RICHMOND -- Improving student achievement and communication with the school community are top priorities for four candidates vying for two seats on the West Contra Costa school board.
During a recent election forum, the candidates acknowledged tensions between the district and parents in Hercules and Pinole who feel excluded. Incumbent Antonio Medrano joined challengers Randy Enos, Todd Groves and Robert Studdiford in the discussion, which also touched on state propositions and district ballot measures. The forum can be seen on CCTV. Trustee Tony Thurmond is not seeking re-election.
After the district's June parcel tax failed, Board President Charles Ramsey said Hercules and Pinole didn't show enough support for the measure and suggested the cities consider breaking off from the district. But none of the candidates thought that idea made sense.
Instead, to make sure all areas of the district are represented, Medrano said the district should switch to "ward" elections, designating each of its five seats to different cities.
"I have heard some of the discontent," he said. "Residents of Hercules and Pinole should find someone to run."
The other three candidates disagreed and said better communication would solve the problem."What we're looking at is the feeling in Pinole and Hercules that they've basically been ignored," Enos said. "Anybody elected needs to recognize you can't leave people away from decision-making."
The board, Studdiford said, should embrace the district's diversity. He promised to be open and communicate regularly with the district's cities.
"Really, what is required is conversation," he said. "It's creating relationships."
Groves advocated decentralizing decision-making to give schools more autonomy to set priorities and curriculum.
"Each of our communities is very unique," he said. "Curriculum in one is not going to work in others."
All of the candidates endorse state Propositions 30 and 38, which would help fund education, saying the district needs all the money it can get to stave off cuts.
Although property owners in the district have one of the highest tax burdens in the state due to previous parcel taxes and bond measures, every candidate supported the district's parcel tax extension and a new $360 million bond measure on the Nov. 6 ballot. The loss of the parcel tax would force teacher layoffs, and more construction money is needed to upgrade and rebuild schools, they said.
During candidate forums and separate interviews, the candidates stressed the importance of dealing head-on with the district's low achievement in test scores, and they offered suggestions for engaging and retaining students.
Medrano said he would work to break down barriers between high school and colleges by improving transition programs. He also plans to promote more parent and community involvement in schools and more opportunities for students to work in the community, through partnerships with businesses and others who want to help.
Enos said he is committed to ensuring that students perform at high levels, keeping schools safe and improving communication. He also said that the district should intensity its focus on math and writing, while providing extra support to students who need it.
Groves said he wants to set clear, higher, consistent expectations for student learning and behavior, while giving schools and teachers more leeway to be creative and get away from rote teaching. As a board member, he said he would work to build trust and buy-in from unions for a more collaborative approach to helping students achieve.
Studdiford said the board needs to listen to teachers and respect their opinions about how to implement the new Common Core Curriculum approved by the state.
Occupation: Retired high school principal
Elected history: First-time candidate
Personal background: Married with two children; East Richmond resident
Education: A.A., Contra Costa College; B.A. in political science, UC Berkeley; teaching credential, UC Berkeley; M.A. in educational leadership, UC Berkeley
Occupation: Parent/school volunteer
Elected history: First-time candidate
Personal background: Married with two children; El Cerrito resident
Education: A.B. in neuroscience, Oberlin College
Occupation: Retired community college and high school teacher
Elected history: Elected in 2008; ran unsuccessfully in 2006
Personal background: Lives in San Pablo
Education: B.S., University of San Francisco
Elected history: Second-time candidate; ran unsuccessfully in 2008
Personal background: Married with two sons; El Cerrito resident
Education: Attended high school
An Election Preview 2012 televised round-table with West Contra Costa school board candidates -- produced through a partnership between the Contra Costa Times, League of Women Voters of Diablo Valley, Contra Costa Television and the Contra Costa Election Department -- can be viewed on Channel 28 at 1 p.m. Friday, 10 p.m. Tuesday, 9 p.m. on Oct. 13, 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. on Oct. 14, 12 p.m. on Oct. 16, 10 a.m. on Oct. 22, 1 p.m. on Oct. 26, 9 p.m. on Oct. 29, 8:30 p.m. on Nov. 2, 10 p.m. on Nov. 3, 1 p.m. on Nov. 5, 9 a.m. and 6 p.m. on Nov. 6.
The forum is also available at www.contracostatimes.com/elections.
For more details about the candidates, read the On Assignment blog at www.ibabuzz.com/onassignment.