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FROM THE NEWS-LEDGER — OCT 31, 2012 –

  EDITOR’S NOTE: The West Sacramento News-Ledger newspaper traditionally invites every candidate in a local election to sit down for a published interview. This year, we had the chance to do this with every candidate in the contested local elections (school board and city council; the mayor’s race is uncontested). Below is the last in this series of interviews — our chat with school board member Mary Leland, which was published on Wednesday, Oct. 31.

By Steve Marschke
News-Ledger Editor

MARY LELAND: Hire the best, and give them encouragement, she says (News-Ledger photo)

Mary Leland has had a rough year, with the loss of both a parent and a son. But after some soul-searching, she decided to run for a third term as a board member of the Washington Unified School District.

“I have been through a lot of tragedies this year,” she told the News-Ledger. “But in the end, I’m not ready to step back and let go of all that motion forward. . . I want to show the community that I’m in it for the long haul.”

Leland, 62, is the chief fundraiser for Sacramento City College, with a master’s degree in education. She came to West Sacramento in 2001, and was encouraged to run for the school board by local business leaders, she reports.

How has WUSD changed since Leland took a seat on the school board?

“Broadly, I think we are providing a much safer environment in terms of the culture of the schools and having students interact with one another,” she said. “A lot of that comes from facilities updates. Changing the environment led to a different culture.”

She points to the remodel at Riverbank Elementary, in the less-affluent north of the city.

“Next to the new high school, one of my proudest moments was watching the Riverbank conversion,” Leland stated. “It really gives them the classrooms and technology they need. They have state-of-the-art technology that (even) our southern schools don’t have.”

The school board has helped bring a new level of professionalism to the district administration, she added.

“From my administrative viewpoint – as board members, we’re all managers – a lot of policies and processes have been put in place to get the work done in a different way. . . I think we’ve brought it to a much more academically professional level. I still think we have a way to go.”

Has the school board of 2012 been functional?

“I think we know how to work together,” she said of the four people now on the board. (The board is in flux: board president Teresa Blackmer is retiring, and board member David Westin, like Leleand, is up for election.)

  The district has faced big budget cuts due to state-wide problems. What kind of shape is WUSD in?

“I’m going to say good, because we still have an A+ bond rating,” she answered. “We’re in the black. We’re very fearful of what will happen if Proposition 30 does not pass.”

She supports state proposition 30 – the governor’s measure which would use new taxes partly to help stabilize the state’s own fiscal situation.

How good are WUSD’s schools?

“We’ve gained 82 points in API (student test results) over eight years,” said Leland. “I don’t put that down to the year I was (board) president or so-and-so was president. Over eight years, we as the board, the staff, and certainly the students and school sites have improved by 82 points.”

Leland called this year’s one-point decline in API a “plateau.” To what did she credit recent gains?

“You hire the best teachers, the best principals, and the best administrators you can, and you encourage them to do their work,” she answered.

Where does school instruction go from here?

“We’re looking at innovative strategies in ‘instructional rounds’ and innovative curriculums in science and math,” she said.

“Instructional rounds” include teams of school staff from different campuses, visiting school sites to share techniques and information.

“The teams are made up of different levels of staff,” she said. “You’ll have a principal from one site joining a round at another site.”

Leland feels that charter schools should be considered on a case-by-case basis, and she praised one of them – the Early College Prep academy at the former Westmore Oaks site.

“They’ve had a hard time getting started, but I think they’re going to do great,” she said. “That charter school meets a need for so many students” as does the Sikh-operated charter school, said Leland.

“Overall, just having blanket charter schools because there’s a perception that public schools aren’t doing their jobs – I’d say no.”

If the district receives more funding, where should the money go?

“I think we’re all interested in the north area and really doing something special there. Career technology education speaks to a menu of options for kids – not every child will go to college, but it is our responsibility to prepare them for life.” And “we really need to focus on math,” she added.

Leland said she endorses WUSD challenger Katie Villegas, is impressed by challenger Alicia Cruz, and “can work with” fellow incumbent David Westin if they’re both elected.
Voters will go to the polls on Tuesday to select from among these and other candidates.

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Copyright News-Ledger 2012

Steve Marschke

Steve Marschke