Ben Johnson II, Alvord School District, Board of Trustees

Ben Johnson II, Alvord School District, Board of Trustees

Over your 17 years on the Alvord School Board what do you consider the district’s biggest challenges and greatest accomplishments?

Ben Johnson, II

Ben Johnson, II

Challenges: Adequate funding is the biggest challenge facing most districts. The state of California spends approximately $8000 per student a year. However, there is significant disparity from one district to the next. In addition to the disparity in funding a significant portion of the funds are restricted. Providing a higher degree of true local control will allow districts to determine the most effective use of the funds.

Challenges: We must reduce our dropout rates and find programs to keep students engaged. Students need to understand the relevance of their classes to their future. Helping them bridge the gap between the theoretical to the practical is essential if we want them to care about their K-12 experience.

Accomplishments: The economic downturn has significant impact on our district. We have more families struggling financially with other transitional families moving from school to school. In addition, our ELL population has almost doubled from fifteen years ago. Even with all of these challenges almost every school in our district is making progress to the API goals with eight schools over 800, four schools less than 10 points from hitting 800. There are many wonderful things happening in our classrooms on a daily basis. We have dedicated employees that give their talent, time, and resources to ensure that all children are successful. Of all the positive things we do in education what really matters is the academic success of our children. Hence our district motto: “Student Achievement is Our #1 Priority”

Accomplishments: When I was first elected to the Board many of our schools sites were in desperate need of repair and we struggled with overcrowded classrooms. At that time, our district did not have a stadium to hold sports events or key events such as graduation. We now have a stadium. The voters in 1997 passed a general obligation bond to address many of the priority issues. In 2007 the community supported an additional bond to build our fourth high school, complete several additional modernization programs, and improve security throughout the district. We now have a fourth high school, modernized schools, and improved security. These are sacrifices that our community made because of their belief in our previous financial stewardship and the good work that is occurring throughout the district.

What is the district doing to prepare students to be competitive in the new more global economy?

The skill sets that our children need to be competitive today are much different than those of the previous generation. Our children need to have similar skills whether they are headed to college, the military, or the workforce. Regardless, of their career choice they will need to be able to demonstrate critical thinking and continue to be lifelong learners. Our AVID and International Baccalaureate programs as well as our academies are just a few examples of how we are preparing our students. However, we need to do more. We are focused on ensuring that we are aligning our curriculum with the State and Common Core Standards, expanding of our CTE programs, and hopefully, developing a JROTC program.

Explain why the Board had to vote earlier this year to move to a by-trustee-area method for elections? Do you believe it will encourage civic engagement in more diverse communities within the Alvord district?

We all support the spirit of the Voter’s Right Act to have engagement of all of the community in the electoral process. However, I do not believe that the current process directed at local school boards to move to trustee areas is in the best interest of the community or students. Most Boards are moving to trustee areas because they are concerned that they are violating the Voter’s Rights Act. In Alvord, we have heard from various community groups, representatives from both of our associations and members of the community that do not feel this is in the best interest of Alvord. Additionally we held three well-advertised community meetings throughout the district and had a total of 12 people attend. We have a diverse Board that does a good job representing the entire district. I have served Alvord for seventeen years with an African American population that is less than 10%. My fear is that we are no longer discussing content of character but we have made ethnicity the primary discussion point.
I am also concerned that in the future the Board members will begin to become more myopic in their representation and only care about the schools in their wards rather than the district as a whole.

Late last year you posed a question to members of your Facebook community regarding student achievement. “What do you think would have the greatest impact on our schools and student achievement?”

There is no question that increased funding, innovative programs, and well trained staff has a positive impact on students. However, I still believe that having parents that are engaged and involved have the greatest impact on a student’s success. Neither one of my parents went to college. My father had to leave school in the 5th grade to work on the family farm and my mother completed high school. However, they both made it clear to me from an early age that a good education would lead to success. We must make our schools welcome environments for parents. The school system can be intimidating, especially for those who did not experience it themselves. There are a variety of methods to engage our parents. But providing parent training programs that will enable parents to assist with homework, understand their rights, and support the expectations of their children at school is essential. My parents also knew that I was not perfect. If the school gave my parents feedback that I was being mischievous or talking too much in class they supported the teacher. My parents were focused on being my parents not my friend.

About The Author

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