FROM THE NEWS-LEDGER — JAN 30, 2013 –
News-Ledger’s interviews with candidates in the March 5 special school board election continue this week with local businessman Linh Nguyen –
By Steve Marschke
With a background in computer engineering and in business, Southport’s Linh Nguyen believes one of the best ways to start attacking any problem is to measure it. And he believes the measurements are clear for Washington Unified School District:
“Statistically, we are average,” Nguyen told the News-Ledger.
Student test scores often have a strong link to a community’s economic level. Look at them both if you want to judge how a school district is doing, he said.
“If we can say that economically, we’re a ‘5,’ but what we’re achieving is a ‘7’ or ‘8’ out of 10, then that’s excellent. But if we’re economically a ‘5’ and we’re achieving at a ‘5,’ that’s just okay.”
West Sacramento’s school district is scoring at about 760 on the API tests, he said, which is about “average” for a place with an “average” socioeconomic level.
Nguyen (pronounced with the “ng” sound followed by “wen,” in one syllable) hopes to earn a seat on the local school board next month and help change that.
“That reflection is on the board – that’s where the buck stops,” he said. “City-wise, you can see there are a lot of successful projects that have been implemented – whether it’s (new developments like) the River Cats, Nugget, Home Depot or Ikea. They didn’t let the ‘average’ or ‘below average’ hold them back. The school district needs to do the same.”
“As a person who runs my own company, I understand what you need to do when you govern a multi-million dollar entity. We need to define a clear vision. We need to lay out a clear plan of what we’re going to do. We need to always follow up on the plan.”
Nguyen, 40, currently works at home, managing his investment portfolio. His wife is a part-time pharmacist, and the couple has three young kids – the oldest two of which are at Bridgeway Island Elementary School.
“I graduated from UC Davis in computer science engineering,” he explained. “I went back to Silicon Valley and my first job was at Genentech. I worked mostly in high-tech. After we saved some money, we started our own consulting company. But running a company is very intensive, and we were having our first kid. We decided to move to West Sacramento, which is a very good place to raise kids.”
Having two children in the public elementary school and another headed that way has generated some concerns, said Nguyen.
“I think I’m in the same shoes as a lot of parents,” he said. “My kids are in first and third grade. I can see the future coming for them. High school is coming.”
One friend typifies his concern:
“When I told him I was running for the board, the first thing he said is, ‘Great, I’ll support you.’ The second thing he said was, ‘At this point, I wouldn’t let my kid go to River City High School.’ The sad fact is that (the friend himself) went to River City High School, and his wife went to River City High School – not the new campus, but the old one. Something like that speaks volumes about how people perceive the high school.”
Nguyen is concerned by the numbers – and RCHS is higher than the state in some statistics, like expulsion rates, he said.
Between that and issues like bullying and campus security, “I don’t feel my kid is safe to go to this high school” right now, said Nguyen.
How do you fix that?
Nguyen believes that the first step is to identify the problems facing WUSD, whether they be test scores or campus safety.
“I would like the (school) board to acknowledge the problems,” he said. “That’s the first step in solving a problem. Secondly, I would like to know how we are going to measure the issues – for example, what percentage of the kids are leaving the district (to go to school elsewhere)? If we can first do a measurement on that, we can improve it. We don’t (now) have a way to measure that. Just anecdotal evidence.”
Nguyen says he has been to several school board meetings and seen others on cable TV.
“I see a lot of positive coming from the board we now have,” he said. “We could do much better. We have 7.000-plus students in the district. We have an obligation to help these 7,000-plus kids to achieve, to reach their full potential.”
He added that, fiscally, the board is “doing okay with what we have.” And with Proposition 30 passing and bringing more stability to school funding, and with the economy finally improving, he expected the school’s financial climate to start getting better.
How does he feel about charter schools?
Nguyen said he would examine them on a “case by case” basis.
“I’m not encumbered by a political agenda. . . If someone comes to me and asks about a charter school for our district, I would say, ‘show me the empirical evidence.’ When we make a change like that, there’s going to be a financial cost. The research has to support (a need for the charter school).”
Nguyen thinks that voters should look at the time commitment of being a school board member when they weigh their decision of whom to elect.
“One of the basic elements (of the job) is that you have to be willing to put in the time,” he said. “If you look at our city council, they have 22 subcommittees, reaching out to the schools, the River Cats, the port, to Sacramento County. Board-wise, we’re not reaching out to other districts around us. We’re not reaching out to resources we have. We’re not reaching out to UC Davis or Sacramento State.”
“If the board was functioning at an excellent level, we would have a direct path where Sacramento State and Davis and vocational programs would come here and work with the kids, and explain why some subject is important. We want to engage a kid, whether they are going to be a mechanic or an engineer or something.”
With a background in management and in science, Nguyen believes he can help the board do this.
What does he see as a board member’s job duties?
“One of the requirements is that we need a board that’s passionate,” he answered. “Statistically and empirical data-wise, we’re average. That’s a result of our economics. To be successful, we have to be innovative.”
Has Nguyen been endorsed by the mayor or by school board members?
“Purposely, I’ve tried not to coincide with the political side,” he answered. “I call it the political machine. I don’t want to reach out there, because I want to be independent. The first thing is that the school board is for the kids. The second thing is, it’s for the kids. And the third thing is, it’s for the kids.”
Nguyen’s prior involvement in the community include helping to coach youth soccer, baseball and basketball in the elementary school and city leagues. He also helps with the local Cub Scout troop.
The candidate said he is funding his school board campaign with “mostly my own money,” and is also walking precincts.
[Editor's note: after this interview was published, the candidate notified the News-Ledger that he had picked up endorsements from former WUSD school board members Ardeene Westvik, Dave Farmer and Ed Hocking.]
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