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Never say kids don’t care: I spotted La Jolla High School student Roger Li at our school board candidates’ forum last week taking lots of notes and asked him to share his reflections here on the blog. He can’t vote yet, but these are his thoughts about the candidates and their platforms. Got thoughts of your own? Please post your comments here on the blog. — EMILY ALPERT

The school board candidates were well prepared for an onslaught of questions, shuffling notes filled with statistics on misused funds and district averages. These statistics, however, did not include any mention of student opinions. Numbers were thrown around without explaining their real implications for students.

So while listening to the candidates, I noted two issues that I believe could use some student input: The achievement gap and the Proposition S funds.

Although I have been privileged to attend La Jolla High, a school in a wealthy area, I also tutor refugee students at Crawford High School. As a result, I have become very cognizant of the achievement gap that exists between high school students in San Diego Unified.

Many of these teens come to the United States and are thrust into completely English high school courses. A newcomer program has revolutionized education for many of them, but gaps still exist. These kids need more individual attention, which can come from smaller class sizes, a centerpiece of Kevin Beiser’s campaign.

Refugee students, however, only make up a small niche of the achievement gap. The vast majority of underperforming students fall under a lower socioeconomic status than the typical high achiever. Alleviating poverty does not fall under the jurisdiction of the school board, but finding innovative ways to motivate students does.

John de Beck touched on the importance of motivation, but he overemphasized rewards. Rewards are expensive, and do not promote a long-term culture of learning. Instead, the money that is being spent on pointless sex-education assemblies with dancing condoms can be funneled toward assemblies that show the stark realities of dropping out of high school.

For instance, La Jolla High recently held several assemblies on gang violence. The format was simple: three former gang members shared their harrowing stories. The assembly was a succinct, smart presentation on the consequences of joining a gang. Similar assemblies involving high school dropouts could help motivate teens. Fear of a bleak future is a better motivator than any cheap candy bar, a common incentive for answering questions correctly at sex-ed assemblies.

Proposition S was another hot topic of the night. Almost all of the candidates agreed with the $385 million allotted for new technology for students. Scott Barnett stressed that the technology needed “lots of review and analysis,” and Steve Rosen said the school board needed to reach out to teachers to make sure the technology is used efficiently.

None of the candidates, however, disputed the inherent value of the new technology. Having experienced what has come from the $385 million, I’d have to disagree.

In my math class, every student has a laptop and my teacher now conducts lessons primarily through a digital white board. Although I have earned a high score in Slime Volleyball and learned a lot about financial regulation legislation going through the Senate, I have not learned much math. Ten to 15 minutes of the class are squandered every day because of constant software malfunctions.

Barnett also mentioned that classrooms without textbooks would be one of the hallmarks of future education. Like the other candidates, Barnett didn’t support his assertions with evidence of broad student support. Most of the students I know wouldn’t support it. Unlike electronic textbooks, paper textbooks have a tangible quality that is conducive to learning.

These are all my personal opinions, but they deserve to be heard by the people who control my education. Ultimately, the students themselves will be most affected by the decisions of school board members. Therefore, the voices of students should be among the loudest in determining school policy.

Contrary to the widespread belief of many adults, there exists a wealth of intelligent teens who have the capacity to help make decisions. I suggest that there should be a commission of exceptional high school students who are nominated by teachers. These students would discuss district issues and present them to the school board. One student could have a vote on the board in order to ensure that the opinions of students are heard.

Likewise, students should involve themselves more in politics that influence their future so heavily. The school board election should be anything but a sleepy race. Apathy overwhelms many of the students at La Jolla High, a consequence of a flawed public education system. Ironically, these same students do not realize that they can help enact change in the system by becoming informed and informing their parents.

After surveying all of the candidates for the first time during the debate, I would support Barnett for District C and either Katherine Nakamura or Beiser for District B. Barnett seemed like he was a stickler for accountability and transparency, two important measures in a school district that is hemorrhaging money. He also stressed the importance of innovation.

For District B, both Nakamura and Beiser seemed like they understood the differences between different students, instead of clumping them together into one entity. I liked Nakamura’s emphasis on extracurriculars, but I did not approve of her adamant support of the Proposition S funds going to technology. Beiser’s youthful energy was definitely a plus, and his work at Granger Junior High showcased his innovative capabilities.

By the end of the night, I admit that I was surprised by how interesting the debate was. Perhaps I am just a hopeless nerd or an idealist, but I really do believe that increased student input can rejuvenate San Diego Unified.

In conclusion, listen to us. Some of us know what we’re talking about.

— ROGER LI

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