If elected in November, I will continue to collaborate with my fellow board members to support specific proven initiatives that will take Sparta from being a great school district to an exceptional school district.
My top priority as a Board of Education trustee is special education. I believe special education in Sparta needs to be reprioritized throughout the district and enhanced based on research-based best practices. I was appointed as the Board Liaison to the Special Education Parents Advisory Group (SEPAG). It is my hope that we can increase engagement with my fellow parents of special education students and institute programs such as unified sports. Unified sports teams consist of athletes, with and without disabilities, who train and compete together in basketball, soccer, track, and wrestling.
Secondly, there are currently unrealized cost savings for Sparta taxpayers that could be achieved via shared services with the Sparta Town Council and a switch to zero-based-budgeting. During my first meeting as a member of the Board Finance Committee, I was dumbfounded to learn that the school district pays over $80K a year for garbage removal by a different vendor than the Township utilizes. There are numerous other opportunities for shared services and thereby savings to be found in grounds maintenance and information technology services. Additionally, I will leverage my knowledge of school finance to work with the district administration and my fellow members of the Board Finance Committee to switch from an inefficient and traditional incrementally developed budget to a zero-based budgeting model. Simply put, zero-based budgeting saves the taxpayers money by eliminating unnecessary repeat allocations that get handed down from year to year. Zero-based budgeting is more work, but ensures a completely new budget is built each year that is focused on the district's strategic goals. The Sparta taxpayers deserve the use of a more deliberate and discerning budgeting system. I have the know-how and I will put in the extra effort to conserve the public’s hard-earned dollars to ensure a return on the taxpayers’ investment.
Since I first attended a Sparta Board of Education meeting, I have been frustrated by the lack of transparency surrounding meeting agendas, action items, and agenda attachments. Other boards throughout our state utilize online agenda programs that allow all residents to see every action item and any corresponding attachments or contracts. In Sparta, attendees at meetings get an agenda printed in 6 point font without any attachments. The Board votes monthly on “attached item X” and “attached item Y.” These votes translate to thousands and millions of dollars spent on school operations. For far too long, Sparta taxpayers were not provided the documents attached to action items. At my urging and since my appointment to the Board, most attachments are now posted online with the agenda. I will continue to advocate for the use of a program that hosts and archives the complete meeting agendas including all legally permissible attachments and supporting documentation.
For years, Sparta’s intervention and referral services have existed as separate and disconnected individual school building programs. The implementation of a districtwide PK-12 Response to Intervention (RTI) program is more important than ever before to assist academically at-risk students. Effective RTI is critical to catching students who have stagnated or regressed due to months of virtual learning. Every teacher should be provided with access to universal screening data for ALL students in ALL grades PK-12 so that they can differentiate their lessons based on the unique composition of the students in their classrooms. Further, it is essential that all interventionists and administrators have access to this data to ensure that students receive proactive assistance before learning difficulties and regressions take hold. To that end, I will support the novel use of federal ESSA grant funds to train all of our teachers and administrators on current RTI best practices.
As a former Advanced Placement (AP) Economics Teacher, I can attest that access to AP courses gives students a better chance to gain admission to the college of their choice and saves money on prerequisite classes when they get to college. AP exam participation and performance are also key metrics in high school ranking systems that have a direct impact on property values. Despite readily available grant programs, Sparta does not offer an AP incentive program to cover the cost of AP Exams. I fully support the implementation of a grant-funded AP incentive program to cover the $94 AP Exam fee that currently falls on students and their parents. Sparta students would gain free access to key college admissions credentials while simultaneously enhancing the high school’s academic profile at no cost to the taxpayer.
Lastly, we are in the midst of an unprecedented crisis. I know first hand what it takes to get students and staff back to school as safely and quickly as possible. I will continue to support the administration in exploring innovative staffing and instructional solutions that will result in getting ALL of our kids back to in-person schooling.
If these initiatives resonate with you, please show your support by casting your ballot for the team committed to Integrity, Transparency, and Innovation:
1 Yr Vanessa Serrano
We offer decades of successful leadership experience in the fields of business, medicine, and education. All of our children currently attend or graduated from the Sparta Public Schools. We are truly connected to the community and fully invested in the success of ALL Spartan children.
To learn more about our team please visit our Facebook page. facebook.com/mcgovernzywickisnellingsserranoforspartaboe2020
The following statements are made in my capacity as a private citizen and not in my capacity as a board of education member. These statements are also not representative of the board or its individual members and solely represent my own personal opinions.