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#EDlection 2018: Lily Ploski on why she’s running for state superintendent as ‘the progressive third option’

Esmeralda Fabián Romero | May 23, 2018

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Lily E. Ploski is one of four candidates running for State Superintendent of Public Instruction. She is running as an independent.

Ploski, 44, was raised in public schools in Orange County and Riverside County and attended community college at Diablo Valley College in the Bay Area, where she found her life’s passion to work in education. Her father was a teacher, an Air Force officer, and a workers compensation lawyer. Her mother came to the United States from Mexico at age 16.

She received her bachelor’s degree from the University of California, Berkeley, a master’s degree from Teachers College at Columbia University, and a doctoral degree from California State University, Fullerton.

Ploski is a former administrator at Solano Community College and teaches financial literacy to inner-city high school students in an Upward Bound program at Mills College. She is a single mother of a 14-year-old son.

The top two vote-getters in the June 5 primary will advance to November’s general election. Read more on the election and the other three candidate interviews here.

LA School Report talked with Ploski about school choice, school funding, the California dashboard, and more. The interview has been lightly edited.

Tell us about you.

I’m a single mother. I am of Mexican and Polish descent. My mother came from Mexico when she was 16 years old, and she didn’t speak English and had very little education. She married my father who came from Connecticut, and we had five kids in the family. We grew up very low-income home, and I grew up in Orange County in Southern California. And we moved around a lot. I went from school to school. By the time I went to sixth grade, I was in six different public elementary schools in Orange County, Riverside County, and various cities. I noticed how each school had a different experience, and I was really fascinated by education. So I’ve basically built a career about working in public education. I’ve worked in high schools, middle schools, colleges, universities. And I’m just passionate about expanding the pathway and access to education for all students in the state of California.

What is your current job?

Right now I’m working at Mills College, which is a women’s liberal arts private college, and I work with high school students. I work in the Upward Bound program, which is a federally funded program to expand college preparation to inner-city students of color. I work with high school students — ninth-grade through 12th-grade — and I teach financial literacy, so I can help students learn how to make wise decisions.

What do you hope to accomplish before the primary, and what will your role be after the primary?

My role in the race is to provide an alternative to the people in the state of California. The two main opponents are Marshall Tuck and Tony Thurmond. They both have very little experience in education. They have little to no teaching experience, and they’re really sort of that traditional establishment, getting a lot of their monies from Fortune 500 companies, or from organizations that are really establishment. They’re status quo, and I feel like I provide that progressive third option.

How would you define a high-quality education?

High-quality education has to start with the funding that we provide to our schools. Right now in the state of California, we do have a problem across the communities and the different types of neighborhood schools that are out there. We see some very dilapidated buildings, faculty who are being paid very low compared to other states and other communities, and I think a quality education starts with having funding for the schools, having faculty and teachers who are prepared, and veteran, and have opportunities for success in terms of professional development. And then offering services in support to students who we serve like our low-income students, or foster care students, or students who are English language learners. Basically, if we could provide an environment where the students feel supported and recognized, and our faculty can feel rewarded and compensated for the work that they do, and administrators who are supported and given tools to be successful, that’s a successful learning environment.

What about school choice? Did your parents make choices about where you were educated?

I went to public education from kindergarten through high school in the state of California. My parents did not have a lot of input in terms of the type of schools that we went to, but my dad was very concerned about being in Orange County, because he knew that the schools in Orange County were some of the top-performing schools in the area. But he really left it up to me and the teachers to do well in education. A lot of parents do that, they don’t know those choices that are out there. They’re not aware of a lot of the different options, especially nowadays. We have online high schools. We have charter schools. We have home schools, there are small schools, there are continuation schools, alternative schools, traditional public schools.

There are so many options that I think that right now our parents are overwhelmed and often our students are lost in the shuffle of going from school to school, especially for our transient population. We have many students who go to more than one school, and I think it’s really unfortunate for our students that we don’t have a resource available to them so that they can understand what their school choices are.

Let’s talk about student achievement in the state. It’s flat — or worse for some groups of underserved students. What would you do differently that hasn’t already been tried at the state level?

I think at the state level we really need to hold the schools accountable for their financial planning and their resource allocation. I think that with the Local Control Funding model we’re seeing that communities want to be involved in decision-making for financial choices, but there’s not a lot of accountability in terms of how those actual dollars are being spent. I think a big problem also is that schools receive funding, and parents and communities might have influence with that funding model, but then we don’t know how that money is actually being spent. Is it following the student? Is it going to services or programs that actually work?

Something that’s really helpful is offering professional development to faculties so that they can develop cultural competencies or perhaps develop technical expertise, developing ideas around personalized learning. And we need to have a reporting or accountability model where the community can see how many students are technically proficient. How many faculties feel comfortable using personalized learning platforms. How many of our students received support in learning English or developing skills in math and English if they’re coming from a different school. So I think what we need is better accountability measures that don’t exist right now.

What do you think of the California School Dashboard? How long did it take you to understand it? Did you need help to be able to understand it?

I had trouble finding schools using the California School Dashboard at first glance. I looked up schools that I attended, as well as the school my son attends. Both times, it was a challenge to locate schools. Once I was able to locate the schools, I felt like the information is confusing and the color settings are not clear to understand. The average family would like to be able to compare different schools in the same district, or compare schools of the same size, same student population, or to see how the school has performed in the past. The data in the California School Dashboard is collected from Spring and Fall 2017. Since API — the last data collected was 2013 — was used in the past, there is no historical data, unless both scales are included. I see the value of having color-coded data, but the way the information is presented in the California School Dashboard can be improved exponentially. For example, there should be the ability to compare data, to see historical information, to compare the Dashboard with the old API scores and to be able to look up schools by student size and population. I would like to see student data as well, such as student satisfaction, student-teacher interaction, average class size, student sense of competency in math, and student sense of competency in English, and student sense of campus climate. Students are an important source of information that can help parents decide about school choice.

Is there anything else that you would like to add?

I would just like to add that I’m the only candidate who’s worked as a teacher and as an administrator, and I take school safety and school and community involvement very seriously. I have been the only candidate who’s worked at a school where there’s been an active shooter noted on campus. I know what it’s like to deal with campus emergencies as well as do facility management so that we can make sure that there are safe pathways for students to make evacuations if necessary, know what to do during campus lockdown procedures. I think that this experience is something that sets me apart from the other candidates because I have the everyday real-world experience of working at a school. The other candidates have not had that experience.

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