Shamim Pakzad

Welcome to my campaign webpage! I hope you will find that this page contains the information that you are looking for, but if you have a question that is not answered, please do not hesitate to contact me! I welcome any feedback.

I am a professor and Department Chair of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Lehigh University. I received my doctorate in 2008 from University of California, Berkeley, and then moved with my wife, Niloo, to Lehigh Valley. We have been living in Saucon Valley School District since then and have two sons, Ryan 12, and Cion 10, both of whom are students at Saucon Valley (6th and 4th grades).

I am running for re-election to the school board because I believe we can do better, for the kids, and for the community. I passionately believe in education and in particular in public education as one of the most important elements to glue and grow a community, a city and a nation. I realize that children are different and have different needs, and parents are the ones who should choose how to educate their kids. But at the core of a successful educational system should be a vibrant public school that addresses the needs of the children, gives them the opportunity to prosper and prepares them to achieve their highest potentials. The core message of my campaign is to “Raise the Bar for Everyone.” Each child deserves to learn something new every day and be challenged according to his/her individual needs. To look at the failings of the educational system and blame them on demographics and family income level is not a positive approach and does not result in finding credible solutions.

I am a teacher, and have had many teachers in my family (including my father and grandfather). I have been an educator for the past 30 years, starting as an elementary, middle, and high school tutor when I was in college, and now as a professor of engineering at Lehigh University. I have taught at some of the best institutions of higher education: University of California at Berkeley as an instructor, Lehigh University as a professor and Federal Technical University of Switzerland in Zurich as a guest professor. I have been a leader and member of numerous committees that worked on various aspects of educational policy. I have mentored students from Lehigh Valley’s high schools for summer internships, instructed K-12 students from several schools in the area for science and engineering camps and hosted kids from underrepresented groups in my lab and classes for tours, demonstrations and hands-on experiments.

I have been a taxpayer in this district before I became a parent. I believe our district should be able to deliver an exemplary level of educational environment that is recognized by the public; SVSD needs to live up to that expectation. The failure to do so hits us, the taxpayers, twice in our pockets: we pay some of the highest taxes in Lehigh Valley, but the value of our homes does not grow proportionately. The main problem with our system is not lack of money and it cannot be resolved by pouring more money in the system.

I have been a member and officer of the Saucon Valley School Board for the past 4 years. I am proud of the District's response to the pandemic. I am also proud of many accomplishments during these 4 years:

1- Saucon Valley Schools were the only public schools in Lehigh Valley that offered the 5 days a week in person, as well as fully remote options to our families. Parents surveys showed more than 95% satisfaction with the districts handling of the pandemic and also educational options for their kids.

2-The school taxes are kept the same. The District has managed the finances so that the school has not cut any programs or services while relying on the resources that we already had.

3-For the first time in decades, the District reached fair early bird contracts with the teachers and support staff and others without creating an acrimonious and poisonous environment that would disrupt the school. These deals have put us in a manageable financial trajectory.

4-The curriculum is vibrant and intact. The District expanded the offering of high school AP classes, created mathematics pathways in the middle school, added a new language immersion program in the elementary school, expanded school sponsored extracurricular opportunities in many areas (musicals in all 3 buildings, robotics, high school play, etc.).

5-The District maintained and renovated facilities without hurting its operation and quality of education for the kids. The District resurfaced the track and tennis courts, renovated the auditorium, replaced the mechanical system in the high school, renewed/replaced old buses, brought technology to all students k-12 (iPads 1:1 for all kids), and numerous other investments on the facilities.

6-The District trusted in science and kept the school environment safe during the pandemic. The kids who came to school 5 days a week were tested positive at a 30% lower rate than those who stayed home/remote. This is a great testament to both the planning and execution of the health and safety provision that we put in place.

If re-elected, I pledge to continue to work with everyone to look for innovative solutions to all school problems. I am an engineer. The engineering background equips me well to focus on problems and systematically create workable solutions for them. I am an educator. I understand the issues and nuances of a successful educational institution, and can use my training, experience and expertise to make the school work better for the students and the taxpayers.



Shamim's Philosophy and Positions

I am serving on this board, unapologetically for the kids and the taxpayers. I have tried to represent the entire community (parents, teachers, staff, advocates, and other community members), and balance various interests, understanding that my role as a school board member is to represent the community while noting that a functioning organization is one that has happy and content employees.

I am interested in the welfare and wellbeing of ALL kids, I believe the school should work to elevate all and be robust enough to address the needs of all.

I believe in a school that has the resources that it needs, and utilizes them properly and efficiently, a school that focuses on the output (growth of the kids, quality of the education and services) and not the input (number of staff and amount of money spent). When additional resources are needed to provide an excellent education, the community will provide them, but in return the school owes it to the taxpayers to use their money efficiently and wisely.

