Think About Your Vote
Welcome to our Meet the Candidates profile blog: An introduction to the leaders in our community running for school board office.
Meet Nadine Aarsheim
Which Marin School Board are you running for?
NA: Larkspur Corte Madera
How long have you lived in Marin County?
NA: 13 ½ years. My husband grew up here.
How many children do you have in this school district?
NA: Two, a first grader and a fifth grader. I will have a child in elementary and middle school throughout all four years of the upcoming Board term.
What are the biggest challenges facing the district now and in the next 5 years?
We have many challenges facing our District, and most of them are due to factors not in our control (an rapidly expanding student population, a new State funding formula coupled with continued budget pressures, adoption of a completely new set of educational standards by the State (the “Common Core” standards) which will result in a complete overhaul of our curriculum and assessment process, to name a few). However the good news is that our biggest challenge is also one completely within our control: creating a new, more inclusive and transparent decision making process. In order to successfully meet the challenges we face, our Board will need to recommit itself to proactively seeking the input of its constituents, and faithfully relating the cost/benefit analyses it performs when it considers various courses of action. The challenges our District faces require an “all hands on deck” approach to problem solving and the Board can’t do it alone. We need to reach out to take advantage of all of the incredible wealth of human resources we have at our disposal in our community.
A more open and inclusive decision making process will also help us address another major challenge the Board faces: working to improve the morale of our teachers, which is currently dismal. We cannot succeed as a district without the respect and trust of our teaching staff. By including our teachers in the Board’s decision making process, we can move forward together in the best interests of our students.
Going forward, one of our biggest challenges is going to be figuring out how we are going to use the radical new classroom designs we are building with the $26 million in Measure A facilities expansion bond funds. Creativity is good and the buildings will look great, but the question we will need to grapple with is whether function follows form. Another continuing challenge will be managing growth; we are spending a good deal of the facilities expansion bond funds on classroom reconfiguration instead of expansion, which will become apparent when the new Cove School opens and we are immediately at capacity.
What do you think are the district’s greatest strengths?
Our District is fortunate to have an incredibly dedicated and talented teaching staff and a community that values and supports education in general and our schools in particular. These amazing human resources deserve to be respected and trusted. Studies show time and again that the factors that are most strongly correlated with student success are not teaching trends and classroom environments, but the student-teacher relationship and parental involvement. For example, time-honored hallmarks of excellent teachers include their dedication to getting to know each student, their ability to set clear goals for students and their commitment to giving consistent feedback. In addition, students whose parents are committed to supporting their child’s learning at home have a better chance of success. The success of our students is dependent on our support of our wonderful parents and teaching staff, and we should never take them for granted.
What would you say are the district’s greatest weaknesses?
We have a communication problem in that there is a large proportion of parents and teachers who do not understand our Board’s vision for our schools. The decision making process is not transparent, which results in confusion and frustration among both parents and teachers. The good news is that this is easily remedied as long as we have Board members who are committed to transparency and communication.
Why are you running?
I was asked to by parents and teachers who are frustrated by a Board that they feel is uncommunicative and unresponsive to their concerns. I decided to run because I care passionately about our kids and the health of our District, and because I felt I could make a positive difference by helping our Board reach out to teachers, parents, and community members who want to be involved but have thus far not been given an opportunity.
What do you feel you would bring to the school board that makes you unique?
Since the passage of the Measure A facilities expansion bond authorization in November of 2011, our Board has been overseeing the process of planning the health and safety improvements that were authorized by the bond at the Neil Cummins and Hall campuses, and the design of the new school on the East side of Corte Madera. During that process, many members of our school community became frustrated, and were confused by, the decision making process. Accurate information was not forthcoming from the Board in an accessible and timely manner. Decisions were made behind closed doors. It took an incredible amount of time and energy to sift through the information and misinformation, figure out when and where public meetings were being held, and generally decipher what was going on. I began to reach out to my fellow parents by email, communicating information as I found it and publicizing public meetings and the agendas for those meetings so that parents had the opportunity to attend. I started a Google Group as a forum where parents could communicate with each other and share ideas. I received a huge amount of positive feedback from parents and teachers who appreciated having someone boil down the information for them in a form that they could digest, understand, and easily access. As an attorney, a big part of my job involves just that: translating complicated legal concepts into form that my clients can relate to and easily apply to their own situations. As a Board member, I believe that I will bring a fresh approach to communication to the Board that will help our constituents feel included and invested in the decisions we make.
In addition, my legal training has taught me the discipline of rational analysis: sourcing facts from original, credible sources; synthesizing those facts into proposals for action that encompass diverse viewpoints and a “think-outside-the-box” approach, and evaluating the appropriateness of those proposals utilizing cost/benefit analyses. I don’t think my ability to undertake factual analyses is unique, but I think voters should consider whether the candidates they are considering have proven dedicated to adhering to a disciplined analytical approach to problem solving in the face of pressure from stakeholders to consider a limited range of options.
What would be your main goals as a trustee during your tenure on the board?
- Helping the Board improve its relationship with its constituents though increased communication;
- Making the Board’s decision making process transparent and putting practices in place that will make it easier for the Board to access input and assistance from community members;
- Supporting teachers and actively seeking their input and advice;
- Generating excitement about the opening of the Cove School by figuring out what we’re going to do at that campus and then communicating that information ASAP;
- Ensuring that planning for any future bond and parcel tax expenditures is done before we ask voters to approve the funds;
- Expanding our revenue base by looking for new ways to generate revenue and leverage the funds we have (i.e., creating facilities that can be leased to third parties).