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EDITORIAL: $50 may buy a young child some college dreams

NEWS-LEDGER EDITORIAL — FEB 13, 2013 —

What can we all do to help West Sacramento’s schools?

Well, one of the top strategic goals now being put forward by the local school board is to “foster a culture of high expectations.” And that is something that the City of West Sacramento, and the rest of us, can all help with.

For inspiration, consider this:

About 500 students graduate every year from the high school in Kalamazoo, Michigan. And each of them does so knowing that unknown donors have pledged to pay their full college tuition in the state’s public college and university system. The “Kalamazoo Promise” was announced in 2005, and it was intended not only to help local kids, but also to help the local economy.

  Students who enter the local school district part-way through their education get partial assistance, and those who are in it for the entire ride get the full “Promise.”  Knowing that their kids must stay in local public schools to qualify, families have an incentive to stay put in Kalamazoo. The city is meant to benefit from its ability to attract and retain families.

Announcement of the new program was greeted with celebration and also a degree of skepticism – how could somebody really be willing to pay for every local kid’s college education? But reality has set in, and the kids and their families are now starting to develop college expectations from a student’s early grades.

Local teachers and schools bought into the ambitious program, adding instructional hours and increasing college prep.

Too ambitious and expensive for your tastes? There are plenty of other college fund programs to look at.

Among them are those created by the City and County of San Francisco as well as the County of Cuyahoga, Ohio. These locales are going about the same thing, but on a much smaller scale.

Cuyahoga expects to spend $2 million a year putting $100 into a college fund for every new kindergartner. The funds can be redeemed by graduates towards college or vocational training.

The City and County of San Francisco are chipping in with the first $50 contribution to a college fund for every one of its new kindergartners. (For information, see http://www.k2csf.org/)

These smaller funds, even with compounding interest, may never pay for a big chunk of a student’s college education. But the accounts can be supplemented over the years with other donations from friends, family and a student’s own savings. And they’re not just about the money; they’re about the idea of going to college.

Just the existence of a college fund in a student’s name, even if it’s a modest one, can help  shape the expectations of a family and its kids. A family that may not have expected to send its child to college might begin to raise its sights.

West Sacramento is a city of challenging demographics, like Kalamazoo and San Francisco. Not every kid now going to school here believes that college or other higher education are realistic options. Funding a college account for each young child would be one way to chip away at that kind of defeatism.

A college fund program in West Sacramento need not rely on the cash-strapped Washington Unified School District for dollars. The program could be a partnership, using funds cobbled together from the city and from private donors to help. After all, encouraging kids to stay in local schools and then go to state colleges and universities (like the local Sac City College branch) would be good for West Sacramento’s economy.

It’s one way the whole city can help the local school district “foster a culture of higher expectations.”

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Copyright News-Ledger 2013

Southport’s beaver problem: better to manage the animals than to kill them

FROM THE NEWS-LEDGER — FEB 20, 2013 —

EDITOR’S NOTE: On Feb. 13, the News-Ledger published a story about city-sponsored trapping of a beaver colony discovered in Southport’s Bridgeway Lakes area. You can find the original article here. Below is a response.

The author, Heidi Perryman, Ph.D. (courtesy photo)

The author, Heidi Perryman, Ph.D. (courtesy photo)

By Heidi Perryman, Ph.D.

Trapping, as you know, is a short-term solution that will need to be repeated again and again when new beavers return to the area. It almost always makes more sense to keep the beavers you have, solve any problems they are causing directly, and let them use their naturally territorial behaviors to keep others away.

Protecting trees is an easy fix. Wrap them  in a cylinder of galvanized fencing, leaving enough space for the tree to grow. Or try the less obtrusive abrasive painting. Paint the trunks with a latex paint that matches the color of the bark, adding heavy mason sand. Beavers dislike the gritty texture and will not chew.

Remember that beaver-chewed trees will ‘coppice’ which is an old forestry term referring to hard cutting back a tree so that it grows in bushy and more dense. This is why beavers are so important to the population of migratory and songbirds – their chewing creates prime nesting real estate for a host of bird life. Willow is very fast-growing and if the stumps are left in the ground they will replenish quickly.

