Tag Archives: school district

Five compete for open seat

NEWS-LEDGER — JAN 9, 2013 —

Former board member David Westin and temporary member Elizabeth Bagdazian are not among the candidates —

LINH NGUYEN: business owner from Southport seeks a seat on the Washington Unified School District board of trustees (courtesy photo)

By Steve Marschke
News-Ledger Editor

Five candidates have signed up for West Sacramento’s special school board election on March 5.  The all-mail ballot will ask voters to pick one person to fill the remaining term – almost two years – of former board member Sandra Vargas.

  Vargas resigned in the fall. Her remaining colleagues appointed Elizabeth Bagdazian to fill the slot, but a group of citizens successfully petitioned to overturn that appointment and force the special vote.

Neither Bagdazian nor David Westin, a former school board member narrowly voted out of office in November, are running for the vacancy.

The News-Ledger this week caught up with several of the candidates.

NICHOLAS TURNEY: former college instructor, now a parent & homemaker, is running for a school board seat in West Sacramento (courtesy photo)

The five candidates are:

Nicholas Scott Turney, a self-described parent/homemaker who lives on Watercourse Lane in northern West Sacramento.

Katherine R. Gales, reported as an “education executive assistant” and who lives on Touchstone Place in Southport.

Linh T. Nguyen, who lists himself as a business owner who lives on Huntington Road in Southport.

Sarah Kirby-Gonzalez, self-described as a parent-teacher and who hasn’t listed a street address. Her Facebook page indicates she works as a teacher in Folsom Cordova Unified School District.

Francisco Castillo, who lists himself as a parent/education advocate and who lives on Ryer Island Street in Southport.

Nicholas Turney, 33, told the News-Ledger he believes that Washington Unified School District “could use a voice more representative of the north area.”

“I’m a former college instructor and I took a leave from teaching to raise our children, so I understand the benefits of having a solid education as a basis for success in the future,” he said. “I’m not affiliated with any board members or civic leaders – I’m a totally independent candidate.”

Turney said he has a kindergarten-age daughter and a son who’s still a toddler.

KATHERINE GALES: works for state education departments, wants to give public service back (courtesy photo)

Katherine Gales, 49, said she has a grandson, two nieces and a nephew of school age.

“I’m running because I have experience and understand education and I’ve been around the block,” she said. “I think everybody should be involved (in public service) at some point in their life doing what they can do. I bring my experience, knowledge and expertise in education to the West Sacramento public schools.”

Gales said she has worked for the state education department for 14 years, and has lived in the city for three. Although she responded to a call for candidates made on Mayor Christopher Cabaldon’s Facebook page, Gales said she has not received the mayor’s endorsement or other political endorsements at this point.

Francisco Castillo, 32, said he was motivated to get involved partly by the experience of having to spend the night in front of Bridgeway Island Elementary School in order to get his child a slot in the kindergarten there.

“I work in a national educational advocacy group called StudentsFirst,” he told the News-Ledger. “I’ve been in West Sacramento about five years.”

His focus includes ensuring preschool access for all children, promoting college and career preparation, and ensuring fiscal responsibility in the district.

FRANCISCO CASTILLO: Professional education advocate, endorsed by mayor & county supervisor (courtesy photo)

“I’m happy to have the endorsements of (new board member) Katie Villegas, Mayor Cabaldon, (Yolo County Supervisor Michael) McGowan, and city councilmen Oscar Villegas and Christ Ledesma,” said Castillo.

Nguyen and Kirby-Gonzalez couldn’t immediately be reached for comment – but the News-Ledger plans to invite all candidates for an in-depth interview before the election.

The website of the local teachers’ union, the Washington Teachers Association, reports that the union has endorsed Kirby-Gonzalez, the teacher.

A sixth candidate filed to run in this race, but withdrew. That was Coby Pizotti, who ran unsuccessfully for one of the seats available in the regular election in November.

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Copyright News-Ledger 2013

EDITORIAL: same problem, different answer

EDITORIAL from the News-Ledger — JAN 9, 2013 —

In March, West Sacramento residents will vote in a special election to fill a vacant seat on the local school board.

The vacancy was already filled once – last fall, when remaining school board members accepted applications and chose West Sacramento’s Liz Bagdazian to fill the seat. But a number of citizens criticized the way this happened. The citizens, backed by Mayor Cabaldon, gathered the needed signatures to nullify this appointment and send the matter to the voters.

One of the main criticisms leveled at the school district was that it kept secret the list of candidates for the open seat, making their names public only at the final selection meeting. The News-Ledger requested the names ahead of the meeting, but the request was denied.

