Tag Archives: school district

Kirby-Gonzalez believes experience as teacher helps her on school board

NEWS-LEDGER — OCT 22, 2014 —

By Steve Marschke
News-Ledger Editor

Sarah Kirby-Gonzalez has been on the school board in West Sacramento for less than 18 months, following a victory in a special election held to fill a vacancy. She’d like four more years.

SARAH  KIRBY-GONZALEZ News-Ledger photo

SARAH
KIRBY-GONZALEZ
News-Ledger photo

“We have done some very good things,” Kirby-Gonzalez reports. “Just in that short amount of time, I think one of the biggest things the board has done is (create) the visual and performing arts plan, and that’s now rolled out to our fourth- and fifth-grade classes as well as all the way up to high school. I’d like to see it expanded even beyond that.”

Visual and Performing Arts, or “VAPA,” is one of the district’s top priorities at present. Also on that list are facilities improvements, technology and “recruiting, retaining and sustaining personnel.”

Kirby-Gonzalez said that she is in agreement with that roster of strategic goals, and she enjoys serving on an effective Washington Unified School District school board.

She’s a teacher in the Folsom-Cordova district (where she was a “teacher of the year” in 2011) and her husband works as a police officer outside West Sacramento. They have two kids – not yet of school age – who will go to public school in this city, said Kirby-Gonzalez.

The couple has lived in the Bridgeway Lakes area for about half a dozen years. Kirby-Gonzalez says she grew up in Carmichael and Auburn, going to a Catholic elementary school.

“I went to Placer High School, Sierra College and then Sac State for my master’s credential, she said. I’ve been teaching for 11 years.”

Kirby-Gonzalez, 34, believes that her experience as a teacher helps her as a board member. She notes that in the years before she became a trustee, WUSD had been focused tightly on one thing, and that was achieving high marks in student test scores. As a teacher, she thinks that was short-sighted and the current policy is a better one.

“Standardized test scores had been very, very prominent with the last board – that’s what they focused on,” she commented. “For folks that really understand education and read the research, they know that’s been a disservice for kids, especially our low-income kids. Standardized tests have not helped us in the way we’ve needed.”

Preparing kids for standardized tests often meant stressing rote memorization and neglecting the teaching of writing (since it was only tested at two grade levels), said Kirby-Gonzalez. But now these tests are just one part of a more “holistic” approach. Parental involvement at schools, graduation rates, and dropout are some of the other measures now used on local schools.

In West Sacramento, it’s been the southern-most schools – like Bridgeway – that have led the district in test score results. Does that mean they’re better schools?

“No,” she answered, explaining that test scores are mostly a reflection of “the socioeconomic area” and not of the quality of schools.

Nevertheless, northern schools need more help:

“They definitely have more facility needs because their schools are older,” said Kirby-Gonzalez. “The teachers do a nice job making the rooms look pretty, but you pull off a poster and the wall is falling apart and bad things are happening”

Despite that, she said, some of the north-city schools are doing great things – such as Elkhorn’s partnership with UC Davis that brings teaching help into local classrooms.

What, exactly, does a school board member do besides end meetings on Thursday nights?

“I think one of the biggest things is listening to the community and being visible to the community,” answered Kirby-Gonzalez. “Also, studying policy so that kids are getting the best environment in the classrooms. And also evaluating the superintendent.”

She noted that before she became a board member, WUSD had just been through a recession and had to make serious budget cuts.

“Some of it has come back, but of course we’d like more,” she said. “Now, there’s busing again at the high school. One of the issues was that kids who stayed late at school for sports didn’t have a bus, and now there’s a bus.”

Fixing up school facilities remains a major need.

“We already have our capital improvement plan which identifies over $200 million in needs,” she commented. “That’s a big piece of the puzzle. . . We need expansion – some of our places are overflowing, like Bridgeway (Elementary School). And even the high school is going to need another wing. In terms of new programs, I’d like to see more professional development for teachers.”

Kirby-Gonzalez and her board colleagues have created Measure V, a $49.8 million bond, on the November 4 ballot to try to take a bite out of some of those facilities projects.

The district is doing a good job implementing the new “Common Core” standards, said Kirby-Gonzalez. And she likes the new standards.

