Embracing hearts, inspiring minds By Bill Hoban. As the newly-elected president of the school board, Nicole Abate Ducarroz, wants to get to a PTO meeting at every one of the district's schools.So far, before she even became president at the December board meeting, Ducarroz had already attended PTO meetings at Sassarini and Dunbar."We want people to know we're there," she said. "We want people to know what's going on. It gives us an opportunity to update them and answer questions."Ducarroz said that the board tries to make sure a board representative is present at almost every event that happens in the district. "We try to get to most events," she said. "And if we can't, somebody from the district office is there."
A six-year veteran of the board, this is Ducarroz's second stint as president. She is the trustee from the Dunbar attendance area.
One of the tasks facing the board this year, besides the 800-pound gorilla in the box - the state's financial mess, is the need to refresh the district's Strategic Plan.
"Our job is to support the staff and administration with the Strategic Plan," she said. "We want to stay up with the times."
Ducarroz sees all the employees in the school district as having a part in students' education.
"The world is changing. So is our school district," Ducarroz said. "From the teachers to the janitors to the bus drivers, everybody at each site should know all the students' names."
Another one of the goals this year is for every school to plant a garden. Some schools have had gardens for years while others are in the process of planting their first garden.
"We want to facilitate a garden at every school," she said. "But we have to ask, 'What does a garden look like?'"
The district is still looking for volunteers for the garden project.
"The gardens are just one piece of our wellness policy," she said.
Ducarroz said the gardens will provide the schools with good, healthy food.
"We want to buy local fruits and vegetables that tie into the garden," she said. "I'd love to have our garden program tie into our food services."
The garden at each school is going to look different.
As an example of how the garden program will tie into the classroom at the elementary schools, there will be a Harvest of the Month teachers can take advantage of that has a curriculum element, newsletter and pictures of the monthly harvest.
Student achievement and communication are two other areas where the district will continue its focus.
"From the top to the bottom, all of the schools have websites," Ducarroz said. "At the high school, for example, there's a daily e-mail bulletin that goes out to all the families."
She also said that student achievement is more than just test scores. "It's educating the whole child," she added. "Our vision is to have students ready for college or career."
The district, she believes, should be interested in all of its students, from pre-school to high school and beyond. "We don't want our grads taking remedial classes."
One project Ducarroz would like to see the district get involved with is a federal program called "Breakfast First."
"We would feed everybody breakfast," she said. "Breakfast fuels the bodies so the brain is ready to work."
Ducarroz heard about the breakfast program at a recent California School Boards Association convention that the entire board and Superintendent Louann Carlomagno attended, courtesy of an anonymous donor.
Looking at the finances, she said the district is in pretty good shape, expecially compared with a number of other districts around the state, because of Deputy Superintendent Justin Frese.
"We're lucky to have Justin," she said. "A couple of years ago, we had extra money, but Justin told us we should put it away instead of spending it."
While the SVUSD will run a $1.9 million deficit this year and a $1 million the next fiscal year, the district has the savings to cover the deficits.
"Justin also applied for federal solar rebates even before we got to Measure H," she said. Measure H was the $40 million bond approved by district voters in November that will, among other things, provide solar power for the entire district.
"He's thinking outside the box," she added. "In addition to our utility savings, we're going to put the PG&E rebates (for the solar program) back into the classrooms."
And, she said, that's what the district is about.
"We're embracing hearts and inspiring minds," she said.