Let’s compare this to how Sacramento City Unified School District handled a similar school board vacancy in the fall:

According to the Sac City district website, applications for their school board vacancy were accepted until November 14. The next day, the board met to review the applications in open session, with “all applications. . . available at the Board meeting for public inspection.”

Next, each applicant was then invited to make a presentation at the board’s December 6 meeting, and time was set aside on Dec. 20 for final presentations, questions from board members, and a final vote by the school board.

In other words, Sac City invited the public to get to know the candidates and offer questions and comments about them. That could have happened here.

  Now, WUSD’s top officials are professionals with good intentions and they do a good job on many things. There was no villainy in WUSD’s selection process.

The News-Ledger’s main concerns after the West Sacramento appointment were that WUSD officials seemed to view “transparency” as a secondary goal, aiming (not always successfully) just to meet their bare legal obligations. And they did not seem to understand the state’s public record laws, which say that school district records are almost always “public” records and the district is obligated to help the public get the records it wants.

When, as a governmental entity, you try too hard to keep the public at arm’s length, sometimes it will backfire on you.

It would be better if the good people running WUSD were to consciously adopt a new policy of maximum transparency. They should educate their staff about public requests for information, release school board meeting agendas earlier than the minimum legal deadline whenever possible, and so forth. If the district’s law firm doesn’t understand “public records,” WUSD should get a new law firm.

There should be a “transparency” culture, where the public comes first.  The reward will be more trust and goodwill.

And fewer special elections.

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Copyright News-Ledger 2013

Another school board election coming

FROM THE NEWS-LEDGER — NOV 14, 2012 —

West Sacramento’s school board has chosen Tuesday, March 5, as the day to hold a special election for an existing school board vacancy.

Sandra Vargas, former member of the board, resigned in August to create the vacancy. The resignation came too late for the position to be added to last week’s regular election ballot.

The remainder of the board then solicited applicants and chose resident Elizabeth Bagdazian to fill the remaining two-years-plus of Vargas’s term.

  But a coalition of local residents, supported by Mayor Christopher Cabaldon, circulated a petition calling for the appointment to be overturned and the vacant seat to go before a vote. State law allows for such a petition.

The trustees of the Washington Unified School District chose to make the special election an “all mail” ballot — a cheaper option than the usual election with polling places. Yolo County is part of a pilot program that allows for some mail-only voting in California.

Those interested in running for the vacant seat have until Dec. 7 to file. They may pick up forms at the Yolo County Elections Office, 625 Court Street, Room B05 in Woodland. For information, call the elections office at (530) 666-8133.

  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.

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Copyright News-Ledger 2012

EDITORIAL: Neighborhood decisions

FROM THE NEWS-LEDGER — NOV 7, 2012 —

NEWS-LEDGER EDITORIAL:

“Participatory Budgeting”:

It’s an experiment that’s been tried out, so far, in Brazil, New York City and  Chicago. It just started in Vallejo. And it would be good for West Sacramento, too.

“PB” could work for both the local city government and the school district. Through participatory budgeting, community members would be invited to suggest how to spend a small part of the city or school budget – perhaps using it for small, hyper-local projects that benefit their local neighborhoods. These smaller budget amounts might not go far if spread across the city, but they could have definite local impact if they’re used to fix something or to build something small on a neighborhood-specific basis.

“PB” starts with neighborhood brainstorming sessions. In each local session, citizens choose their favorite ideas, and volunteers then turn them into proposals.

  The city council and school board then choose which proposals to fund. In West Sacramento, the city and WUSD might, for example, earmark specific lumps of money for use in each of a half-dozen neighborhood areas.

For practial reasons, we’re just talking about a small part of the whole budget for the city and the schools. The city council and school board would, of course, continue to make the big decisions about the vast majority of their respective budgets. Direct community input would just be invited for a limited “discretionary” part of the expenditures.

How might a grassroots effort choose to spend the money in West Sacramento?

When the PB community meetings began in New York City, one group was persuaded to support the humble goal of renovating the bathrooms in a local public school – bathrooms in which there was currently no room to put doors on the toilet stalls. Also on the table were discussions about security cameras in public places, new stop signs, parks projects and youth programs.

It was a great opportunity to fix some “little” problems. Websites and neighborhood assemblies fueled the idea-fest – not everyone had to go to a community meeting to submit an idea.

Aside from focusing money on small-but-important projects, the process has another attractive benefit: it’s a great way to get people involved with their local government.

Let people help make decisions on something small and hyper-local, and you may encourage them to stay in touch with their city and school district leaders.

After all, an involved community is a healthy community.

