Candidates Discuss Equity During THRIVE Conejo’s CVUSD School Board Forum


The Conejo Valley Unified School District in Thousand Oaks, CA. remains closed on Friday, April 3, 2020. The district will remain closed for the rest of the 2019-2020 academic school year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Photo credit: Ryan Bough

By Karla Vazquez

On Sept. 30, 2020 Thrive Conejo hosted a candidate school board virtual forum. Four candidates are running for the Conejo Valley Unified School District. Candidates were running for two open seats in the Conejo Valley Unified School District, Area 1 and Area 5.

The four candidates included Lauren Gill, Karen Sylvester, Patti Jones and Sandee Everett. Thrive did an online random drawing to determine the order in which candidates will be answering the questions. A random drawing and number system ensures that there is no predetermination of which candidates will answer which questions.

Dr. Edlyn Peña was the moderator for the night. Peña is the director and co-founder of the Autism Communications Center at California Lutheran University. Peña explained the guidelines and how the forum would be organized.

“Each candidate has a number in front of their name on their Zoom screen and those numbers are there to help me but they also might help you because candidates are referred to by number only in my script,” Peña explained for viewers.

Thrive received numerous submissions from attendees but they were not able to use them. The Thrive team created comprehensive questions from them or used the simplest version from the audience’s questions submitted on the topic. Thrive also included video questions this year. The goal is to give the mic to advocates and the groups they represent who face barriers to learning and are not always heard in the community.

For the questions that are not answered, Thrive will provide candidates with a full list of the questions after the forum and will post online any answers they wish to share. Each candidate has one minute for the opening statement.

The first opening statement was given by Lauren Gill. Gill is a ten year resident of Newbury Park. She is a business owner with a 35 year career in technology, communications and education publishing.

“I am the child of educators and a strong believer in public education. I will be an effective trustee from the moment I’m sworn in. I am committed to ensuring that every student finds a supportive path to success in our schools,” Gill said.

The first round consisted of a Q&A portion that was answered by all candidates individually. Each candidate was given two minutes to respond.

The first question was a video from a Conejo Valley resident that asked the candidates to discuss the different populations that have been impacted by the pandemic and asked for a plan to address inequities in a manner that makes a long standing impact in the district.

Karen Sylvester was the first to answer the first question of the night. Sylvester has lived in the Conejo Valley for 20 years and has had a rewarding 15 year business career.

“The gap that has been a problem from the beginning among all these questioned populations is only widening, so what can we do? We got to fix the digital divide; that’s essential,” Sylvester said.

Patti Jones, a Westlake resident and full-time mother is running for Board of Trustee for Area 1. To answer the same question as Sylvester, Jones decided to talk about the work she’s been doing in her community. Jones has been assessing the emotional impact online school has been having on the kids. She tries to think of ways to address the fact that children are suffering from too much distance.

“I encourage parents everywhere. If you were listening to this, please know that as community members in my area, we have banded together to create safe ways for children to communicate with each other, to see each other and to feel connected and that’s so very vitally important,” Jones explains.

After answering the questions individually, the candidates answered questions in pairs.

The first question for the pairs was from a current graduate named Vincent who graduated from post-secondary and told the story of his mom being the only support he had. The question asked the candidates what they would do to help students go to college.

The first question was directed towards Sandee Everett and Gill. Everett grew up in a family of ten children with both parents being public school teachers. She was raised to love public schools and to help out the teachers.

“I believe that all children, students, when they have a goal and a dream they need to be empowered to achieve their dream and their goal,” Everett said.

The CVUSD School Board Candidate Virtual Forum has been posted on Thrive Conejo’s Youtube Channel. Check it out at For more information visit