Tag Archives: election

Turney: communication is key

FROM THE NEWS-LEDGER NEWSPAPER — Feb 20 & 27, 2013 —

By Steve Marschke
News-Ledger Editor

NICHOLAS TURNEY: candidate in the special West Sacramento school board election on March 5 (News-Ledger photo)

NICHOLAS TURNEY: candidate in the special West Sacramento school board election on March 5 (News-Ledger photo)

“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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Copyright News-Ledger 2013

 

Castillo wants to be ‘parent advocate’

By Steve Marschke
News-Ledger Editor

FRANCISCO CASTILLO: one of five West Sacramentans running for school board in the special election of March 5 (News-Ledger photo)

FRANCISCO CASTILLO: one of five West Sacramentans running for school board in the special election of March 5 (News-Ledger photo)

“I’m a parent advocate,” sums up 32-year old Francisco Castillo of Southport, who is one of five people running for a vacant seat on West Sacramento’s school board.

Castillo said that what originally drew him into the school board race was his family’s need to camp at night outside their local campus, Bridgeway Island Elementary School, in order to secure a spot in that school’s kindergarten program for one of their two young children.

“We got there at 2 a.m.,” he recalls. “I said, ‘Wow, something needs to be done about this.’ Not that I had a solution. . . but that sparked an interest in my getting more involved with my son’s education.”

Because both Castillo and his wife were working parents, they needed to ensure their older child got a place in the morning session at that campus, and there weren’t enough slots to meet the need. Thus the all-nighter.

Castillo came to San Francisco from Nicaragua when he was five, and was raised by a single mother from about the age of eight. She was not comfortable getting involved in her son’s American schooling.

“She avoided attending parent conferences, not because she didn’t want to go, but she didn’t have the information and access,” he told the News-Ledger. “She spoke Spanish.”

Now, he considers parental involvement to be one of the “pillars” of his education platform.

“What are the resources we can give parents to tell them ‘your child’s education is important, your involvement is urgent?” he asked rhetorically.

“There are even businesses in West Sacramento and outside West Sacramento that can provide some of the resources that help support parental engagement.”

Those “engagement” tools could include the use of technology, he said.

“There are different ways to get parents involved and we need to think outside the box.”

Castillo also wants to expand Washington Unified School District’s preschool programs.

“There’s a lot of research that says that. . . in the long run, it will help them academically,” Castillo commented.

His third “pillar” is college preparation and career education.

“The numbers are pretty evident,” he reported. “Only eight students of our high school seniors last year are considered college-ready . . (The others) need to take remedial classes because they’re not college-ready.”

Castillo said he was referring to California State University tests provided to college-bound kids at River City High.

He sees a lot of potential value from creating new and better partnerships between the school district and the City of West Sacramento, along with making deals with business partners in the region and beyond.

“How do we partner with Silicon Valley and bring some of those resources to West Sacramento?” asked Castillo. “I don’t think we’re thinking on that level. We think of West Sacramento as just the city of West Sac. We need to go outside the city. We don’t need to reinvent the wheel, there are programs already out there.”

Castillo’s “day job” is actually in the field of education advocacy. He works as deputy national press secretary for StudentsFirst, a nonprofit that “helps pass policies that put the interests of students first. . . in working with state legislators.”

The organization tries to “elevate the teaching profession,” “empower parents through information and choice,” and create “fiscal transparency and responsibility,” he said.

Does providing parents with “choice” mean advocating charter schools?

Speaking for himself, Castillo replied that “I support providing parents with excellent educational options, whether that’s public charter school or traditional public school. A lot of parents in West Sacramento (currently) send their kids over to Clarksburg, to the charter school there.”

He believes that charter schools are an option – but they need to be held accountable, and even shut down if they don’t perform.

How about providing school vouchers, so parents can easier send their children to private schools?

“I’m still kind of thinking about that one,” Castillo answered. “There’s a lot of research that shows that low-income families benefit from vouchers.”

The candidate said he perceived Washington Unified’s school board – before the November election – to have been somewhat “polarized,” but he believes that with new members on board, it has made a lot of progress in the past few months.

He likes the can-do spirit of the City of West Sacramento, and hopes the school district can repair some relationships with the city and enjoy the fruits of a better partnership. As a former staff member of San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, he saw some of that happen in the City by the Bay.

“When I was working for him, he appointed the first-ever liaison to the school board. . . It made sense, because the city was providing resources to the school district, and the district was able to work with the city to get a lot of things done. We all know there’s been some tension (in West Sacramento) between the city and the school board.”

Castillo and his family have been in West Sacramento for about five years, he reports. In addition to working for Mayor Newsom, his resume includes service on San Francisco’s youth commission, and working at a teen center and for several nonprofits. He attended San Francisco public schools, earning a political science degree from San Francisco State.