“There are people who worry about it being a federal takeover and there are people who worry that it’s too open-ended for kids, but I think on the whole it’s much better than the ’97 standards,” said the candidate.  She added that writing is much more important in the new standards.

Kirby-Gonzalez will try to defend her seat on the November 4 ballot. Also running for two available seats are challengers Norma Alcala and Joshua Alves. You can find more information about her at www.Sarah4Schools.com or on Facebook.

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Norma Alcala hopes to become ‘most accessible’ school board member

NEWS-LEDGER — OCT 15, 2014 —

By Steve Marschke
News-Ledger Editor

  Editor’s note: during every local election, the News-Ledger newspaper endeavors to present to you an interview with each of the people running for office in West Sacramento. In this edition of our print newspaper, we carried an interview with city council candidate Jeff Lyon, as well as this talk with a school board candidate. Enjoy.

NORMA ALCALA News-Ledger photo

NORMA ALCALA
News-Ledger photo

Norma Alcala hopes to get elected to a West Sacramento school board that she feels is already doing a great job.

“I’m proud of everyone on the school board,” she told the News-Ledger last week. “We have an excellent school board.”

If she’s voted in, Alcala said she would concentrate on sharing ideas with both the schools and the community.

“I want to be the most accessible school board member,” she commented. “I give everyone my cell phone number, 916-821-9639. People have to feel – parents, especially – that somebody is reaching out.”

That meshes with her view on the fundamentals of a school board member’s job duties.

“I think accessibility is the most important thing – the willingness to listen to what people have to say, to learn from what people have to say, to invite people into the conversation and find out what their concerns are and what great ideas they might have,” she said. “As a board member, I plan on visiting every one of the schools at least once a month and making myself available to hear what the parents have to say, the teachers have to say and the kids have to say.”

Alcala, 53, is married. She and her husband own (but don’t themselves run) a business that distributes “interlock” systems which can be installed on cars to prevent the ignition from working if the driver fails a breathalyzer test for alcohol.  The couple lives in The Rivers, a north-city subdivision.

Alcala doesn’t currently have any children or grandchildren in Washington Unified School District schools. But her kids went to school locally and have earned college degrees. Alcala holds an Associates of Arts degree in Sacramento before having to leave college and help support her family.

Alcala is the president of the local Democratic club and is active in the Chicano-Latino caucus of the state Democrats. Earlier this year, Alcala unsuccessfully challenged local Yolo County Supervisor Oscar Villegas for his seat.

Her community involvement also involves volunteer duties with Holy Cross Church..

“I’ve always been involved in the schools since my children were young, and I’ve always been on the board of the PTA for my children’s schools,” she explained. “I continued that with my grandchildren.”

Last year, when a grandchild was attending Westmore Oaks Elementary School, Alcala helped out there, wielding a broom and mop to refurbish a school room.

“I went in there and swept windows, I cleaned window boxes that hadn’t been used. It became a beautiful functional room that everybody could use. I helped my daughter with a (school) carnival, with movie nights they had, with a library affair, and with every (school) function.”

Alcala supports Measure V – the school bond on November’s ballot. She believes local student test scores are headed up, and local teachers are dealing well with the new “Common Core” curriculum mandates. She also believes Washington Unified is responsibly managing its money.

“My understanding is it’s probably the best fiscally maintained district in Yolo County,” said Alcala. “It’s been very carefully managed. . . the majority of the monies are going to the children.”

The local teachers union has endorsed Alcala along with incumbent board member Sarah Kirby-Gonzalez (who is a teacher working in a different district).

“I’ve been endorsed by the teachers as well as Sarah, because they know of our strong commitment to education,” said Alcala. “She’s a teacher, but I’ve always been involved in the schools at a lot of levels.” (Her teachers’ endorsement comes from the local teachers’ union.)

Alcala doesn’t wish to change the district’s priorities, but she does allow that she would like to see more programs in the arts and “perhaps more labs” to prepare local kids for jobs of the future. And she would like to find more grant money and more private partners – perhaps, as an acquaintance in another school district reports, to provide local children with refurbished computers they can take home.

Alcala also said West Sacramento – despite the honors it has received for promoting “universal preschool” – doesn’t really have universal preschool. Not every family is choosing it.

