By Evangeline Si
Denali Opinion Editor
Cupertino Union School District (CUSD) Board of Trustees President Lori Cunningham believes that school districts play an important role in supporting diversity and developing students’ soft skills. On Jan. 13, she spoke with Summit News student journalists, giving students insight on the school board and her perspective on diversity in schools, high rates of teacher turnover and why the Cupertino Union School District is valuable.
The Cupertino Union School District, or CUSD, is the largest K-8 school district in Northern California. According to Ms. Cunningham, the district serves “over 16,500 students across 25 schools.”
These schools are located in portions of six separate cities. “We serve all of the students in the city of Cupertino with the exception of one small little pocket over near Santa Clara,” Ms. Cunningham said. In addition to the city of Cupertino, the school district also covers areas of Sunnyvale, Los Altos, Saratoga, Santa Clara and West San Jose. “Only about nine of our 25 schools are actually within the city of Cupertino,” Cunningham added.
The CUSD is also reflective of the racially diverse communities within California. “Something like a third of our students are coming from a family descent of kind of East Asian background, about 30% are from a South Asian background or Indian background and then 30% from White, Caucasian. Then the other 10% is such a diverse group,” Ms. Cunningham said.
According to the Bay Area Census, in 2010, around 23.5% of the population identified as Hispanic or Latino. From the group not identifying as Hispanic or Latino, 42.4% were White, 6.4% were Black or African American. Asians were 23% of the population; Pacific Islanders and Native Hawaiians were 0.6% of the population and American Indian and Alaskan Native population was 0.3% of the whole population. People identifying as another race made up around 0.3% of the population and people identifying as two or more races were 3.5% of the population.
“It does make for a very reflective melting pot of our local community here,” Ms. Cunningham added. “Our schools are the hearts of our neighborhoods and if our neighborhoods have become more diverse, so have our schools.”
When asked about how CUSD schools attempt to bring more diversity to classrooms, Ms. Cunningham explained different measures were taken at different schools. “Schools are our places of learning and developing for young minds,” she said. “Within each school district, you’ll find a commitment to clearly inclusion and acceptance, but also celebration of what makes us diverse and unique.”
On the subject of teacher turnover, Ms. Cunningham elaborated on the financial reasons for teachers choosing to leave a school. “Schools in California are underfunded. We are 41st in the nation for school funding,” she said. “Within the funding mechanism for California, there is no adjustment or indexing… for cost of living. The same dollar here in the Bay Area is also supposed to be equitable in the Central Valley where costs are lower.”
Cunningham explained how costs of living in the Bay Area makes it more difficult for school districts to pay staff. She also explained how “it makes it harder on our teachers to be able to take the same dollar and make it go as far in their family budget.”
Bloomberg reports “more than 40% of residents are considered cost burdened for housing—paying more than 30% of their income toward shelter—even people in high income brackets are often stretching their budgets.”
This underfunding is also due to declining enrollment across the county. While Ms. Cunningham said the decline is not experienced in all the schools within the district, there are schools significantly impacted, becoming “well below a size that is optimal, from a learning and teaching perspective but also financial.”
The decreased enrollment can be attributed to the birth bubble and high cost of living, according to Ms. Cunningham. According to The Sacramento Bee, “About 471,500 California babies were born in 2017, down by 17,000, or 3 percent, from 2016… The state’s birth rate fell to 11.9 births per 1,000 residents. By comparison, there were about 21 births per 1,000 residents in 1990. During the height of the Great Depression, there were 13.1 births per 1,000 Californians.”
The Public Policy Institute of California reports, “For many districts, declining student enrollment is another factor. Because state funding is based on average daily attendance, falling enrollment leads to lower state funding levels. Significant, sustained declines require districts to make difficult decisions to stay afloat financially.”
The CUSD Board of Trustees’ strategic plan for combatting declining enrollment focuses on what Cunningham calls “Each child, Every child, Whole child.” The goal of this approach is to give all students in the district the opportunity to succeed academically.
“Looking at each child and saying, ‘What are your learning needs?’” Cunningham explained. “We’re looking at every child, are we balancing those dollars equitably? And we’re looking at the whole child because… academics is only a part of a school’s job.”
To Cunningham, building a student’s soft skills is also a valuable element of the education system. “A big part of the learning that we all go through as human beings on this planet is well beyond the reading writing the math the science skills that we pick up in the classroom the skills that we all need to function in society that we’re teaching is… the biggest part of our strategic goals as a board right now.”
Ms. Cunningham’s faith in the Cupertino Union School District is marked by her own children’s enrollment in the district schools.
“I am a product of these schools… I really wanted diversity for my kids, I really wanted them to be in an environment that reflected where I think our society is, which is a very diverse population here,” she said. “I pretty consciously chose a school district that I think reflected those values.”
FEATURED IMAGE (at top of page): Ms. Cunningham speaks to Summit News student journalists on Jan. 13. PHOTO CREDIT: Taylor Vu