look at facilities because I have a facilities background.
When I worked in Ventura Unified I was the operations manager, and in Oxnard High School I was director of facilities working on new facilities, new schools, modernizing schools, and working with teachers and staff to see what they needed in their classrooms so they can teach the kids. Looking at and finishing the projects for the projector walls, the white walls, the white boards, and working with those kinds of things.
I’m going to some of the schools, recently at Will Rogers, they’ve got some excellent classrooms with better seating for the kids to learn and in groups. Things like that which we need to do is what I would use the 10 million dollars for.
What do you think is the most pressing issue facing our schools today and how can it be addressed?
CUNNINGHAM: In Ventura we have three or four elementary schools that are basically underpopulated, so we need to look at facilities and decide whether we need to continue those schools or remove the kids into other schools. Those are some of the major issues that we have.
The projects on the East Side that are going in right now like the new housing going in, we are going to need extra space in schools and maybe need to put a middle school over there because everything’s going on Wells Road and Saticoy. The kids there are going to have to go to Balboa and schools like that, so do we need to build a middle school on that end of town? Do we need to put facilities on one of the campuses?
It’s going to create a massive traffic problem on the East End. Telegraph Road will need to be widened to four lanes all the way up to Saticoy Avenue at Wells Road. Do we need to put in bike lanes so kids can ride their bikes to school? We need to look at a safe way to get our kids back and forth to school on the other side of Ventura and those are some of the real progressive issues right now.
Sometimes to students, School Board policy decisions seem to come out of nowhere. Most students don’t know their School Board members, don’t know when the board meets, and aren’t informed about the decisions the Board makes on a regular basis, like for example decisions about curriculum or disciplinary policies. If you are elected, how do you plan to cultivate a closer relationship between the board and the students, ensuring that they get a chance to speak on issues that pertain to them and are informed of decisions once they happen?
CUNNINGHAM: The schools themselves need to let the kids know when the board meets, and so does the board. In my opinion we need to have term limits so we get new board members for a consistent turn around, so that they can keep in touch with the students themselves and go out and let the kids know that we meet on Tuesday nights in City Hall.
I’ve been to some of the board meetings and there are never any students there unless they’ve been asked to be there for some kind of an award or something. So you’ve got to get a board that’s progressive, a board that works with the kids, a board that works with both students and staff. That way we can make sure that everybody knows what’s going on.
One of the big issues that’s happening, and that needs to happen right now is that we need to get a new board in place, and to get new policies, student policies and staff policies. A lot of our policies are outdated. We had a superintendent here for many years, the same superintendent and the same board that was in place working for that superintendent. They’ve gotten into a way of working under those guidelines.
Right now we have a new superintendent, he used to be a principal in our schools and a superintendent in other districts. He’s only been here for a year and this is his second year, and I feel that he needs a new board to work with him to get new policies and direction for both students and staff for the Ventura Unified School District. As a board member that’s one of the things I’ll look forward too.
Like I said, I’ve been working in schools for over 20 years and I bring that background with me. I’m on a lot of committees and I bring a lot of that background with me and I can help change those policies and get the district back on its feet. One thing I think we really need to work at is having term limits for board members. We presently are doing that for City Council members, and I think it really needs to be in place so we don’t have board members that have been there for 20 or 30 years.
Not that these board members that we have haven’t done a good job, but it’s time for new people. I am a good, qualified candidate, I have a lot of school knowledge and school background, I’m on the tax oversight committee, the local affirmation commission for 16 years, I’m chairman on mobile home rent and review board in the City of Ventura, and I just have a lot of background in schools. Other than that, I just think that I am the best candidate that there is.