This community opinion was contributed by Hollister School District Trustee Rob Bernosky. The opinions expressed do not necessarily represent BenitoLink or other affiliated contributors.
In a significant action that may “move the needle” on education in its schools, the Hollister School District has enacted a policy that bans cell phone use on its campuses. This would not have happened without parents reaching out to this school board member, or at the very least, the parents’ contact helped push action to occur.
As a school board member, I had no idea that certain things were occurring on our campuses. Initially a parent told me of repeated horrific student behavior that I could not imagine was part of any entity that I had a role in. Videos were sent to me as proof. Further conversation led to other parents sending me videos. The actual behavior was shocking enough, but also in the videos were images of many other students using their cell phones to record the bad behavior. Further conversations uncovered to this naïve board member that it was sometimes done by students for the purposes of posting those videos on social media sites to gain more “likes.”
As a result, the Hollister School Board passed a policy that states cell phones must be off during the school day and at events where students are under the control of our schools.
The new policy is a very positive change. School board members get inputs from several sources. We have our own observations, we have board meetings where we hear from the public, staff, their unions, and other government officials. There are regular communications from the superintendent, and of course, individual parent contact. The dots I connected with student cell phone use included observations that I get from being married to a principal of a successful local school that already bans cell phone use by students, and disciplinary actions that school board members participate in where cell phones are a factor. But most of all, the parents that contacted me with enough vigor that caused me to repeatedly talk to our superintendent and then fellow school board members that action had to be taken.
Those parents, who specifically encouraged me to understand the problem and suggested that eliminating student cell phone use in school would dramatically change some of the bad things that were happening on our campuses, deserve medals.
Hollister Schools Poised to Succeed – Finally – Hopefully!
There are other things going on in the Hollister School District that I am hopeful will also “move the needle” for the better. As part of the normal deliberations that occur between school board members, I agreed to vote for our 2019-2020 budget that includes a huge amount of deficit spending. I voted for that under the condition that we would get a list of 10 needle-moving actions that the superintendent would make happen in the next school year. I was looking for the rationale for spending more than we were taking in, decreasing our reserves for when times turn bad.
On Friday, July 26, we held a district goal planning session. While I was disappointed in the overall format of the session, I am proud to report that there were a few things that I believe can “move the needle” and result in better academic results and a better school climate for our students. They are:
- The new cell phone put-it-away-for-the day policy. Students need to come to school to learn and socialize “face-to-face.” It is just too easy to bully and be bullied with cell phones and social media. Cell phones are an incredible distraction with the accompanying “fear-of-missing-out.” Kids need to learn some independence from constant parental communications. The privacy of students needs to be guaranteed. This new policy helps all of that. We still have telephones in all rooms for emergencies.
- A focus on the continuity of principals in our schools. The Hollister School District suffers turnover problems in its site administration and fixing this will improve the school experience for students, parents and staff.
- Customizing the format of our Marguerite Maze and Rancho San Justo middle schools to reflect the student populations. The “one-size-fits-all” approach does not work because so many of our students move to our other school programs, and we previously did not take that into account.
- Initiating robust after school and weekend tutoring programs, making it as mandatory as possible, when possible.
- Re-implementing a districtwide attendance program to increase student attendance. Students need to be and are legally obligated to be in school. The school district suffers financially when students are not in school, causing all students to suffer.
Successfully executed, the above five items can dramatically change the Hollister School District. There were many other action items presented and expounded on in the meeting, but these are what I homed in on. Contact your school board members and let them know what you think and what else we should do.
Not Ashamed of My Association
As a final note, when it comes to education I live in two worlds, one as a member of the governing board of the Hollister School District and the other married to the superintendent/principal of the highly successful North County Joint Union School District/Spring Grove School. Sadly, the Hollister School District Board of Trustees shut down any discussion involving replicating any of the positive, result-achieving practices of Spring Grove School that I get to witness every day. That is a huge mistake, in my opinion. At the very least, I believe I was elected to this position because of that perspective. I am not going to run from it.
While it is true that our new superintendent has moved the Hollister School District from largely being a dysfunctional entity to one with badly needed potential, ignoring success and how it was realized could mean the Hollister School District is trailblazing and reinventing the wheel. That can be expensive and unnecessary.