Tag Archives: school

They could have been anybody’s kids

NEWS-LEDGER — DEC 26, 2012 —

‘MY BACK PAGES’: Daryl Fisher’s column

So, just what is the “Bushmaster .223 AR-15” assault rifle that was used to slaughter 20 grade school children and six of their female teachers and administrators a week ago last Friday in Newtown, Connecticut?

BY DARYL FISHER

To begin with, it’s actually a demilitarized version of the deadly M-16 rifle I carried around in the jungles of Vietnam more than 40 years ago. It’s lightweight, doesn’t have much of a recoil, and presidential candidate Michele Bachmann has even said it is her favorite gun, “because you can be so accurate with it.” Its makers officially call it a “modern sporting rifle” and one of its best-selling points is that it is set up to handle high-capacity magazines (ten or more rounds) which give the shooter the ability to fire off dozens of bullets without having to take a bunch of time out to reload.

According to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, it is also one of the most popular rifles in the country, with more than 2 million of them having been sold in the last decade alone. They usually cost anywhere from $900 to $2000, although I hear there are some really nice sales going on right now that will make you the proud owner of one for as little as $799.

In addition to being very popular with target practice enthusiasts (like Adam Lanza’s mother, who was the first of her son’s 27 victims), they have become wildly popular with mass murderers. It was the weapon of choice for the two killers who came to be known as the Beltway Snipers back in the early 2000s, terrorizing much of the Washington, D.C., area and leaving 15 people dead before they were caught. And an AR-15 (with a 100-round barrel magazine) was also one of the weapons used to shoot up an Aurora, Colorado theater not that long ago, leaving 12 dead and 58 wounded. Oh, and it was the weapon another crazed killer used in the very recent Clackamas, Oregon, shopping mall shooting that left three dead (including the gunman) and many people in that community too scared to finish their Christmas shopping.

So, as any sane person should finally get around to asking, why in the hell is such a weapon allowed to be in the hands of any American other than a soldier or police officer? Well, apparently it has something to do with the American gun culture, which now has our nation afloat in somewhere between 270 and 350 million guns. No one really knows the exact number, but whatever it is, it’s almost half of all the guns in the world.

According to the National Rifle Association (NRA), it also has something to do with the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution, which as I understand it, the Founding Fathers set up to make sure that we could each have our own musket (the kind that takes about a minute to reload) and there would be a well-regulated militia in case the British ever got back on their ships and tried to reclaim their American colonies again.

It’s one thing for a hunter to have a properly registered rifle and shotgun, and for citizens who feel they need a handgun to protect their family and possessions to own one. But to keep accepting close to 10,000 gun deaths every year in this country as simply part of the price we all have to pay for our Second Amendment rights is nothing less than madness.

The NRA, which can apparently make or break some of our most cowardly politicians, also says that we don’t really have a gun problem in this country, just a crazy people problem, and that if we really want to effectively deal with gun violence in America, all we really need to do is get off our butts and buy more guns (that really is what their organization is mostly about you know: selling more guns so they can continue to get more than half of their yearly multi-million dollar lobbying budget from gun manufacturers).

When talking to the NRA and their knee-jerk supporters, they will give lip service to everything from violent video games and movies to our inadequate mental healthcare system (all of which, by the way, should indeed be part of any serious discussion about gun violence in this country). But in their first news conference since that bloody Friday morning in Newtown, their only answer to making sure it doesn’t happen again is to put heavily armed police officers into all our schools, effectively moving future “OK Corrals” from the dusty streets of the old Wild West into our nation’s classrooms.

In reality, meaningful gun control laws can be enacted and can even work, as Australia proved less than two decades ago when they put the safety of their citizens ahead of the profits of weapons manufacturers after a gunman opened fire on tourists in a seaside resort in Port Arthur, Tasmania. By the time he had finished, that gunman had killed 35 people and wounded dozens more. It was easily the worst mass murder in Australia’s history, and only twelve days later, Australia’s conservative government announced a bipartisan deal with state and local governments to enact sweeping gun-control measures, including a massive buyback of more than 600,000 semi-automatic shotguns and rifles. Polls showed that 90 percent of the public supported those measures, and they have gone a long ways towards making Australia a much safer place to call home.

[adrotate group=”10″]   On the day I was wounded in Vietnam, 21 of the 28 members of my Aero Rifle Platoon were also hit, and two of them were killed. The scene was unimaginable, with blood and guts everywhere and with trained soldiers in shock from what they had just witnessed and somehow lived through. It was the most deadly and terrifying ambush I experienced during my year in Vietnam and yet it was nothing compared to what those poor little kids and their teachers and administrators had to face at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Twenty kindergarten and first grade students shot dead, with each of their little bodies having been hit at least three times (some as many as 11). Six brave female teachers and administrators also shot dead while trying to keep their precious students out of harm’s way.

