FROM THE NEWS-LEDGER — OCT 17, 2012 –
EDITOR’S NOTE: This interview comes from the Oct. 17 edition of the News-Ledger newspaper. It is part of our series to bring you an in-depth look at each of the people running for city council and school board in West Sacramento this year.
By Steve Marschke
Katie Villegas is executive director of the Yolo County Children’s Alliance. That, and prior work with families in the West Sacramento region, have given her what she feels is a birds-eye view of what local kids need to succeed.
“Basically, every job I’ve had has been working with families and working with kids,’ she told the News-Ledger. “I’ve worked in public health, child abuse prevention and foster care. (At the Children’s Alliance), we work every day with the students and families in West Sacramento. We see the things they’re not getting, and seeing it from a different level.”
That experience, she hopes, will transfer to the board of trustees at Washington Unified School District.
“I think we need somebody who can see it from a different level, and see what we could do. That’s what I do best – connect the dots and bring in the resources.”
One of those resources is a better partnership between the school district and city government, she said.
“It’s incredibly important, and partnership with the county as well,” said Villegas. “I can bring in the city, the county, local business – which would be helpful for internships – and grand opportunities. It builds on itself.”
“I think you need to look at the whole family. If a kid comes to school hungry, how are they expected to learn? They need health insurance, dental insurance, vision insurance.”
She gives the current school board a mixed grade.
“I wouldn’t say they’re terrible and I wouldn’t say they’re functional,” Villegas commented. “Somewhere in between. . . It’s a difficult time to be a board member.”
What’s the board doing wrong?
“I think a few of them see it as ‘I’m getting into the trenches,’” she said of their tactical-level work. “But they’re micromanaging. I think (as a board member) you need to stay at the 50,000-foot level.”
Part of the answer, she argues, is to leave more of the educational decisions to the staff, like Superintendent Dayton Gilleland.
“We actually hire really good people,” Villegas said. “Dayton has a Ph.D. in education. I’ve met with him. He’s a smart guy. Sometimes the leadership needs to be allowed to take the chances they need to take to make the district better. They’re the experts in education, they know what to do.”
Katie, 46, has a master’s degree in social work and has lived in West Sacramento for 25 years. She’s probably the best-known of this year’s school board challengers, not only because of her day job and past civic involvement, but also because she is married to West Sacramento City Councilman Oscar Villegas. The couple lives in Southport.
The pair have two kids who have attended school at Southport Elementary School before leaving the public school district. One attended Christian Brothers High School before going to Sacramento City College, and the other is currently at Christian Brothers.
“A lot of people are wondering, ‘why are you doing this?’ because my kids don’t go to school here,” she commented. “I’m doing this because I think all the kids of West Sacramento deserve a better education.”
What concerns her most is that the kids in the northern areas – those more likely to come from poor families or be among the 40 percent Latino population of WUSD – are lagging.
“The schools are not equal,” she said. “The schools out here (in Southport) are doing fairly well, but I think the schools in the north area, where our (Childrens Alliance) office is, are not doing that well. Kids of color are not doing well.”
“If you look at how well those kids are prepared to go to college, the numbers are crazy.”
That’s one past subject of controversy between Mayor Christopher Cabaldon, who criticized WUSD for failing to prepare minorities for college, and David Westin, then-president of the school board.
“There’s a lot of lobbing (bombs) back and forth between Christopher and Dave. . . (such as) Christopher pointing out how bad the district is doing with kids of color,” Villegas stated. “(That data) is documented. But putting that into a ‘state of the city’ address’? I don’t know if that’s the most effective way to get that out there.”
Is her marriage to Councilman Villegas something that could help improve city-school district relations?
“It’s nothing but helpful,” answered Villegas. “The district and city haven’t gotten along so well. (Working with the city) is a totally big opportunity.”
Are there any conflicts of interest possible, given that the city and district sometimes need to negotiate contracts with each other?
“I think that is relatively minimal,” she said. “If there are conflicts of interest, I would listen to the attorneys” and possibly abstain from decisions.
Does Katie Villegas believe student test score results are important?
“They’re incredibly important,” she answered. “It’s a barometer of the district.”
New API scores have just been released for California campuses and districts. Did WUSD backslide?
“Not so much (in Southport),” said Villegas. “But they did in Broderick and Bryte. Overall, it’s down.”
She doesn’t give the board full credit for the past two years of big test score gains.
“I give them some credit, but kids of color are not being served,” she said.
What about charter schools: does Villegas favor the concept?
“I think that alternatives to education – because I’m one of the ones who needs them – are important,” she responded. I think we need to keep opportunities open for that.”
Villegas does believe that WUSD is in decent financial shape, considering several years of state budget cuts.
“I think Washington Unified is the most fiscally sound district in all of Yolo County,” she stated.
Villegas helped run the local 2004 high school bond campaign and has helped with her husband’s council runs. She said she has the support of WUSD school board incumbents Mary Leland and Adam Menke, as well as a number of city and regional leaders.
Will she be walking precincts and raising money for the campaign?
“All of the above,” said Villegas.
She is one of a number of challengers joining Leland and Westin in the hunt for three available school board seats on the Nov. 6 ballot.
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Copyright News-Ledger 2012