By Elaine Weinreb
Press Staff Writer
Q. Why do you want to serve on the NHUHSD board?
Dana Silvernale: Because I’m a Special Education teacher, and I have students that have transferred into the high schools. I’m concerned about making sure that they get the support they need to be successful.
Q. Do you support trying to get a school bond passed to improve the McKinleyville and Arcata High School campuses?
Silvernale: I have mixed feelings about it. We are taking on one deficit after another with bonds. The roots of the problem are in Sacramento, and that’s where the problem needs to be solved.
Q. The state budget is still very unstable. In case further cuts are necessary, what programs would you reduce or eliminate?
Silvernale: I know I have a learning curve in front of me, and that’s part of it. But I do know that once you start cutting programs, you get into a downward spiral.
Q. Do you have any other ideas for raising money or improving the finances of the school district?
Silvernale: hat’s on my learning curve agenda, too.
Q. What would you do to improve vocational education for students who choose not to attend college?
Silvernale: Even if kids are going to college, they need skills for earning a living, so they don’t have to work for minimum wage. Very few kids can go to college without working. All kids should be able to go into their community as high school graduates with some skills they can use right away.
I’m looking at community-based apprenticeship programs. Business people in the community and parents have a very positive response to that idea.
I’d like to see kids apprentice with local farms. The farmers want to see more kids apprenticing, and increase the number of farmers in Humboldt County
At Braden Auto Body, in 1996 they had an apprentice from McKinleyville High and he’s still working for them.
Q. Students who are members of minority groups often drop out before graduation because they do not feel accepted within the school. What, if anything, would you do to make students who are people of color; or gay or lesbian; or physically or mentally disabled, feel safe and accepted in school?
Silvernale: Kids with behavioral issues belong on that list. Those kids are very misunderstood. They are crying out for help.
A lot of parents have told me that they’re concerned about bullying. Parents don’t feel that they’re getting enough support from administration on those issues. The cutbacks have worsened these types of difficult situations, because now we don’t have our counselors.
We did a lot of working with Friendship Groups [in Eureka] in the past, and a lot of counseling with kids, and those services have been cut back. In Friendship Groups, kids get together with a counselor, and talk together about their lives in school The kids are referred by teachers because they’re concerned about their emotional well-being – kids with anger management issues, or are being bullied, or don’t have support at home.
There’s a high drop out rate among the Special Education students at Arcata and McKinleyville. It’s four times what it is in the general population for the schools overall. At Arcata High, one in four Special Ed kids drop out. At McKinleyville, the dropout rate is 40 percent for Special Education kids.
There are a lot of supports in place; there is a great staff, but there’s something lacking, and I want to find out what that is. My idea for doing the research is to engage grad students at Humboldt State doing research projects for their Master’s degree.
Q. In the past two years, what decisions of the board have you agreed with? Which have you disagreed with, and why?
Silvernale: I’m glad that “Spare Change” just got their approval to do their performances in assemblies this year. That’s a giant step in the right direction. The board resisted them for a long time. But you’re burying your head in the sand if you try to shelter kids from what they already know.
I didn’t want the board to cut out the aides to Special Education. They did that back in June, and I don’t know if they ever got re-hired. That was when I decided to get involved with the board.
Q. What is your occupation?
Silvernale: I’m a Special Education teacher in the Mattole Valley district. I work largely with children who are being home-schooled. I go to their homes, and help them with their reading, writing, and arithmetic.
Q. How long have you lived within the area encompassed by the NHUHSD?
Silvernale: Since 2002.
Q. If elected, what changes, if any, would you try to make? Why?
Silvernale: I want to expand the opportunities that are available to the kids. They have wonderful support for the kids that are good students and that are college bound. The kids that are struggling are not doing so well. I want to give them more support.
I support the Farms to School program, and would like to see the schools buying local produce from farmers.
I’m concerned that the classes in the high schools are getting very large. One high school teacher told me he had forty kids in his class. When the classes are that size, the kids can’t get individual attention.
Both CR and HSU are complaining that our high school graduates don’t have adequate writing skills. That’s something that you can only remedy with individual attention.
I would want to see more arts in the schools, simple, fun projects that don’t require great talent, but bring kids together.