And as someone who has seen up-close-and-personal the way a rifle like the Bushmaster AR-15 does its terrible thing, I can tell you that those poor little kids weren’t simply killed – they were blown away!

So, will meaningful gun control laws turn all the bad guys into good guys? Of course not. But all important journeys begin with the first step, and it’s way beyond time that our country and its politicians manned-up and started getting these god-awful weapons and their high-capacity magazines off our nation’s streets and out of our homes and neighborhoods.

Charlotte, Daniel, Olivia, Josephine, Ana, Dylan, Madeleine, Catherine, Chase, Jesse, James, Grace, Emilie, Jack, Noah, Caroline, Jessica, Avielle, Benjamin, and Allison could have been any of our kids and grandkids. They should all be home opening their Christmas presents this week, instead of being buried in some lonely cemetery by the completely shattered families who adored them. And each of their lovely, innocent souls deserved so much better from the nation that now mourns them.

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Copyright News-Ledger 2012

Buy a gift for a senior citizen in need

Kevin Burke is ‘Interact Club’ chairperson of the gifts-for-senior-citizens event; Kimberly Le is president of the club at River City High School (courtesy photo)

FROM THE NEWS-LEDGER — DEC 5, 2012 —

Visit the Raley’s supermarket this weekend, and volunteers from River City High School will help you brighten the holidays for a local senior citizen.

The “senior gift program” is sponsored by the West Sacramento Rotary Club, reports the Rotary’s Charyl Silva.

Seniors at the Eskaton Woodrow Wilson Manor in West Sacramento, and those served by the local senior center or Meals on Wheels program, have been invited to sign up to receive a gift. Those interested put their name and gift request on a card.

[adrotate group=”9″] This weekend from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday, volunteers from River City High School (coordinated by the students’ Interact Club) will be at Raley’s with the gift requests. Shoppers will be invited to fulfill a gift request for a local senior.

“We then wrap the gift with love, and later deliver the gifts,” said Silva.

The Interact Club is also arranging some Christmas carol singing for the event, and for a possible side trip to the senior citizens at Eskaton.

You may also contribute to the gift program by calling Silva at 372-8383.

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Copyright News-Ledger 2012

Ballots counted, Westin loses seat

BREAKING NEWS — NEWS-LEDGER ONLINE — Nov 19, 2012 —

By Steve Marschke

News-Ledger Editor

The Yolo County Elections Department has made it through the final 3,000-or-so West Sacramento ballots cast in the November 6 election. The count left local results little changed from the early totals released last week.

As elections officials began counting these absentee and provisional ballots, school board member David Westin was 88 votes short of the winners’ circle last week. The additional ballots didn’t help him.

“The final count has David Westin 108 votes back,” said Tom Stanionis, chief of staff of the elections department.

[adrotate group=”7″] The new count leaves the winners in the Washington Unified School District race unchanged. Challenger Katie Villegas is at the top of the chart with 7,658 votes (24.7%), challenger Alicia Cruz has 6,086 votes (19.6%) and incumbent Mary Leland holds onto the third slot with 5,671 votes (18.3%).

Falling short were Westin (5,563 votes, or 18.0%), Coby Pizotti (2,413 votes, 7.8%), Roy Sianez (1,844 votes, 6.0%) and Walt R. Bowman (1,739 votes, 5.6%).

In the fight for two seats on the West Sacramento City Council, William “Bill” Kristoff ended up with 10,114 votes (45.4%) and Oscar Villegas took the second spot with 9,987 votes (44.8%).

City council challenger Oleg Maskaev fell short, with 2,168 votes, or 9.7%.

Mayor Christopher Cabaldon was unopposed, drawing 12,766 votes.

Total turnout was 15,719 (67.8%) of 23,168 registered voters, reports the elections office. These results, while complete, are unofficial.

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Copyright News-Ledger 2012

School district redesigns website

FROM THE NEWS-LEDGER — NOV 7, 2012 —

Washington Unified School District in West Sacramento invites you to visit its redesigned website at www.wusd.k12.ca.us.

The site boasts “several customer service-oriented features, including mobile-enabled viewing, a search feature, greatly improved navigation, news/announcements” and more, said a district press release.

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Copyright News-Ledger 2012

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.

[adrotate group=”10″]   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.