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Copyright News-Ledger 2012

CANDIDATE INTERVIEW: Mary Leland

FROM THE NEWS-LEDGER — OCT 31, 2012 —

  EDITOR’S NOTE: The West Sacramento News-Ledger newspaper traditionally invites every candidate in a local election to sit down for a published interview. This year, we had the chance to do this with every candidate in the contested local elections (school board and city council; the mayor’s race is uncontested). Below is the last in this series of interviews — our chat with school board member Mary Leland, which was published on Wednesday, Oct. 31.

By Steve Marschke
News-Ledger Editor

Mary Leland has had a rough year, with the loss of both a parent and a son. But after some soul-searching, she decided to run for a third term as a board member of the Washington Unified School District.

MARY LELAND: Hire the best, and give them encouragement, she says (News-Ledger photo)

“I have been through a lot of tragedies this year,” she told the News-Ledger. “But in the end, I’m not ready to step back and let go of all that motion forward. . . I want to show the community that I’m in it for the long haul.”

Leland, 62, is the chief fundraiser for Sacramento City College, with a master’s degree in education. She came to West Sacramento in 2001, and was encouraged to run for the school board by local business leaders, she reports.

How has WUSD changed since Leland took a seat on the school board?

“Broadly, I think we are providing a much safer environment in terms of the culture of the schools and having students interact with one another,” she said. “A lot of that comes from facilities updates. Changing the environment led to a different culture.”

She points to the remodel at Riverbank Elementary, in the less-affluent north of the city.

“Next to the new high school, one of my proudest moments was watching the Riverbank conversion,” Leland stated. “It really gives them the classrooms and technology they need. They have state-of-the-art technology that (even) our southern schools don’t have.”

The school board has helped bring a new level of professionalism to the district administration, she added.

“From my administrative viewpoint – as board members, we’re all managers – a lot of policies and processes have been put in place to get the work done in a different way. . . I think we’ve brought it to a much more academically professional level. I still think we have a way to go.”

Has the school board of 2012 been functional?

“I think we know how to work together,” she said of the four people now on the board. (The board is in flux: board president Teresa Blackmer is retiring, and board member David Westin, like Leleand, is up for election.)

  The district has faced big budget cuts due to state-wide problems. What kind of shape is WUSD in?

“I’m going to say good, because we still have an A+ bond rating,” she answered. “We’re in the black. We’re very fearful of what will happen if Proposition 30 does not pass.”

She supports state proposition 30 – the governor’s measure which would use new taxes partly to help stabilize the state’s own fiscal situation.

How good are WUSD’s schools?

“We’ve gained 82 points in API (student test results) over eight years,” said Leland. “I don’t put that down to the year I was (board) president or so-and-so was president. Over eight years, we as the board, the staff, and certainly the students and school sites have improved by 82 points.”

Leland called this year’s one-point decline in API a “plateau.” To what did she credit recent gains?

“You hire the best teachers, the best principals, and the best administrators you can, and you encourage them to do their work,” she answered.

Where does school instruction go from here?

“We’re looking at innovative strategies in ‘instructional rounds’ and innovative curriculums in science and math,” she said.

“Instructional rounds” include teams of school staff from different campuses, visiting school sites to share techniques and information.

“The teams are made up of different levels of staff,” she said. “You’ll have a principal from one site joining a round at another site.”

Leland feels that charter schools should be considered on a case-by-case basis, and she praised one of them – the Early College Prep academy at the former Westmore Oaks site.

“They’ve had a hard time getting started, but I think they’re going to do great,” she said. “That charter school meets a need for so many students” as does the Sikh-operated charter school, said Leland.

“Overall, just having blanket charter schools because there’s a perception that public schools aren’t doing their jobs – I’d say no.”

If the district receives more funding, where should the money go?

“I think we’re all interested in the north area and really doing something special there. Career technology education speaks to a menu of options for kids – not every child will go to college, but it is our responsibility to prepare them for life.” And “we really need to focus on math,” she added.

Leland said she endorses WUSD challenger Katie Villegas, is impressed by challenger Alicia Cruz, and “can work with” fellow incumbent David Westin if they’re both elected.
Voters will go to the polls on Tuesday to select from among these and other candidates.

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Copyright News-Ledger 2012

Katie Villegas, school board candidate

FROM THE NEWS-LEDGER — OCT 17, 2012 —

  EDITOR’S NOTE: This interview comes from the Oct. 17 edition of the News-Ledger newspaper. It is part of our series to bring you an in-depth look at each of the people running for city council and school board in West Sacramento this year.

By Steve Marschke
News-Ledger Editor

Katie Villegas is executive director of the Yolo County Children’s Alliance. That, and prior work with families in the West Sacramento region, have given her what she feels is a birds-eye view of what local kids need to succeed.