“We have wonderful (preschool) programs here, but we don’t have universal preschool,” she explained. “Universal preschool would mean that every child of that age would have it. We have to do that outreach. The (educational) foundation is so important.”

Alcala finds herself on the November 4 ballot facing off with Kirby-Gonzalez and Joshua Alves.

Voters will be asked to pick two of them for the board of trustees on Washington Unified School District.

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Joshua Alves wants to bring new perspective to West Sac school board

NEWS-LEDGER — OCT 8, 2014 —

EDITOR’S NOTE: this interview is part of a series in which the News-Ledger talks to those running for mayor, city council and school board in West Sacramento on the November ballot

By Steve Marschke
News-Ledger Editor

Joshua Alves hopes to win a seat on West Sacramento’s school board on the November ballot – not so much to make major changes, but to bring a different perspective to the board.

JOSHUA ALVES News-Ledger photo

JOSHUA ALVES
News-Ledger photo

“I’m a creative individual who looks at alternative ideas, not only in my professional life, but in my personal life,” he told the News-Ledger this week. “I listen to creative people while looking at different ways to generate business, either with myself professionally or (hopefully) on the school board.”

So does he hope to bring a “business” approach to the board?

“I wouldn’t say ‘business,’ I’d say a ‘creative’ approach,” he answered. “I would say maybe that approach, with a business/technology spin.”

Alves, 37, is a married father of two young children who are approaching school age. His family lives in The Rivers, a north-city neighborhood. He said the stage of his children’s lives has pushed him toward running for a seat on the Washington Unified School District governing board. He and his wife hope to send their kids into local public schools.

“That is our goal,” said Alves. “That is why I’m running for a seat like this – to continue the momentum I’ve got and keep the kids here rather than send them to other schools.”

This is his first run for local office.

“I grew up in Oakdale, California, in the Central Valley. It’s a small town right outside Modesto as you’re heading up to Yosemite,” he recalled. “I went to college. I started at UC Santa Barbara and finished off at Sac State with a degree in biology.”

He’s now been a salesman of medical devices for about ten years.

Since being in West Sacramento, Alves has served on the board of the homeowners association at The Rivers, and he’s been active in his daughter’s Southport preschool, he reports. And he has signed up to be trained as part of the local police department’s civilian bicycle patrol.

“I also volunteer for a couple of military groups,” said Alves. “One of those is called ‘Mission Essential,’ which is a not-for-profit program for teaching educating leadership for professional athletes or corporate individuals. I also work for ‘The Next Ridgeline,’ which is the Green Beret Foundation, and which is assisting exiting soldiers back into the workforce.”

Alves – not a veteran himself – got into those programs because of a friend in the military.

Does he think the current school board is doing a good job?

“I’ve been to a few meetings and I’ve watched a little bit on video as well,” he commented. “I think just like anything in the world, there’s room for improvement. I’m not sure they’re doing a bad job and I’m not saying our schools are failing miserably, but I’d like to have an alternative perspective (represented on the board) outside of the academic industry. With more of a business acumen.”

He added that it would be nice to bring a male voice back to the board, which will become all-female when board member Adam Menke’s term expires this year.

Alves was asked what he thinks of the district’s fiscal situation. He said he supports Measure V, the school bond measure on November’s ballot.

“I don’t think there’s any real crystal-ball answer on how to solve the issue of old schools that need to be updated or fixed,” he said. “I think this bond is a good alternative to address those issues in the financial sector for improving schools. I think it’s important to remove the mold or any hazardous substances that can cause sickness (at school facilities).”

What are a school board member’s job duties?

“I think it’s kind of like being a parent – it never ends,” said Alves. “You are very influential not only in your own kid’s life, but also on every child that goes through the Washington Unified School District. We lay a foundation in primary education, and that really leads into the future work ethic, and whether or not these kids are willing and want to work and succeed”

“As a school board, you’re working on curriculum, you’re working on finances, you’re working on ways to make West Sacramento as a whole a shining light. . . and making sure these kids move on to college or higher education.”

“I wouldn’t say I’m a micromanager,” he added. “I let people do their task at hand, but I do expect those tasks. . . to be completed in a timely manner.”

Alves said he believes the district as a whole is on the right path and he comes with no agenda to change direction.