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Copyright News-Ledger 2012

CANDIDATE INTERVIEW: David Westin

FROM THE NEWS-LEDGER — OCT 24, 2012 —

  EDITOR’S NOTE: The News-Ledger interviewed each candidate for West Sacramento’s city council and school board during the past couple of month, in an effort to help voters get to know them and their positions. Below is the result of our interview with school board incumbent David Westin, published in the newspaper on Oct. 24:

By Steve Marschke
News-Ledger Editor

DAVE WESTIN: Believes in accountability for management of West Sacramento public school district (photo from WUSD website)

“Philosophically, I believe the district functions best when you have parents on the school board who have kids in the district,” said school board incumbent David Westin, who is seeking another term. “I think there’s a disconnect when people are using the school board as a stepping stone for city council or county supervisor.”

Westin and his family live in the Bridgeway Lakes part of Southport. He and his wife have had seven kids (one is deceased).

“I’m very proud to have children in the Washington Unified School District,” he told the News-Ledger. “I have one in first grade, one in third, and one will be entering kindergarten next fall.”

Westin is currently an executive for a German tech company. He has a bachelor’s degree in business finance from USC and an accounting certificate from Golden Gate University.

Westin believes that the district’s API performance is a meter of its recent success. In the two years preceding this one, WUSD saw its performance on this index of student test scores go up a total of 48 points. This year, there was a one-point slip.

“We’ve been able to change the culture in the district, and run it more like a business, with quantifiable goals and objectives,” he said. “During my two terms as board president, we were the top-rated school district in the state of California.”

That rating, he said, was based on the improvements in API scores.

How much is Westin responsible for the gains?

“I think I take some of the credit for being board president during those record-breaking years, and setting the vision that enabled us to achieve that,” he answered. “However, that said, the credit really goes to the administrators, staff, parents, teachers and the kids who did the work.”

Other positive signs for West Sacramento’s public school district include an increase in the state funding that comes in proportion to the “ADA,” or average daily attendance. Local schools are getting more ADA money because they are seeing more students from day to day in the classrooms.

“You’re seeing that in the additional $370,000 in ADA we’ve picked up,” said Westin. “That means two things – one, more people are putting their kids in the district, and two, the attendance rate has gone up so we’re engaging kids more effectively. . . The dropout rate has gone down significantly. It beats the county and state averages.”

So why did the API scores cease their upward climb this year?

Some of that is due to the economic instability of families, and to other changes like drawing new boundaries for local school attendance and changing the campuses attended by some kids, he said.

“This year, there was a one-point drop in API district-wide. There was a lot of that drop in the north. I would say that when we have families hurting, that’s going to affect the kids – they may not have stable home life or the resources to (compete).”

“There are districts like Natomas, Rancho Cordova, etc., that have fallen completely off the cliff with test scores. We’ve been able to hold steady.”

Westin believes “the current model is solid” and the school board “is doing a very good job” despite big cuts in state funding that have translated into harsh measures like reduction of most school bus service.

[adrotate group=”7″]   “I think the number-one challenge is money,” he commented.

He said he backs the political endorsements of the California School Boards Association, which urges “yes” votes on the governor’s Proposition 30 and Molly Munger’s Prop. 38 – both of which may use taxes in part to help out public schools.

If money starts to come back, where would Westin spend it?

“Number one is to reinstate busing,” he answered. I think that’s strategically important. Number two, is that the number-one issue from the parents’ perspective is to get kids to do their homework. So having more after-school homework support groups for kids is (my other) top priority.”

Another tactic to improve education:

“One of the things that will take the district to the next level is to implement a peer-to-peer program so that principals from different schools can go see how other schools in the district are run, and take ‘best practices.’ Also teachers – so a math teacher from, say, Riverbank can go see how math is taught at Bridgeway or how English is taught at Southport, or how they do it at Westmore Oaks. . . I think everyone has been focusing on taking the district to (this) level and this is what will take it to a higher level.”

What about charter schools: does Westin tend to approve of them, or disapprove of them?

“I don’t have a bias,” he answered. I am an independent person who can put children first, politics second. It’s a case-by-case basis (for considering them).”

What does a board member’s job description look like, according to this veteran school board member?

“Insuring there is accountability, transparency and bottom-line results.”

Westin reports having been endorsed by retiring board president Teresa Blackmer, current board member Adam Menke, challenger Alicia Cruz, the River City Democratic Club and the local teachers’ union.

Is Westin running hard for re-election to the board of trustees?

“I’m very active in walking precincts and I enjoy meeting the public,” he said. “One of the things that sets me apart from everybody else is, for the last eight years, I’ve had regular office hours at my house every Monday from 5-6.”

Interested people may call him at 376-0880 to schedule an appointment to talk about their WUSD concerns, said Westin.

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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.”

[adrotate group=”7″]  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.

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Copyright News-Ledger 2012