Dr. Heidi Strikwerda, who is herself a professional educator, is seeking a position on the Yucaipa Calimesa Joint Unified School District Board of Trustees.
The district, which straddles San Bernardino and Riverside counties, has an enrollment of 9,982 students and consists of seven elementary schools, four middle schools/junior high schools and three high schools.
Strikwerda is at present employed as the principal of Excelsior Charter Schools in the City of San Bernardino, where she is also the English learner programs administrator. In addition, she is employed as an adjunct professor at the University of Redlands, where she teaches courses in literacy in the School of Education’s master’s program.
Strikwerda is a resident of the school district’s Area 5, and therefore is running to represent that division on the board. She is the mother of six children, the youngest of whom currently attends the district’s Park View Middle School.
She has two master’s degrees in the educational field, one in early childhood development and another in educational leadership from California Baptist University. Strikwerda obtained a doctorate in Leadership for Educational Justice from the University of Redlands. She holds an English teaching credential, a multiple subject credential and an administrative credential.
With regard to the major issues within the field of education generally in the United States and California today, Strikwerda said, “The major challenges in education are meeting the needs of all our individual students to support them in the ways they need, so they can be successful. Especially since COVID, students have experienced high levels of trauma, reduced levels of social skills, and have disengaged academically from school. We need to work together to ensure that students’ mental health needs are being met so they can excel academically.”
In terms of the critical challenges to education in the Yucaipa/Calimesa district at present, Strikwerda said, “In Yucaipa we have also seen a rise in mental health issues. Bullying and depression have risen. Students and parents have expressed to me concerns of school safety, especially in the student restrooms. In addition, parents have expressed a desire to refocus on education again to ensure our students are prepared with the fundamental skills and knowledge such as math and English, to be prepared for college, career, and life.”
The Sentinel asked if, in her view, local schools are underfunded.
Strikwerda responded, “I examined the budget and there are COVID funds that are available. There needs to be a systemic process that include certificated staff and classified staff along with students and parents to decide where these funds are spent to ensure that all the areas of need are being addressed. Yucaipa-Calimesa will need to reexamine where their monies are spent and make sure that we keep our workers working. Wages must be competitive to keep good people working here in our community. Some things might need to be cut to achieve this.”
Asked if she considered teachers in the Yucaipa/Calimesa district to be overpaid, she said, “No, not overpaid, as salaries are very similar and lower to neighboring districts. They are lower than Redlands and Beaumont.”
She cited the $53,012-to-$113,738 salary range of teachers in Yucaipa-Calimesa as compared the $54,693-to- $75,376 plus fringe benefits paid to teachers in the Redlands Unified School District and the $54,102-to-$111,888 teachers are paid in the Beaumont Unified School District.
The teacher-to-pupil ratio in the Yucaipa/Calimesa district stands at 24:1, which is similar to Redlands of 24:1 and lower than Beaumont at 34.1.
Queried as to whether she considered that ratio acceptable, Strikwerda said, “It depends. Is this average because some elementary classes are smaller while high school classes are overcrowded? I am unsure and I need to have access to more information to desegregate the data.”
The Sentinel asked Striwerda if she considered the behavior and discipline of students and general classroom and schoolyard atmospherics to be a difficulty in the Yucaipa/Calimesa school district.
She responded, “What many parents have shared with me is the safety issues of the school restrooms. Students are being beat up, drugs are being used, some are having sex in there, and they are very unclean. Students are afraid to use the restrooms. To this day, there is still no systematic way of addressing this issue. Parents feel unheard and students are holding their bladders for most of the schooldays. This is unacceptable and needs to be addressed. A solution would be to post security guards near the restrooms to ensure school safety, which may call for an increase of security guards on campus.
Asked to weigh in on the trend in California over the last decade-and-a-half toward ever earlier initiation of the school year such that what used to be a school year that ran from the second week or so of September and went on into the second week or so of June has now become one that begins in early August, Strikwerda said, “It really is a matter of preference. The teachers’ union votes and decides about the school calendar. Parents should have a strong voice as well. My question would be: Were all parties represented when the school calendar was decided? This includes certificated and classified employees as well as parents. How was this done to ensure all parties had a voice?”
Pushed as to what objections she has to the way the district is currently run, she said, “I think the district has many outstanding programs that it should continue to maintain but also needs to look at current student interests and the needs of the community to support the direction of the programs it will continue to include or may look to include. I believe that we need to focus on mental health, school safety, and quality education for all students. The data we gather and analyze will provide this information if it’s done in a systematic way with fidelity.”
Asked what objections she has to the district’s priorities, she said, “Making a difference in the life of each child is a very noble statement. I do object to the way the district is not responding to the parents and students’ complaints regarding the high school restrooms. There are reports of bullying, fighting, drug dealing, and inappropriate conduct occurring. There needs to be a systematic approach to this and a policy that supports the monitoring of student restrooms to ensure the safety and well-being of all students. This needs to be addressed.”
