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Salas aims to bring big ideas, enthusiasm to school board

As the November 5 election approaches, Joseph Salas has themed his bid for the local school board: “Celebrating our traditions, reaching new heights.”

The celebration begins with his campaign kick-off on Sunday, September 15 from 3 to 5 p.m. at Casa De Salsa restaurant, located at 415 W. Foothill Blvd. in the Old School House complex. Guests are asked to RSVP for the event, which will include appetizers and drinks, at josephsalas7@hotmail.com.

Mr. Salas, a high school social studies teacher and a Model United Nations instructor at a charter school in Fontana, has pondered running for a seat on the board of the Claremont Unified School District for the last 3 or 4 years. It is a recent development that convinced him that his viewpoint would be an asset for the district.

At the end of May, CUSD sold its service center to homebuilder DR Horton and the district began moving forward on its relocation, with plans centering on building a center of operations on the campus of the local continuation high school.

It wasn’t until their June 6 meeting that the board directed architect James Moreto to switch his focus to moving the service center to the district office property. Mr. Salas was shocked that the earlier contingency nearly came to pass.

“My reaction was, ‘You’re going to take resources away from students who need the most resources?’”

Should he gain a spot on the school board, Mr. Salas said he would be guided by 2 questions in his decisions: “Is it good for the kids?” And, “Are we allocating resources in the best manner for student achievement?”

A graduate of Sycamore, El Roble and Claremont High School, he credits Claremont schools with teaching him to love to learn. Still, Mr. Salas, who served on CUSD’s district advisory committee on curriculum, has laid out some priorities he feels would make them even better.

Chief among these is to erase the achievement gap between the average Claremont student and subgroups such as English language learners, African-American students, disabled students and kids who are socio-economically disadvantaged.

Mr. Salas feels there is an economic segregation in Claremont schools that leaves some schools able to focus on post-proficiency excellence while others must fight to narrow the gap for large populations of vulnerable subgroups.

Schools in the northeastern portion of Claremont have few instra-district transfers from poorer cities like Pomona, while schools in the southwest area of the city have many. As a result, Chapparel has a student population that is 13 percent socio-economically disadvantaged (SED), while 89 percent of Vista del Valle students meet this criteria. Mr. Salas has an idea of how to change this disparity, and it doesn’t involve redrawing boundaries or taking away Claremont families’ much-valued ability to choose which school their child attends.

Mr. Salas suggests that every Claremont elementary school adopt a foreign language that students would study for a percentage of the day or week. Students at various sites might study Mandarin, Spanish or French. With this new layer of choice, Claremont families might begin to self-select inter-district transfers, making it more common for students from the northeast belt of Claremont to opt for southwestern schools. As a result, seats might open up at northeastern schools for intra-district transfers, causing subgroups like SED students to be peppered throughout the district rather than concentrated in a few schools.

Families whose children are English language learners might choose to send their children to a school whose language focus matches their home language, an option Mr. Salas said would be effective in narrowing that sub-group’s achievement gap. Research tells us that if a student improves in his or her mother tongue, it can help them improve in English, he points out.

Mr. Salas would also like to see the district establish meaningful collaborations with local institutions of higher education. For instance, the Chaffey Joint Union School District recently signed agreements with Cal Poly Pomona and Cal State San Bernardino guaranteeing admission and 4-year graduation for seniors with the required courses and GPA.

In addition, Mr. Salas would like to see the bonds between CUSD and Citrus College, his alma mater along with Cal Poly Pomona, strengthened. Many students would benefit from the opportunity to take college classes during their junior or senior years, hastening their matriculation and exposing them to the many options available at community colleges.

The candidate also has his sights set on greater energy efficiency. In the past month, Mr. Salas said he has toured through all of the campuses in CUSD. While CHS Principal Brett O’Connor guided him through the high school, Mr. Salas was shown an empty classroom and was struck by the fact that the air conditioning was still on. He said he was told that the high school did not have a central system where rooms could be monitored for activity, with utilities switched off accordingly. Mr. Salas also notes having seen sprinklers on at Claremont schools while it’s raining, another waste that could be addressed through technology.

Beyond addressing basic inefficiencies, Mr. Salas, a founding member of Sustainable Claremont, would like to see CUSD install solar panels in every school, a move that could help shrink the amount of money the district spends on electricity, some $600,000 per year.

Some might see this as a dreamer’s vision, but Mr. Salas emphasizes that Claremont is rich in intellectual capital, people who can help guide the district as it makes the transition. He responds to potential doubters with a quote by Abraham Lincoln: “Towering genius disdains a beaten path.”

When it comes to his campaign, Mr. Salas, who has 2 nephews who attend Sycamore School, does not suffer from a lack of ideas. His challenge will be articulating what he admits are “big ideas.”

He would like to see Claremont schools create a more competitive education focused on success for the 21st century. One method would be for Claremont schools to create more partnerships with businesses and nonprofits, particularly in the area of STEM (science, technology, engineering and mechanics). For instance, the Oxford Academy in Cypress, California has forged a partnership with Boeing in which students undertake Boeing internships and the aerospace corporation advises the school’s robotics club.

Another path to make students more prepared for today’s world, he said, would be to add International Baccalaureate (IB) programs at local elementary schools and at El Roble as well as at CHS. The IB program offers participating juniors and seniors advanced academics while emphasizing writing, interdisciplinary learning, teamwork, community engagement and a global perspective.

The professed goal of the Middle Years International Baccalaureate Program—aimed at junior high school-aged kids—is to offer “a framework of academic challenge that encourages students to embrace connections between traditional subjects and the real world and become critical thinkers.”

Such a focus, Mr. Salas points out, dovetails perfectly with the Common Core assessment and curriculum to which the district is currently transitioning. Mr. Salas emphasizes that families should be able to choose whether their young students participate in IB. The beauty of the program, he said, is that teachers do not need a special degree to become IB teachers, just a few days of specialized training.

Mr. Salas spends countless hours pondering how the latest learning ideas might apply to local schools. He said he does so because he loves education and he cares about Claremont schools.

“I want to give back to the institutions that made me who I am today,” he said.

Profiles on the other CUSD school board candidates will appear in upcoming editions of the COURIER.

—Sarah Torribio

storribio@claremont-courier.com

 

Profiles on school board candidates Steven Llanusa ran in a previous edition of the COURIER online. Profiles on the remaining 3 CUSD school board candidates will appear in upcoming editions of the COURIER online.

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