KATIE VILLEGAS hopes to help 'connect the dots' for WUSD (News-Ledger photo)

“Basically, every job I’ve had has been working with families and working with kids,’ she told the News-Ledger. “I’ve worked in public health, child abuse prevention and foster care. (At the Children’s Alliance), we work every day with the students and families in West Sacramento. We see the things they’re not getting, and seeing it from a different level.”

That experience, she hopes, will transfer to the board of trustees at Washington Unified School District.

“I think we need somebody who can see it from a different level, and see what we could do. That’s what I do best – connect the dots and bring in the resources.”

One of those resources is a better partnership between the school district and city government, she said.

“It’s incredibly important, and partnership with the county as well,” said Villegas. “I can bring in the city, the county, local business – which would be helpful for internships – and grand opportunities. It builds on itself.”

“I think you need to look at the whole family. If a kid comes to school hungry, how are they expected to learn? They need health insurance, dental insurance, vision insurance.”

She gives the current school board a mixed grade.

“I wouldn’t say they’re terrible and I wouldn’t say they’re functional,” Villegas commented. “Somewhere in between. . . It’s a difficult time to be a board member.”

What’s the board doing wrong?

“I think a few of them see it as ‘I’m getting into the trenches,’” she said of their tactical-level work. “But they’re micromanaging. I think (as a board member) you need to stay at the 50,000-foot level.”

  Part of the answer, she argues, is to leave more of the educational decisions to the staff, like Superintendent Dayton Gilleland.

“We actually hire really good people,” Villegas said. “Dayton has a Ph.D. in education. I’ve met with him. He’s a smart guy. Sometimes the leadership needs to be allowed to take the chances they need to take to make the district better. They’re the experts in education, they know what to do.”

Katie, 46, has a master’s degree in social work and has lived in West Sacramento for 25 years. She’s probably the best-known of this year’s school board challengers, not only because of her day job and past civic involvement, but also because she is married to West Sacramento City Councilman Oscar Villegas. The couple lives in Southport.

The pair have two kids who have attended school at Southport Elementary School before leaving the public school district. One attended Christian Brothers High School before going to Sacramento City College, and the other is currently at Christian Brothers.

“A lot of people are wondering, ‘why are you doing this?’ because my kids don’t go to school here,” she commented. “I’m doing this because I think all the kids of West Sacramento deserve a better education.”

What concerns her most is that the kids in the northern areas – those more likely to come from poor families or be among the 40 percent Latino population of WUSD – are lagging.

“The schools are not equal,” she said. “The schools out here (in Southport) are doing fairly well, but I think the schools in the north area, where our (Childrens Alliance) office is, are not doing that well. Kids of color are not doing well.”

   “If you look at how well those kids are prepared to go to college, the numbers are crazy.”

That’s one past subject of controversy between Mayor Christopher Cabaldon, who criticized WUSD for failing to prepare minorities for college, and David Westin, then-president of the school board.

“There’s a lot of lobbing (bombs) back and forth between Christopher and Dave. . . (such as) Christopher pointing out how bad the district is doing with kids of color,” Villegas stated. “(That data) is documented. But putting that into a ‘state of the city’ address’? I don’t know if that’s the most effective way to get that out there.”

Is her marriage to Councilman Villegas something that could help improve city-school district relations?

“It’s nothing but helpful,” answered Villegas. “The district and city haven’t gotten along so well. (Working with the city) is a totally big opportunity.”

Are there any conflicts of interest possible, given that the city and district sometimes need to negotiate contracts with each other?

“I think that is relatively minimal,” she said. “If there are conflicts of interest, I would listen to the attorneys” and possibly abstain from decisions.

Does Katie Villegas believe student test score results are important?

“They’re incredibly important,” she answered. “It’s a barometer of the district.”

New API scores have just been released for California campuses and districts. Did WUSD backslide?

“Not so much (in Southport),” said Villegas. “But they did in Broderick and Bryte. Overall, it’s down.”

She doesn’t give the board full credit for the past two years of big test score gains.

“I give them some credit, but kids of color are not being served,” she said.

What about charter schools: does Villegas favor the concept?

“I think that alternatives to education – because I’m one of the ones who needs them – are important,” she responded. I think we need to keep opportunities open for that.”

Villegas does believe that WUSD is in decent financial shape, considering several years of state budget cuts.

“I think Washington Unified is the most fiscally sound district in all of Yolo County,” she stated.

Villegas helped run the local 2004 high school bond campaign and has helped with her husband’s council runs. She said she has the support of WUSD school board incumbents Mary Leland and Adam Menke, as well as a number of city and regional leaders.