What does he see as the job duties of a school board member in WUSD?

“A school board member is someone who can help craft a strategic vision for the district,” said Castillo. “A school board member can’t do anything alone,” but requires the ability to be part of a team, he added.

“The school board gives the superintendent a clear vision and clear direction about where we need to go. . . it’s not about micromanaging.”

He was asked whether the district’s schools could be called “excellent,” “good,” “fair” or “poor.”

“I think the district is ‘good,’” he responded. “We can strive for excellence. We can get to that same path the city is taking as far as being an excellent city.”

How is the district doing in student test scores, and how much does that matter?

“Bridgeway Island is excellent – their API is around 780, it’s doing great,” he answered. “It’s not the only thing that measures (performance). “I think (the district) is doing fairly well, and improving every year. The north part of the West Sacramento is where the schools are struggling a little more.”

Castillo said there’s a perception – with some validity – that there is a difference between how the “north” and “south” are handled in WUSD.

“It seems like we don’t pay much attention to the north area of West Sacramento,” he said. “Because (Southport) is a newer area, it tends to get more of the resources.”

It’s important to put the resources where they’re needed, wherever that may be, he added.

“I think there’s a sense of the ‘South of West Sacramento’ and the ‘North of West Sacramento.’ How about ‘all of West Sacramento’?”

Castillo believes the district is in pretty good financial shape.

“I have to give ‘props’ to the superintendent, his staff and even the board,” he commented about their money-handling. And the passage of state Proposition 30 will bring a “surge of money” to the district following several years of cost-cutting.

Where should the money go?

“One idea would be having it go to the classroom. . . but it’s the kind of vision we have to decide as a school board, with the input of the superintendent,” he answered. There might be “holes to fill,” he said, like restoring school bus routes cut during the economic hard times.

Castillo reports that he has been endorsed by West Sacramento Mayor Christopher Cabaldon, by Mayor pro tem Oscar Villegas, school board president Mary Leland and vice president Katie Villegas, by county supervisors Mike McGowan and Matt Rexroad, and by Laborers Local 185, among others.

He invites interested people to contact him – and provide suggestions – by phoning (916) 668-9659, emailing castilloforwestsac@gmail.com, or visiting www.castilloforkids.com.

“I don’t have all the answers,” Castillo commented. “Some of the best solutions come from the community.”

  Editor’s note: This interview is the fourth in a series. Each of the five people running for a seat on the Washington Unified School District has been invited to talk to the News-Ledger about the issues. The final interview will appear in print on Feb. 20.

  The ballot will be an all-mail ballot, with votes due by March 5. Ballots may be dropped off at a location on the first floor of city hall, 1110 West Capitol Avenue.  

  Do you like what you see here?

  You can support local journalism, support this website, and see all the News-Ledger’s articles every week! Subscribe to the News-Ledge newspaper. It’s only $20 per year within West Sacramento – once a week, delivered to your mailbox.

  You can even try it for free for two months if you live in West Sacramento. Just send your name and mailing address to FreeTrial@news-ledger.com (offer open to new subscribers in West Sacramento ZIP codes 95691 & 95605).

Copyright News-Ledger 2013

Gales seeks a school board seat

FROM THE NEWS-LEDGER NEWSPAPER — FEB 6, 2013 —

By Steve Marschke
News-Ledger Editor

What can Katherine Gales bring to the local school board?

KATHERINE GALES: school board candidate believes a board member needs to research the issues (News-Ledger photo)

KATHERINE GALES: school board candidate believes a board member needs to research the issues (News-Ledger photo)

“At the top of the list is research,” she answered. “That’s what I do first if I don’t know something. I’m going to learn about it, especially if I’m going to be held responsible for making a decision about it. I’ll take my experience and I might take other persons’ opinions, but I’m going to go to the Internet and I’m going to Google it, and I’m going to find out exactly what it is.”

Gales, 50, told the News-Ledger that doing the background work is a key part of a school board member’s job.

“It’s important for the school board member to understand what’s going on in that area, so they can make a decision,” she explained. “You have to be up on current events. . . and you can be affected by anything coming into the district. If I don’t know about a certain community, it’s my obligation to get a good understanding or recuse myself from decision-making in that area.”

Gales has been working for the state Department of Education since 1997. She is now an executive assistant at the downtown Sacramento office. She serves as a “branch level office manager,” she said.

Gales said that one reason she took the job was to figure out why different schools taught different ways – a realization that came from comparing her own education at an “old school” in the Monterey area to her daughter’s campuses in Natomas and New York.

