FROM THE NEWS-LEDGER NEWSPAPER — Feb 20 & 27, 2013 –
By Steve Marschke
“Better communication” is an important theme for Nicholas Turney, one of five candidates running in a special election March 5 to fill a vacant seat on West Sacramento’s school board. So it gave Turney “renewed hope” when the current board recently announced that it would make better public communication a strategic priority for the district in 2013.
“They are looking at increasing their communication with the community,” Turney told the News-Ledger. “They want to work on community outreach and their social media usage, so that they can better communicate with West Sacramento – both with the people who have students in the district, and with the residents in general.”
“When I met with the superintendent a few weeks ago, I explained to him that this is something you cannot fall behind on,” added Turney. “We have moved into an era where everybody communicates through their computers or smartphones.”
For that reason, he argued, Washington Unified School District needs to let people register their kids for school online, advertise campus events over the internet, and make technology more available in the classroom.
Turney also thinks that technology can help WUSD get its message out to West Sacramentans who don’t speak English.
“The way that translation software has come about, you can, with the click of a button, translate a web page from English to Russian, Spanish, Cantonese or whatever,” he said. “That’s another issue I brought up to the superintendent and the district – we have a lot of people in West Sacramento for whom English is not their language. Having information accessible to them where they can push a button and read it in their own language is so much more helpful. It gets more parents involved.”
Turney said he has attended the past few local school board meetings, and believes the current board is “starting to come together.”
“They really made an effort to spend some time, work together, and come up with this document that has their (strategic) priorities on it,” he said.
Turney, 33, lives with his wife and two kids in the Rivers subdivision in West Sacramento’s north. He has a daughter in kindergarten, and a younger toddler “who is now taking up 95 percent of my time.” Turney is the current homemaker in his household.
The candidate grew up mostly in the East Bay, and holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in communications from Chico State University. He’s a former adjunct instructor of speech communications at Woodland Community College.
Turney’s interest in running for school board stemmed mostly from his experience when starting to enroll his daughter for kindergarten at Riverbank Elementary School in West Sacramento. After receiving “not the best first impression” of that school, he instead enrolled her in Davis.
“I had trouble getting information from (Washington Unified School District),” Turney recalled. “When I attended registration, and I was still a little uncertain about things. Then I attended the parents meeting the week before school started, and there was no discussion of curriculum.”
“There was a discussion of the social programs that are available to help the students in need,” he continued. “Granted, I am glad those programs are there, because there are a lot of students who need the help. At our neighborhood school (Riverbank), over 60 percent of the students need free or discounted meals. Over 50 percent are English language learners. They have a uniform closet for students who can’t afford to buy their own uniforms. All these things are great to have. . . but when I went to learn about the school, I wanted to learn about what the kids are going to learn at the school. I didn’t get that.”
His candidacy doesn’t have the backing of any local city officials or school board members, but Turney does have the endorsement of the Yolo County Republican chapter. That’s important, he said, because Republican values such as fiscal responsibility would be good for West Sacramento’s school board.
How good are the schools in Washington Unified School District?
“They’re improving,” answered Turney. “It’s a sign that things are potentially getting better. The test scores seem to fluctuate, going up and down, when you look at the data year by year. Overall, they’ve shown improvement over the past.”
The independent study high school just made the ‘800 Club’ (the group of campuses earning ‘800’ scores on the standardized student tests),” he added. “Big kudos to them, because these students are not in traditional schools, for a variety of reasons.”
But, added Turney, “I’ve never really been a fan of standardized testing. There’s no motivation for (students) to do well on the test – it doesn’t affect their grade, or whether they’re going to college. . . I think if they really wanted to judge how students are doing and how teachers are doing in the classroom, they need to look at it over time, and take a more qualitative approach, and talk to people.”
Charter schools can be a divisive issue: some people view them as legitimate alternatives to public schools, and others see them as competing with public campuses and taking resources from them.
“I’m more ‘case by case,’” said Turney. “Since charter schools tend to have more of an overall different theme – some focus heavily on the arts, some try to focus more on languages or whatever – it is going to be case-by-case. They still need to hold to the same standards.”
How does he characterize the fiscal situation of WUSD?
“It’s kind of hard to say, because there hasn’t been a lot of transparency in terms of the available numbers,” Turney answered. “From the comments that have been made by the district and the teachers’ association, it seems like they have been reserved when it comes to spending and cuts. But it’s hard to say what the actual numbers are.”
What does the “job description” of a school board member look like?
“Most importantly, they need to be able to be a communications liaison between the community and the district,” answered Turney. “They need to make sure that members of the community have their voices heard.”
“Additionally, I think a board member needs to function well as a team player,” he added. “If the board can’t work well together, the schools won’t benefit.”
This concludes the News-Ledger’s interview series for the 2013 special election. You can find the News-Ledger’s interviews with the other four school board candidates (Francisco Castillo, Sarah Kirby-Gonzalez, Linh Nguyen and Katherine Gales) at this website.
Basic election info:
West Sacramento has a special all-mail election to fill one vacant seat on the school board of the Washington Unified School District. The election date is Tuesday, March 5. As an alternative to mailing your ballot, you may drop it off on the main floor of city hall, 1110 West Capitol Avenue, during business hours up to election day. For more information, call the elections department, 1-800-649-9943.
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