Will she be walking precincts and raising money for the campaign?

“All of the above,” said Villegas.

She is one of a number of challengers joining Leland and Westin in the hunt for three available school board seats on the Nov. 6 ballot.

  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 2012

Roy Sianez, running for school board:

FROM THE NEWS-LEDGER — OCT 10, 2012 —

  Editor’s note: This interview with school board candidate Roy Siañez comes from the Oct. 10 edition of the News-Ledger, West Sacramento’s weekly community newspaper. We hope these interviews help you make up your mind about the upcoming Nov. 6 ballot.

By Steve Marschke
News-Ledger Editor

Roy Siañez is a new resident of West Sacramento – his family closed escrow on a local house in February. But he wants to start serving this community. That’s why he is running for one of three seats available on the local school board on Nov. 6.

“I’m a parent,” he told the News-Ledger recently. “I understand the importance of a quality education for students and also the importance of parental involvement. I’m new to West Sacramento, but I’m not new to serving my community. . . I’m eager to bring that community activism to West Sacramento.”

ROY SIANEZ: wants to contribute to West Sacramento

Siañez, 39, is currently a policy director for Democrat Norma Torres in the State Assembly. He’s worked for other politicos on issues that span health, public safety, education, housing and other topics.

“As a legislative director, I advise her on every single issue,” he said.

Siañez does not have any kids in local schools – one daughter has graduated, and a second goes to school in another city.

He’s been active in a number of regional and state causes over the years, beginning with his own student college days.

“I was a member of the Latino Complete Count Committee, working to ensure the Latino community was counted appropriately for the 2010 census,” Siañez said. He’s also a former board member of the Oak Park Business Association. Another favorite cause is the Youth Leadership Project.

“I’ve served on that organization for nine years,” he told the News-Ledger. “Every year, we bring 120 high school students from across the state to this area in the summer. They stay in the Sacramento State University dorms for a week, at no cost to them. We pay for all their housing, registration and transportation.

Siañez believes in the value of education. He grew up in Modesto, raised by a single mother who worked in a factory.

“She spent most of her time working, so she wasn’t able to help me with school,” he reports.   “I kind of strayed in school.”

He dropped out of school, then – on the advice of a friend – enrolled in a junior college without even knowing that it was customary to transfer after a couple of years to finish a college degree.

Financial aid and fee waivers made it possible for him to go to college:

“That started my journey into higher education,” Siañez said. “I transferred to Sacramento State years later. At the junior college level, that’s where I started developing as a person and educationally. That’s where I became involved in advocacy.”

  The activism started in Latino clubs and with a run for student senate.

Then came an internship in the legislature and an ensuing career at the Capitol. He has landed near West Sacramento’s Bridgeway Lakes area.

How does he think the current school board is doing?

“I know there are several board members who have served long terms,” Siañez answered. “Longevity and continuity are generally good things.”

Test scores seem to be on the right path, he added.

“Whenever we have an increase in test scores, that’s a good thing. It means you’re doing something right. But if one school increased by ten points, and another only by five points, I want to know about that.”

What sort of financial shape is Washington Unified in?

“My understanding is that the Yolo County Office of Education has certified the school district’s budget, which is a positive thing,” said Siañez. “I would hope that could be the case for future years to come.”

But:

“It’s a scary thought about what would happen if the governor’s initiative (Proposition 30) to increase revenue doesn’t pass. I definitely think we need to increase revenue given the economic climate.”

One of the reasons Siañez believes he would make a good school board member is his own Latino experience.

“41 percent of the students in the school district are Latino,” he said. “It begs the question – if you look at the school board, and look at the students, does the school board really reflect the students?”

Siañez believes that sports and extracurricular activities are crucial for some students.

“Frosh football was great for me, because it kept me out of trouble,” he recalls. “After the season ended, my idle time became a problem. . . (After dropping out), my motivation for trying to return to high school was to play football.”

He supports “any and all programs that can help our neediest students with some of the voids they bring, to attend school.”

How does Siañez feel about charter schools?

“Not all charter schools are equal, he replied. “You have to look at whether there’s a need, and if there is a need, explain it. If there’s a public school that’s been failing, consider it. It’s a case by case basis.”

What is it in his experience that would make Siañez a good board member?

“My public policy experience, my experience as a parent, and my experience as a product of the public educational system,” he answered.

“West Sacramento is my new home,” concluded Siañez. I’m involved, and I plan to be here a long time. I’m eager to get involved and make a difference – I don’t want to wait.”
Siañez, along with several other challengers and two incumbents, is seeking one of three seats on the school board this fall.

  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 2012