“I don’t think there are huge changes or shifts I would like to try. I think it’s important to look at ways to increase funding, (whether) it’s reaching out to local businesses, charity events, or things like that to help the district as a whole.”

He thinks the new “Common Core” curriculum standards are being implemented fairly well and that test scores are one method of measuring success for students and schools.

“I believe school scores have increased in the last few years,” said Alves, “which is one way to gauge success. . . I think it’s one way to judge. . . how a school or student is doing. But I think there are alternative methods out there that might be a better way.

Where would he like to see more funding go in today’s school district?

“I don’t think you can really choose one grade or entity in the entire district,” answered Alves. “Obviously, you can’t please everybody, but I think if we come together as a community, we can figure out where the best use of funds is, if and when those funds become available for the appropriate uses. Such as curriculum, schools, and busing. I think it’s important to look at the big picture on this.”

Alves joins fellow challenger Norma Alcala and incumbent Sarah Kirby-Gonzalez in the hunt for either of two available seats on next month’s local ballot. School board terms are for four years.

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School district employee accused of embezzling $16,000 from WUSD

FROM THE NEWS-LEDGER — AUG 27, 2014 —

The Yolo County District Attorney’s office has filed charges against an employee of Washington Unified School District for felony embezzlement, the News-Ledger has learned.

The charges, filed last week, do not contain detailed information. They identify the defendant as Mary Elizabeth Colby. The complaint alleges that Colby misappropriated public money and falsified records on or around July 1, 2012.

A school district attorney reported the crime to local police earlier this year. A police lieutenant told the News-Ledger that the loss was estimated at $16,000.

No arrest has been made.

Colby could not be immediately reached for comment, and further information was not available.

_____________

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Think you can do better? Here’s a chance to run for mayor & more:

FROM THE NEWS-LEDGER — JULY 23, 2014 —

Two West Sacramento school board seats, two city council seats, and the mayor’s position will all be on the ballot on November 4.

The filing period for challengers interested in these office is underway. It ends on August 8.

City offices up for election are those held by Mayor Christopher Cabaldon and city council members Chris Ledesma and Mark Johannessen. The mayor’s term is for two years, and a council member serves four.

For information and candidacy paperwork, visit the city clerk’s office at 1110 West Capitol Avenue to pick up the necessary documents. Appointments are encouraged but not required. Call 617-4500.

The school board seats up for election in Washington Unified School District are currently held by Adam Menke and Sarah Kirby-Gonzalez. The terms are four years. Interested challengers should contact the Yolo County Elections Office (Freddie Oakley, County Clerk/Recorder) at (530) 666-8133 or (800) 649-9943. The elections office is located at 625 Court Street Suite B05 in Woodland.

If any incumbent fails to file papers to defend his or her seat, then the deadline for a challenger to file for that race will be extended to August 15.

Also on the local ballot in November will be a school bond measure called “Measure V,” intended to raise money for local school district upgrades and repairs.

Copyright News-Ledger 2014

West Sac voters will face $49.8 million school bond in November

Local school district doesn’t plan to build any news schools, but does hope to pay for some repairs and upgrades at West Sacramento campuses

— NEWS-LEDGER — JULY 2, 2014 —

By Steve Marschke
News-Ledger Editor

West Sacramento voters will be asked to approve a $49.8 million school bond on the November 4 general election ballot.

If the bond measure earns the required 55 percent voter approval, it will help fund the local school district’s laundry list of needed capital improvements –possible items such as fire systems, wheelchair access ramps, heating and ventilation units, windows, paving and security systems.

A motion to place the bond on the November ballot passed 4-0 at last Thursday’s meeting of the Washington Unified School District board of trustees. The action needed all four “yes” votes to take effect – and board member Alicia Cruz overcame her initial reluctance to support a 2014 bond and eventually provided the needed fourth vote.

Board member Adam Menke was absent from the meeting. Cruz joined fellow trustees Katie Villegas, Mary Leland and Sarah Kirby-Gonzalez in supporting the bond.

MARY LELAND: ‘community will support this bond’ (News-Ledger file photo)

MARY LELAND:
‘community will support this bond’
(News-Ledger file photo)

Board member Mary Leland was the first of the group to speak up after hearing a staff presentation on the proposed school bond. She noted that the bond would pay for campus safety measures and “ADA,” or “Americans with Disabilities Act,” compliance.