Taxes

I am concerned by the problem of high taxes in SVSD. Our senior citizens, retirees, and neighbors on fixed income are struggling to cope with the economic burden of high real estate taxes that has plagued our district for more than two decades. In order to make sure the district will not plunge back into raising the taxes again, which would be hurting the most vulnerable members of our community, the finances of the district need to be managed very carefully. I will NOT raise taxes for the senior citizens and retirees who are in financial distress in order to fund the district’s budget.

A large portion of our budget depends of the contracts that will be negotiated starting summer 2022. The budget outlook will greatly depend on the outcome of these negotiations, and I believe the district should reach a contract that is fair to the teachers (who are in my view the most valuable resources of our district and should be treated as professionals as they are) AND the community (which is the constituency that the board works for). The primary objective of the contract negotiators should be the interest of the community that they represent: the children and the taxpayers.

The school continues to not use all of the means and resources that are available to it for funding its operation. This includes partnership with corporations, industries and foundations, as well as voluntary fundraising from the parents and community for specific programs and/or general school funds. Parents and community members can contribute to the operation of the school and lessen the burden on our budget, but their time, potential, and expertise is not tapped into.

Quality, Performance, and Academic Reputation

Saucon Valley has all of the hallmarks of a successful and thriving school district. We have engaged and interested parents, a supportive community, and fantastic teachers who can deliver a quality educational and extracurricular experience for all of our kids. We see achievements by our kids every day, be it the inclusion of our students in National Merit Scholarship award, successes of our student athletics in regional and state competitions, or Freddy's for our performers, among many others. These achievements are the results of the convergence of lots of efforts by everyone, and we celebrate them both for the individuals who gained them and for the school system and environment that provided the platform for them to happen.

We simply need more of these good stories in our district!

The schools/superintendent set goals for students' academic growth. While these goals should be achievable, they should be set slightly ambitiously so that we will collectively find them challenging. The challenge would motivate us to work harder and that is to the benefits of our kids and community.

It is also important to not lose sight of the most vulnerable kids under the school's care. Our schools should work for ALL kids, the programs should be robust to meet the needs of ALL kids, and the practices should be flexible to address the capabilities of ALL kids. An equitable school environment is one in which we provide the best opportunities for ALL kids.

A robust curriculum delivery is the path to improving the school reputation. We need to provide enough focus and attention to the kids with special needs and those who need alternative and customized instructional practices to learn. This investment is the right thing to do legally, morally, ethically, and financially. Every child that is left behind, every need that is not addressed properly will cost our taxpayer a lot more to remedy later. And the investment in this area will only benefit our school success measures which will improve the school standing and reputation.

Safe and Secure Environment

Every student deserves a learning environment that is safe, secure, free of intimidation, harassments, bullying and dissemination. The district has transparent and sensible policies with regards to harassment and bullying, these procedures should be improved when/if needed and implemented with fidelity. The proper implementation of the school policies in creating a safe environment for all students should be a top priority for all employees. Additional training and professional development in this area may be needed, and accountability measures must be put in place to assure our kids spend their days in an environment that is conducive to their education and growth. Further involvement and education of parents and families and using them as partners (instead of adversaries) could also help improve the environment.


Curriculum Tracks and Innovation Programs

Our district needs innovative ideas to combat curricular stalemates. For far too long we are bugged down with a destructive cycle of long, bitter and adversarial contract negotiations, and a perpetual return of controversial topics that has made us the focus of negative attention in local and national media. We need to snap out of this mode and present a positive image that reflects the true and hopeful values of our community. This forward looking approach has happened to a certain extent during the last 4 years but we need more of that attitude moving ahead.

One of these new additions to our school offering is the foreign language immersion program in the elementary school. I am a supporter of this expansion, because in my view the benefits for the kids are clear and undeniable, while the cost of instituting this curricular track is practically zero (the staffing of the program is done through replacing a regular class with a Spanish Immersion class). The program is recruiting its first cohort this spring, and will start in Fall 2021. Early data shows a strong support for the program among the families and that only signals a positive future for the continuation of the program at SV.

What is a foreign language immersion program?

Spanish Immersion Program Popularity!

There are other innovative curricular programs that we can institute without additional expenditures; the immersion programs are essentially budget neutral (as a few teachers will be replaced by bilingual teachers through the existing and usual process of teacher replacement). Such programs are not suitable or preferred for every child, but they could have a profound impact on the lives and future of the kids who participate in them. If we can continue to provide these curriculum tracks for our kids as an option, many families will use them as an alternative program of study within the public school, and many new young families who are looking for such opportunities are attracted to settle in SVSD; many current residents will also bring their kids back to the public school from charters and save us a lot of money in the process. As a member of the school board in my next term, I will pursue such programs and expansions that would give our district an edge in comparison to other school districts in this area; we need this forward looking approach for our kids and our district.