As to her thoughts on bullying, Strikwerda said, “Bullying is detrimental to both the one being bullied and to the bully. It also causes harm to those who witness it and the school culture. During COVID-19 we saw in 2020 an 8-percent-to-10-percent rise in mental health issues, bullying, child abuse and domestic violence, all of which can lead to suicide. Bullying expresses itself in an oppressive form, which can be a result of mental health issues, or other issues in the home. I believe that we need to educate our students and staff on bullying, the harms, effects, and why it occurs, and how we can prevent it. I also believe that we need a mental health approach to support resolving and healing all parties involved through counseling, restorative justice, and accountability.”
Asked to consider her own education, and if she saw any shortcomings in the way schools were run or if there was anything about her educational experience in general or in any way that she regretted or would change, she said, “I do not believe that I received a high-quality education as a child. I was identified as gifted in 4th grade and was a very good student. I never got into any trouble, I was quiet, and I did my work. I was a straight-A student. All the way through college I was Summa Cum Laud, even in my doctorate program at the University of Redlands. Since this is who I am, I was often left alone in class. My teachers did not pay much attention to me because I did not demand it. They enjoyed having me there, but I was never challenged to reach my highest potential. I learned so much about the importance of challenging our students and engaging them in dialogue to make meaning of the learning through my doctorate in education program. We often had discussions about challenging issues and were taught to ask questions pertaining to why and how. Then we looked for the answers through research and applied it to our scholarly practice. These critical thinking skills need to be taught to our youth at a young age and continued all throughout their education in our K-12 schools.”
Strikwerda grew up in Fontana and attended junior high at Southridge Middle School and attended Fontana High School.
“I went to college later in life, as a mother of many children,” Strikwerda said. “I homeschooled my boys and there was a movement in 2009 about requiring parents to have a credential in order to homeschool their children. As a result, I decided to get my teaching credential because I was not going to allow the state to dictate what education was best for my children.”
That launched her foray into obtaining her master’s degree and doctorate in the educational field, which accounts now for her professional engagement as an educator, as both the principal of Excelsior Academy and as an adjunct professor at Redlands University, where she is involved in teaching “our future teachers,” she said.
Strikwerda said she is qualified to hold the position she seeks on the school board.
“I am a mother of six boys, all who have learned to be successful and are successful. Some of mine are gifted and needed me to advocate for challenging educational experiences connected to their personal life goals. One of mine has special needs and needed me to advocate for services that support his learning needs. As an educator who knows education, I understand the ins and outs of the institutional system of education. I live, breathe and work in education and I have the skills and knowledge to make a difference in our community by applying what I know, and I am courageous to ask the hard questions to ensure that those who are often overlooked are seen and heard. I truly care for all of our students.”
Strikwerda is vying against Teri Boon and Bob Miller for the Area 5 position on the board.
She said she is distinguished from her opponents in that “I am an experienced educator who has the skills and knowledge to support the outstanding programs that exist inside the Yucaipa-Calimesa Joint Unified School District, while also listening to the parents, students, teachers, and staff to ask appropriate, timely and relevant questions pertaining to policy and state and federal law to ensure that we are providing the highest quality education that our schools can provide. I am an educator who understand the K-12 educational system. As a mother, former teacher, principal, and teacher-educator at the University of Redlands, I bring both professional and personal life understanding of what quality education looks like, and what it means to provide for the individual needs of all students so they can reach their highest potential.”
She said she represents a superior choice to serve on the school board because, “I will value, honor, and recognize all voices in our community and be a strong voice for our parents. I will ask questions using a critical lens and support the focus of continual improvement by using multiple data points, including both qualitative and quantitative data to identify areas of growth and celebrate our successes and to inform and govern the school with the intention to meet the needs of all our students.”
Proudly, Strikwerda said, “I have raised six boys of my own. My oldest is a sixth-grade elementary school teacher in Victorville and my youngest, 13, attends Park View Middle School here in Yucaipa. I have a son who attends Crafton Hills College, a son who is serving our county in the Navy, a son who went to Point Loma Nazarene in San Diego, and another son who is a senior this year.”
Strikwerda said, “I believe that our entire nation depends on how well we work together to educate our children. I heard it once said that our children are our greatest asset. I am asking for the votes of the residents of Area 5 to ensure quality education that meets the individual needs of our children with urgency.”
Strikwerda has been endorsed by educators representing all political parties. Pointing out that school board is a nonpartisan office, she vowed she will ensure collaboration of all constituents. He school board candidacy website is: http://heidi4ycjusdschoolboard.nationbuilder.com/