Dan Jeffries moved to La Cañada Flintridge more than a decade ago when looking for a community that offered great schools. Jeffries, 55, is a father of five with three children enrolled in elementary schools. By day, he is a prosecutor with the Los Angeles City Attorney’s office, dealing mostly with DUI offenses. The Valley Sun recently sat down with Jeffries on the porch of his La Cañada home.
What is your motivation for running?
Jeffries: I’ve been thinking about it for a while. I think our schools are great. I would like to continue giving back to the community. La Cañada has been very good to our family.
What actually tipped me over the edge was when my youngest daughter, Sara, was in the transitional kindergarten program last year at La Cañada Elementary. [Pam] Daniger was her teacher and she’s a phenomenal teacher.
One day, about four weeks into the school year, Sara said she just didn’t want to go to school.
But I kind of knew she was OK. When I got to school, I walked in and I said to Mrs. Daniger, “Sara is not sure how she’s feeling today, if she needs to come home, just call me and I’ll pick her up right away.”
Mrs. Daniger, without a beat, totally picked up on what was going on. She said, “You know, Sara, I feel that way, too. We’ve been working so hard. We’ve been working on our numbers, our letters and our colors and it’s been a lot of work these past few weeks. Let’s take it easy today. Let’s just have some fun and do some fun things and not work so hard today. If we decide to go home, we’ll all just go home.”
I knew she couldn’t really mean that; she’s not going to send everyone home. But my daughter Sara just ate it up. She was like, “Oh, OK, teacher feels like I do. If we don’t like it, we can control it, we can go home ourselves.”
I thought, if we have teachers who are this good that know their students so well and are so able to deal with their emotional needs … then we need to support those teachers. We need to do everything we can to make sure those teachers have every resource that they need.
That was when I decided that I really wanted to do this.
What would you do to support teachers?
Their salary schedule is very difficult to advance through, so you could have a situation when a teacher takes a long time moving up the salary schedule in very small increments and you could also have a situation where a teacher tops out and reaches a plateau and can’t go any higher.
Even if they are doing a phenomenal job, they aren’t getting any recognition that they’re doing a phenomenal job.
One way you can recognize them is money. Teachers would also like to have more involvement from the board on their level.
They’d like to have the board know what they’re doing and they would like to have the board see their classes and see the phenomenal things that they’re doing.
And I think especially at the elementary schools, they don’t get a lot of that, because so much of the board’s focus is on the high school and preparing people for college. That’s important — I’ve been through that and I know it’s important — but it’s also really critical that our elementary schools do well.
Alerting the police is very difficult to do at some of our campuses. The equipment they use at Paradise Canyon is an antiquated radio system, where if they ever needed help, they’d have to get on the radio system and hope it was working and call.
Clearly, the district is moving to fix a lot of these problems. That should be a real high priority.
I don’t think our schools should ever be a place where kids are going through metal detectors. That’s just crazy.
During the forum, you said we couldn’t offer new programs if there was an enrollment issue.
You have to have a certain number of students before you can offer certain elective classes. Declining enrollment is so critical to our area.
The demographics of our area show a declining enrollment. And if our enrollment declines below a certain level, our high school won’t have enough students to be able to offer those classes.
And do you think the transfer of Sagebrush students could help that?
The Sagebrush transfer could be a phenomenal solution, for a number of reasons. First, by bringing those parcels into the district, it increases the overall tax base of the district, so it helps not just those people in Sagebrush but also those people who live everywhere else.
It would tremendously helpful because what the county commission on schools looks at is factors like community identity and the people who live in that area are still La Cañada residents. They are part of La Cañada and they are on the same sports teams and they go to places of worship, they eat at the same restaurants. This is a community and those people are part of the La Cañada community. They should be part of La Cañada and they should be part of our La Cañada schools.
This interview was edited for length and clarity.