FROM THE NEWS-LEDGER — JAN 23, 2013 –
Editor’s note: during each election season, the News-Ledger invites every candidate to a sit-down interview to cover public issues in some depth. West Sacramento voters face a special all-mail election on March 5, when they will choose from among five people competing to fill one vacancy on the local school board.
The News-Ledger’s candidate interviews began on Jan. 23, and are continuing in the print edition through about Feb. 20. Here’s the first of this season’s candidate interviews:
By Steve Marschke
A former “teacher of the year” in the Folsom-Cordova school district, Sarah Kirby-Gonzalez hopes to bring her classroom experiences with her to a new seat on West Sacramento’s school board.
She thinks the local board needs a teacher’s perspective.
“I don’t think the school board should be all teachers – absolutely not. But it needs to be a group of people with one person on it to be a voice on education,” she told the News-Ledger. “For me, (running for the school board) was about bringing a voice to education.”
Kirby-Gonzalez and her husband, a police officer, have lived in the Silverwood Road area of Southport for about five years. They have a toddler whom she says will soon be headed into West Sacramento public schools. She’s been interested in becoming more involved in the district where she lives for some time.
“After I was named ‘teacher of the year’ in my district, some opportunities opened up to have a voice on a different level,” she recalled. “It felt good to meet with senators, and see that they needed somebody to talk to them about education. . . I realized I wanted to have a voice on a different level. The school board has been something that just makes sense for me as an educator.”
When an election was scheduled for March 5 to fill a vacancy on the school board for Washington Unified School District here, she set out to learn more.
“I went to the mayor’s workshop (for prospective candidates), thinking that this might not be the time I would run, but I wanted to learn more,” Kirby-Gonzalez remarked. “But I looked around the room and thought, ‘Oh, I’m absolutely ready.’ I’m the most qualified person here. I need to run.”
So her name will be among the five on next month’s ballot.
With a teaching credential and master’s degree from CSUS, she has taught “almost every grade in elementary school,” and now works at a magnet school in Folsom-Cordova.
“I teach in the magnet program for our students in Rancho Cordova who need something a little different,” said Kirby-Gonzalez.
“We teach an inquiry-based learning program.”
She added that she prefers the concept of a district-operated magnet school to that of an independently-managed charter school.
“I have friends who teach in charters, and I know some good things are happening there, but my concern is that taxpayer money is going somewhere that has no public oversight, and we have no record in (Washington Unified School District) of how many kids are going. What I want to do is look more out how we can get these options into the school district. Parents obviously want choice, and they obviously want different things, but we can offer that in the district, just like where I teach.”
Kirby-Gonzalez said she is not adamantly against charter schools and would look at new charter proposals on a “case by case” basis.
“They’re all very different,’ she said.
The candidate said she has been visiting and watching the local school board in action.
“I think the next person in there will be key in terms of working together,” she said when asked if it is an “effective” group. “I think they have some work to do in terms of collaborating and working together.”
Kirby-Gonzalez does give the district’s leaders credit for fiscal management in these tough budgetary times – WUSD has held onto class-size reduction programs (“that’s huge”) and has avoided layoffs.
“In terms of the terrible budget times we’ve been in, they’ve done a good job to keep things I would say are essential. Now, they need to look at spending money on curriculum, professional development, things like that.”
What should a board member do?
“Your job is really oversight, and also to be a guide and give direction for the district,” she answered. “It’s certainly not to micromanage every step of the way. I will tell you that I have had board members in my classrooms in my school on a regular basis, and it feels really good to have support. It’s great (as a board member) to be a cheerleader.”
Kirby-Gonzalez has developed school curriculum before, and thinks she can help WUSD update its own curricula.
“The state wants different curriculum, too, to get our kids college- and career-ready. That’s one piece of the puzzle that’s so important. (The board) needs one person who gets that.”
How is WUSD doing on test scores – and what do the scores mean?
“I will tell you as someone with some of the highest test scores around (in my classes), I don’t think they’re a very good measure,” said Kirby-Gonzalez.
The current state tests for students focus too narrowly on reading and math – downplaying such skills as critical thinking, she said.
“I’ve had teachers come to me and say, ‘now the kids can read – but they can’t think.’ It’s our job as a school district to produce informed, good citizens who can give back to their communities. I don’t think we’re doing a good job.”
“The test scores we have now tell us a lot about (the students’) socioeconomic status.”
Kirby-Gonzalez is “cautiously optimistic” that new, revised standardized tests will be better at measuring real skills. And schools will get to expand their teaching to meet the demands of the new tests.
“Assessment is huge,” she commented. “But we need the most meaningful kind of assessment.”
How would she choose a place to live if she were looking solely at its school district?
“I would choose based on graduation rates, which we obviously need to work on here. I would choose based on a solid science-type program, and they have all sorts of great things here. I would look into what is their policy on bullying. I would go to the school and visit it and walk around and see how I felt.”
WUSD needs more technology programs for kids, she feels. And it needs more parental involvement, said Kirby-Gonzalez. But how do you get parents involved?
“You do ‘family learning night,’ you have families bring food, you have cultural days where you celebrate different cultures,” she answered. “You have parent classes to learn English in the evenings. You have child care at the PTA meetings. They love their kids, but some people are just afraid to come to the schools, and you have to get them in.”
Kirby-Gonzalez also believes that by offering more curriculum choices and by better public relations, WUSD can attract back some of its students who are shipping out of West Sacramento to go to other districts. That, in turn, will bring more “average daily attendance” money from the state.
“We need to win them back,” she said about local students who go elsewhere for schooling.
She is disappointed that the local “GATE” program for gifted students has “kind of fizzled out,” and hopes to see it revived because “our gifted students are in some ways ‘at risk,’ too.” They need to be welcomed and challenged, said Kirby-Gonzalez.
Kirby-Gonzalez has endorsements from the school district teachers and classified employees, as well as board members Adam Menke and Alicia Cruz, and Assemblywoman Mariko Yamada, she reports. She’s getting campaign help from a pro – family member Jeff Raimundo, a public relations and political campaign veteran.
Her campaign has a web page – www.sarah4schools.com, and a Facebook page. You can also call Kirby-Gonzalez’s campaign at (916) 482-0775.
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Copyright News-Ledger 2013