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  • Writer's pictureBen Avey

Sacramento Bee Candidate Guide

San Juan Unified School Board election: Who are the Fair Oaks candidates for Trustee Area 6?

Voters in the San Juan Unified School District are choosing trustees by geographic district instead of at-large for the first-time this fall. The candidates for Trustee Area 6 are Ben Avey, who founded a parent advocacy group during the COVID-19 pandemic; and Ray Ward, an insurance agent who is running with support from the district’s teachers’ union. They are running to represent neighborhoods in Fair Oaks around Bella Vista High School.

Ben Avey

Age: 41

Occupation: Parent/Nonprofit administrator Campaign


If elected, what strategies or changes should San Juan Unified focus on to improve educational outcomes for all students?

School districts are defined by educational outcomes and those outcomes must be the top priority in education. If a student is not proficient in reading, writing, or math, and does not have adequate comprehension of history and civics, we have failed them as a school district. As such, we have a duty to drive towards excellence and not settle for comparative mediocrity.

The first step of any improvement strategy requires an honest assessment of outcomes, not effort. This includes test scores and other metrics that provide data for evaluation and assessment. In addition, a focused effort must also include conversations with parents, teachers, and students in these areas to better understand their perception of our schools and education system.

Second, once areas for improvement are identified we must conduct a root cause analysis to determine how the system is falling short for those students who are not succeeding. Is it a specific school or grade? Is it tied to a specific curriculum? Are students from a specific community struggling? Are there differences between education teams?

Last, we must develop interventions to support those students who are falling behind, specifically. While standardization is important for a district as large as San Juan Unified, we must also embrace specific interventions that match the diversity of the students we aim to teach to make sure strategies work well for them. Implementation of interventions must allow for ongoing evaluation and adjustment that is driven by a culture of continuous improvement.

Across the state, teacher and staff recruitment retention could be a concern for years to come. What should the district do to ensure teachers come and stay at San Juan Unified?

Teacher recruitment and retention is a complex issue that requires multiple strategies to be successful long term.

First, we must evaluate pay, benefits, and pay structure in comparison to other districts to ensure we are a competitive employer for new and experienced teachers and staff. While this is a critical piece of the solution, it is not the only issue and we cannot allow this issue to focus solely on compensation.

Second, we must work with our partners in the state legislature and Sacramento County Office of Education to develop two different pipeline programs – one that creates a streamlined credential program that is more affordable and accessible than current university degrees and a second that creates a training and education pathway for skilled professionals who choose teaching as a second career. Hundreds of thousands of dollars of debt cannot be a prerequisite to teach.

Last, we need to evaluate the role of teachers and determine if there are ways to assign certain tasks to other staff who may be better suited to the duties or have more time to focus on that work. For example, the broad-based increase in Instructional Aids this year has been invaluable to students who require additional support while freeing up teachers to focus on curriculum development, lesson planning, and teaching to the top of their credential.

About 15% of your school district identifies as English Language Learners. What additional support would you like to see for students to reach more academic success?

The greatest bridge we can offer students who are English Language Learners are embedded professionals who understand the nature of a student’s country of origin and are also trained education professionals. If the state and/or district were able to create a streamlined training and education pathway for skilled professionals, there would be a pipeline for people who came to California from other countries and are seeking meaningful careers in education. As it stands, the typical credentialing program is not achievable, or necessary, for an adult with a family who recently immigrated to the United States. There are opportunities to strategically up train people or certify their existing expertise to support our schools and the English Language Learners within.

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