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Oak Park Students Can Do Even Better, Board Candidates Say


OAK PARK — Two rookie school board candidates are learning it's tough to challenge the incumbents when there are no burning issues and the district's students are already the highest-ranked in Ventura County.

Making their first bids for elected office even more daunting, Kevin Carr and Steve Henning have to contend with recent data from the California Department of Education that rank Oak Park Unified among the highest performers in Ventura County and the state, yet again.

But Carr and Henning say they plan to slog it out in their respective campaigns against incumbents Jan Iceland and Jim Kalember in an effort to persuade voters that the district's nearly 3,500 students can do even better.

"There's a good foundation here, but we need to build on that," said Carr, 44. "We need to go to the next level, and that takes people who are willing to work for that."

He and his wife, Eileen, pulled two of their four children out of the district and sent them to Oaks Christian School in Westlake, where he said they are receiving a higher-quality education. If elected to the board, Carr said, he hopes to implement changes in the district that would eventually benefit his youngest child, a second-grader at Oak Hills School. His remaining child is a junior at Oak Park High School.

An accountant and business consultant, Carr said the curriculum in the district should be more demanding, requiring more than four years in foreign language classes and exposing students to lab sciences before the seventh grade.

Carr said he would also push for additional class periods during the school day so students can learn more subject areas.


Henning, a part-time mathematics instructor at Santa Monica College, said he wants to improve math education by adding lab sections to all math courses and making tutoring available to struggling students.

"We're a great school district," said Henning, who taught geometry and algebra at Oak Park High School from 1998 to June. "But I see opportunities to be much better, to achieve excellence is possible.

"I don't see why most students can't be in [advanced placement] calculus by their junior year."

The 38-year-old father of a fifth-grader at Red Oak School said he would also like to see improved relations between teachers and the district office.

Henning worked at the high school on probationary status and his contract was not renewed. Administrators did not give him a reason for not continuing his employment, he said.

Iceland and Kalember, who have similar reelection platforms, said they are not content to rest their laurels on the district's Stanford 9 test scores--usually among the highest in the county.

"That's just what you would expect in a district with kids that come to school fed, clothed and medically ready," said Iceland, 53, who is county Supervisor Frank Schillo's appointee to the Children and Families First Commission, which distributes grants from tobacco taxes to children-related programs. "Those are the kinds of kids we get for the most part."

Kalember, a 13-year board member, said he would like the district to redouble its efforts on assisting students who are not college-bound.

"We have a solid curriculum for high-achieving kids and a solid special education program," said Kalember, 54. "We've got to work on the kids in the middle."


Iceland agreed. "We can't assume that every child is going to college," she said.

The nine-year board member and mother of four also said she would like to be sitting on the board when the district finishes coordinating its curriculum with new state testing standards. When that is in place, Iceland said, teachers at all levels will know what students must understand to pass a class or to move on to the next grade.

Kalember said he thought the recent alcohol-related suspensions of 18 members of Oak Park High School's football team, and the subsequent benching of the coach for four games, could very likely have mushroomed into an election issue. But he and the other candidates now believe the disciplinary actions will have little effect on Tuesday's balloting.

"The team has won a lot of games," he said. "People are happy."

Civic activist Harvey Kern said while the school board is facing a number of issues, such as planning for future population growth, he is not surprised by the relatively low-key race.

"This isn't a year where there appear to be any extreme or contentious issues on the school board," said Kern, secretary of Community Foundation for Oak Park, which raises funds for nonprofit programs and projects in the unincorporated community north of Agoura Hills.

Carr and Henning said they know they have their work cut out for them in the final days before the election, but both said they hope their campaigns will educate residents on district issues.

"If we don't run, we don't raise the issues that other people have and we don't bring out new ideas," Carr said.

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