  Gales grew up in an Army family and moved around, but she went to high school in  Monterey, at a campus with large classrooms that were well equipped for science, home economics and so forth.

“When (my daughter) got into junior high, it was different from what I experienced in junior high,” said Gales. “That made me get even more involved. . . In home economics, we had kitchens in our classrooms. . . I compared that to my daughter’s school (in Sacramento), and they had portables.”

Working into her adulthood, Gales earned a pair of degrees from the University of Phoenix.

“I have a bachelor’s in business management and a masters in management,” she reported.

She did not marry her daughter’s father, but both parents were involved in the now-grown daughter’s life. For the past three years, Gales has lived in West Sacramento with her daughter and her seven-year old grandson, who attends school in Washington Unified School District. Gales also has several nieces and nephews in town, also going to West Sacramento public schools.

She’s running against four other candidates for one available spot on the ballot for school board, in a special election March 5.

How does she think the current school board is doing?

“I’ve attended the local school board meetings since December,” Gales answered. “They seem to work fine. Over two or three meetings, I think they’re working through what they need to do. As far as what I saw, they’re doing pretty much what they need to do and what I would do. I don’t know what goes on in closed session.”

How good is the local district?

“They’re about as good as they can be at this time, but anything can be improved and be better. That’s what I can contribute.”

How well are the schools doing in standardized test scores?

“I know Bridgeway Island (Elementary School) did pretty good on the API and Southport was second,” she answered. “The others came behind them. Test scores are important, but I’m focused on what’s coming down the pipeline (from the state board of education).”

New curriculum standards and new tests are on their way, she said.

Fiscally, Gales thinks the district is in good shape.

And she said she would consider new charter schools on a “case by case” basis. What would it take for a new charter school to get her approval as a board member?

“You have to be productive, and you have to follow the requirements of the law, first and foremost,” said Gales.

She was asked what kinds of challenges she sees in WUSD’s future.

“I think the main thing sticking out in my mind is that it’s very important for them to be diverse in their workforce,” answered Gales. “All staff should closely mirror the national average. . . In West Sacramento, we may not have a really high level of ethnicity in one area or the other, but (students) should be exposed to at least the top three or four (ethnic groups) that most people are exposed to on a regular basis.”

“I don’t know that we have any African-American teachers.”

Gales also said she wants to see better conflict-resolution in local schools.

“When my daughter went to school in New York for a year, they had a program set up,” she explained. “It was called peer mock court or peer court, where the kids actually could go to court if they had a dispute or something. They could discuss the issue in front of a body of peers or administrators, to get to the core of a problem before a decision was made for discipline.”

“I don’t know if that’s even done here, but it doesn’t seem like they have any kind of structure set up to deal with discipline. A lot of times, it seems like it’s just decided by the principal and teacher – I’m not sure, I really can’t speak on it.”

Gales was attracted to run in this race because the timing was right to become active in the community, she said. She saw news about the special election on Mayor Cabaldon’s Facebook page. She hasn’t, though, obtained endorsements from him or any of the school board or city council members.

But, as she added by email after the interview:

“What I have received is support from friends and family including, but not limited to, friends in the Sikh community and my church at the Calvary Christian Center.”

  Editor’s note: Five people are running for one vacant seat on the Washington Unified School District Board of Trustees. A winner will be chosen in a special, all-mail ballot in West Sacramento on March 5.

  Katherine Gales, profiled above, is one of the five.

  The News-Ledger newspaper is presenting an interview with each of these five candidates. The series will conclude in our print edition on Feb. 27.

  Do you like what you see here?

  You can support local journalism, support this website, and see all the News-Ledger’s articles every week! Subscribe to the News-Ledge newspaper. It’s only $20 per year within West Sacramento – once a week, delivered to your mailbox.

  You can even try it for free for two months if you live in West Sacramento. Just send your name and mailing address to FreeTrial@news-ledger.com (offer open to new subscribers in West Sacramento ZIP codes 95691 & 95605).

Copyright News-Ledger 2013

 

Nguyen: ‘average’ district can improve

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
News-Ledger Editor

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:

 

Identify a problem, measure it, attack it (News-Ledger photo)

Identify a problem, measure it, attack it
(News-Ledger photo)

“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.]

  Do you like what you see here?

  You can support local journalism, support this website, and see all the News-Ledger’s articles every week! Subscribe to the News-Ledge newspaper. It’s only $20 per year within West Sacramento – once a week, delivered to your mailbox.

  You can even try it for free for two months if you live in West Sacramento. Just send your name and mailing address to FreeTrial@news-ledger.com (offer open to new subscribers in West Sacramento ZIP codes 95691 &

Copyright News-Ledger 2013