Ojai Valley News Endorsement
While the job of school board member has always been important, no one who ran for school board four years ago could have predicted the responsibilities they now have.
2020 is the first year Ojai Unified School District board members will be chosen by districts due to a voting rights legal challenge affecting cities and school districts across the state.
As a result, voters in OUSD Area 2 will choose one of two candidates — Jeffrey Starkweather or Rebecca Chandler; and voters in Area 4 will choose one of two candidates — Shelly Griffen or Chiany Dri.
The Ojai Valley News endorses Jeffrey Starkweather for Area 2 and Chiany
Dri for Area 4.
The Area 2 school board seat is open since Trustee Thayne Whipple chose not to run for re-election.
Shelly Griffen, who was chosen in the previous at-large election of 2016, is the first of the current school board members to run in a district election.
The Ojai Valley News welcomes the possibility this election offers of seating two new board members for Areas 2 and 4 who will contribute different perspectives and ideas to a board that too often embraces groupthink under the guise of collaboration.
Mr. Starkweather and Ms. Dri have unique and needed experiences and skills, and have already demonstrated their ability to seek out and listen to community members.
The current school board members are too often dismissive of the public, as when a parent of a prospective student attended a school board “retreat” at 9 a.m. on a beautiful Saturday, Feb. 1, and was told the board could not further discuss her question about OUSD’s test scores because it was “not on the agenda,” even though the two broad agenda items for that meeting were: “goal setting activity” and “additional topics for
The parent, a college professor, has a son enrolled in a private Ojai school. She explained politely that she and “a number of friends” — at least 10 families — were considering a shift from private to public schools in Ojai, but had questions about OUSD’s relatively low test scores. She said: “I would love to help haul a ton of private school families back to public schools.”
That is just one of several lost opportunities for this school district, whose school board members say the district grapples with declining enrollment, on the one hand, but is so defensive and anxious to cover up its shortcomings, on the other, that it cannot bring itself to examine ways to address them.
The school board cannot continue to use “declining enrollment” as an excuse for all its economic woes when it is expressly disinclined to consider magnet schools (which were created to address equity issues), and use other tools at its disposal (District of Choice, being one of them) to attract interdistrict transfer students and/or stem the outflow of OUSD students to private schools and public schools in neighboring communities.
Mr. Starkweather, a Nordhoff High School graduate who grew up in Meiners Oaks — a large part of which is represented in OUSD Area 2 — says his “first priority” is to make decisions “in a totally transparent manner,” which is much needed by a school board majority that recently hemmed and hawed over the “extra work” entailed in Trustee Kevin Ruf’s recommendation to share more information about future school board agenda items with the public.
We are impressed that Mr. Starkweather has attended and spoken at numerous school board meetings since last year. He announced he was running for school board early this year and has spent his time since then speaking to residents about their ideas, immersing himself in studying the issues, and canvassing in Area 2 — with proper health precautions, sanctioned by the Ventura County Public Health officer.
As a retired civil rights attorney, he is able to dedicate all of his time to the school board during this critical period. He has the creative ideas, experience, knowledge about the schools, and connections with other community groups that will enable him make a positive difference in OUSD.
Chiany Dri, a mother of three young children, is a bold candidate, who vows to bring equity and inclusion in education to the forefront. One really has to listen to Ms. Dri speak, as she did in the Oct. 6 recorded League of Women Voters candidates forum, to appreciate her personal commitment to those important issues. She is exactly the candidate we need for this time.
As a founder of the Ojai Alliance for Education Equity and an anti-racism advocate with the well-regarded Girls Empowerment Workshop, Ms. Dri demonstrates that she does, indeed, show up to do the work.
In a school district whose leaders speak in education jargon few community members understand, Ms. Dri inspires as she speaks directly of her journey “learning my power in community” and of her experiences as a “young woman of color,” and when she says “equity and inclusion are incredibly important to me” because “it matters to raising generations of people who will come after us who will fight for something even better than we could even imagine.”
Ojai Unified School District needs Ms. Dri and Mr. Starkweather for our schools to be “even better than we could even imagine.”