Why should a city learn to tolerate beavers? They are a keystone species that create a dramatic impact on the spaces they cultivate – even urban and suburban spaces. Here in Martinez we have documented several new species of birds and fish since they colonized our creek, as well as otter and mink! In addition, beavers are considered a ‘charismatic species’ which means that children love to learn about them and they provide a great educational tool for teaching about habitat, ecosystems and stewardship. Why not involve the local Boy Scout troop in planting willow shoots every spring?

Take Amtrak to our sixth beaver festival this summer and see it all for yourself!

  The author is president and founder of “Worth a Dam,” whose organization can be seen at www.matinezbeavers.org.

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  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

Cruise aboard the Sea Scout cutter

Former U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Morris, now the flagship vessel of the West Sacramento-area Sea Scouts (courtesy of the Sea Scouts)

Former U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Morris, now the flagship vessel of the West Sacramento-area Sea Scouts (courtesy of the Sea Scouts)

FROM THE NEWS-LEDGER —

A pair of brunch cruises aboard the former Coast Guard Cutter Morris will serve as a fundraiser for the Delta Youth Maritime Association.

The brunch cruises will be held Feb. 24 & 25, and a dinner cruise is offered on the 23rd. Donation: $75 for brunch or $125 for dinner, tax-deductible. Email sssneptune@gmail.com or call 775-3732.

Copyright News-Ledger 2013

Car thief takes the bait

FROM THE NEWS-LEDGER — FEB 20, 2013 —

News-Ledger Staff

The bait this time was a Cadillac Escalade. A thief took the bait in West Sacramento last Tuesday, Feb. 12.

According to police reports and information from West Sacramento Police Department Lieutenant Tod Sockman, local police and the CHP left the specially-equipped Escalade alone at the corner of Westacre Road and Merkley Avenue for some time.

Then they waited to see what happened.

The “bait car’s” sensors tripped on the night of Feb. 12.

At 8:52 p.m., a signal from the car reported it was on the move. Police responded.

“Officers got directly behind the moving vehicle,” said a police report. Then, using a remote control, they “locked the doors and deactivated the engine. A felony vehicle stop was performed by marked police units.”

  With officers at the ready, the Escalade’s unauthorized driver was then called out near West Capitol Avenue and Jefferson Boulevard. But the suspected thief made a break for it, “bailing on foot” until pursuing officers took him into custody just south of the vehicle stop.

Into jail for allegedly trying to steal the “bait” car went Jason Daniel Moore, a 29-year old resident of Hobson Avenue.

The News-Ledger asked Lt. Sockman if the “bait cars” were left unlocked or with the keys inside.  He said methods vary from case to case, but the keys weren’t left in this Escalade.

“In general, they have to work for it,” he added.

  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

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

Register for kindergarten Saturday

FROM THE NEWS-LEDGER —

West Sacramento’s local elementary schools will accept registration for kindergarten and transitional kindergarten students on Sat., Feb. 23, from 9 a.m. to noon. Bring your child’s birth certificate, social security card, immunization records, proof of physical (dated after Aug., 2012, for kindergarten students) and a copy of your PG&E bill for address verification, to your local campus. For kindergarten, child’s fifth birthday must be on or before Oct. 1, 2013.

Questions? Contact Bridgeway Island Elementary at 375-7778; Elkhorn at 375-7670; Riverbank at 375-7700; Stonegate at 375-0960; Southport at 375-7890; Westfield at 375-7720; or Westmore Oaks at 375-7730.

Copyright News-Ledger 2013

Fundraising with firecrackers

FROM THE  NEWS-LEDGER NEWSPAPER —

If your church or nonprofit is interested in getting a permit to sell fireworks in West Sacramento during this year’s Independence Day (July 4) season, go to the information session scheduled for Tuesday, Feb. 26, at 6 p.m. in the city council chambers, 1110 West Capitol Avenue.

The permit lottery will accept applications March 1-31. For more information, contact City Clerk Kryss Rankin at 617-4500.

Copyright News-Ledger 2013