“I’ve been very anxious to see this on the agenda,” commented Leland at the meeting. “The community is willing to support this bond, and safety is very highly rated on their list. . . In addition, we’re not going to be able to provide career and college readiness if our facilities aren’t up to date.”

“I admit I as on the fence, going back and forth wondering if this was the right time,” added board colleague Sarah Kirby-Gonzalez.

SARAH KIRBY- GONZALEZ:  ‘let the voters’ decide’ (News-Ledger file photo)

SARAH KIRBY-
GONZALEZ:
‘let the voters’ decide’
(News-Ledger file photo)

She called for a “carefully thought-out” bond expenditure plan and warned that “it’s important to realize the bond will not fix everything.” The bond money would pay for about a quarter of the district’s capital improvements costs, said Kirby-Gonzalez.

Trustee Katie Villegas, who as a private citizen headed up a previous WUSD school bond measure, recalled that running a bond campaign is “a ton of work.” That bond paid for the new River City High School campus.

“I literally ran that high school bond day to day from my garage,” she said. “We’re at a time now where we need to make some investments, particularly in the north area, in our aging schools.”

Alicia Cruz, chairing the meeting, initially dissented.

“I don’t feel this is the right time for a bond,” she said, earning a bout of polite persuasion from her colleagues on the board.

ALICIA CRUZ: school board member was reluctant to support this bond (News-Ledger file photo)

ALICIA CRUZ: school board member was reluctant to support this bond
(News-Ledger file photo)

Her colleagues seemed to agree that waiting for the higher turnout of a 2016 presidential election might give the bond a better chance to pass.

“But can our district wait that  much time?” asked Villegas.  At one point, Villegas added:

“This isn’t for building a new high school or anything. This is basic stuff. Have you been to Bryte (Elementary School) lately? It’s horrible.”

Kirby-Gonzalez spoke for the majority when she suggested the board simply vote to put the bond on the November ballot, and then see what West Sacramento voters have to say about it.

“I would argue that we just put it out there,” she said. “We put it out there and let them make a choice.”

Cruz detailed one of her objections, which was to the lengthy list of possible projects that bond money could be spent on.

“What scares me is the list of items the bond will cover,” said Cruz. “I think it’s voluminous. I don’t think it’s specific.”

KATIE VILLEGAS:  campaign will be  ‘a ton of work’ (News-Ledger file photo)

KATIE VILLEGAS:
campaign will be
‘a ton of work’
(News-Ledger file photo)

But despite having “that feeling in your gut that says this is not the thing,” concluded Cruz, she eventually agreed to provide the needed fourth vote.

Why?

“Because I am part of a team and I know the district needs this,” she told her colleagues.

The per-household cost of the bond has been estimated downward. The bond resolution capped the cost at $60 per year for every $100,000 in property value, but the board was advised last week that the actual cost would be about $39 annually for every $100,000 in property value. A $300,000 home, therefore, would be taxed around $117 per year over the life of the bond repayment.

The school district conducted a public survey in February to gauge public support for a 2014 bond.

“Although the results were positive, it was clear that a bond campaign would be needed to ensure the public was aware of the need for facility funding that exceeded both (WUSD’s) and the State’s capacity,” noted a district staff report.

The community has a mixed record of supporting school bond measures.

In other business, the school board was briefed on the school district’s budget. The big picture view of the budget is that WUSD is recovering from several years of deficit spending as the State of California’s finances improve. The local district is, to some degree, repairing and rebuilding programs.

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Copyright News-Ledger 2014

Kindergarten registration in West Sac

FROM THE NEWS-LEDGER —

The local school district is accepting registration for kindergarten and for “transitional kindergarten” (TK) through August 1.

For kindergarten, a child’s first birthday must occur by September 1, 2014. For TK, the birthday must be between September 2 and December 2. Bring a birth certificate, up-to-date immunization records, copy of utility bill or other address verification, proof of physical (dated since August, 2013), dental exam record, Social Security card (optional). Pick up a registration packet at the Washington Unified School District, 930 Westacre Road.

Call 375-7600 for information.

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Copyright News-Ledger 2014