Having been the longest serving Ventura Unified School District (VUSD) Board Member has been a privilege for John Walker. During those 29 years he has seen many changes to the district. For the most part, he says, “I think I have met my mother’s admonition to leave things better than when you found them.” During his tenure he has seen two new schools built, school modernizations, moving and consolidation of the district office, a focus on the arts, hiring four superintendents and well documented student academic growth among other things. However, as he nears his exit time in November, there are things that he says he worked to accomplish, but never quite made it due to budget constraints, political climate or simply lack of board consensus.
Having served on the Board of Directors for the California School Boards Association for eight years, he was fortunate to be at the state forefront, seeing new education reforms, legislation and the ever-changing budget climate. Those meetings inspired him to want the best for the children of VUSD. John is now hopeful that the new VUSD board will at least visit some of those things the board has previously discussed that he felt were important to the district and the community.
One of John’s highest priorities was the nationally touted International Baccalaureate program. It is a rigorous, high achieving program embraced by the county’s largest school districts, but not yet in VUSD. This academic program offers a wide range of options for students to succeed, while developing students who want to create a better and more peaceful world. The board and district studied the program about five years ago but funding waned.
Secondly, Walker believes that “employee salaries are important to attracting and retaining the best.” His experience in human resources taught him the importance of employee retention. “Districts often promote and train their best employees only to lose them to neighboring districts who can pay more. This is particularly true now with the recently implemented state-wide school funding formula which provides significantly more money to districts with higher at-risk populations” he says. Our salary norm over the years has been to be in the 40 to 60 percentile county-wide. “I believe we need to be continuously in the top third to retain our best teachers and support employees. We were never quite there over my tenure, in spite of how hard we tried. This is going to take prioritization of resources and some creativity.”
Lastly and most importantly, equal learning opportunities for all VUSD students should be a high district priority. Most pointedly, one of the district’s high schools Foothill can offer a student seven periods per semester or 56 courses in a typical four-year high school career. Conversely, the remaining two traditional high schools offer less with six periods per semester for most students, or 48 courses in a typical four-year span. That means some district students have more options than others for courses such as additional academic electives, leadership and the arts. Walker believes it gives those students a competitive advantage in applying for college. “As a district we need to bring all our high schools to the same standard as Foothill Technology HS. All students deserve the same opportunity.”
John wishes the board well in its future endeavors but vowed to remain active and involved in the district whenever opportunities arise.