On Tuesday evening September 25, the PTA and the Burney Boosters hosted a “Meet the Candidates” program at Burney Elementary School. Four candidates are running for three available positions on the Fall River Joint Unified School District Board of Trustees. Two of the candidates, Ignacio Venegas and Teri Vigil, are incumbents. Rick Dougherty and Bill Myers are seeking election to the Board for the first time. About 50 people attended.
Rick Dougherty is District Manager for Burney Basin Mosquito Abatement District. He lives in Burney and has one son and three grandchildren in the school district. Both of his daughters graduated from Burney High School. He has been a volunteer leader with 4-H and Little League and is an ordained elder and lay preacher in New Hope Evangelical Presbyterian Church. In the past he has received California State Teaching credentials for agriculture, social studies, and industrial technology. He graduated from Chico State in Animal Science and has worked in agriculture in Northern California.
Bill Myers is the father of two Fall River High School graduates. His wife is a FRJUSD teacher, and he volunteers regularly at both Fall River High School and Burney Elementary. He also serves as chaplain for the Fall River Valley Community Food Pantry and chaplain/counselor for InterMountain Hospice. Until recently he served for over fifteen years as pastor of The Glenburn Community Church. He is the proprietor of Fall River Photo. He has graduate degrees in counseling, religion, and cross-cultural engagement.
Ignacio (Iggy)Venegas was born and raised in the Intermountain area and graduated from Fall River High School. He been on the FRJUSD Board of Trustees since November 2009. Since June 2003 he has been a Youth Leader for Fall River Full Gospel Church. From 2004- 2015, he served as a volunteer for the Fall River Fire Department. He has been Ajumawi band representative and Pit River Council member since September 2013. He served as Chairman of the Pit River Health Board from 2005-2013. Since June 2001 he has worked at Sierra Pacific industries where he is currently employed as a power plant operator at a cogeneration plant. In addition, he has spent many hours over the years volunteer coaching football and soccer and assistant coaching baseball.
Teri Vigil. has been a trustee on the Fall River Joint Unified Board for seventeen years. She currently serves as Board President. Her children attended school in the district and are very successful due to the education they received here. Elected as delegate for region two, she represents all the school board members in Shasta County at the Delegate Assembly for California School Board Association. She lobbies in Sacramento and Washington DC on behalf of rural schools and the students of our district.
Martha Ugbinada, President of the PTA began the program by introducing the candidates. Bill Bowers President of Burney Boosters then led everyone in saying the Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag. Mr. Bower then introduced Sarah Clark who served as moderator.
Ms. Clark asked the candidates four questions that were compiled by the PTA and other people. Each candidate was allowed 2 minutes to respond to each question. Afterwards, the candidates were asked an additional two questions submitted by the audience.
The first question was “Please tell us why you want to be on the School Board? What will your priorities be for the coming year?”
Teri Vigil said that she wants to be on the school board “for the students.” She listed the goals that the board had set for the coming year: to maintain fiscal sovereignty; to utilize technology to improve instructional practices, to keep the schools safe; address bullying; to make sure that graduating students are college and career ready; to foster a positive school culture of communication and trust; and to increase awareness of cultural differences and diversity and address student trauma. She stressed addressing the “whole child” and professional development.
Ignacio Venegas said that since he first ran for the school board he has wanted to help kids and bridge the gap with the Native American and Mexican community. He also has worked to secure money and grants for school programs. Believing that the school board is accountable to the community, he has encouraged parents and members of the community to contact him so he can direct them to the right people to resolve issues. Over the past eight years he has been able to raise over $100,000 in grants through connections to the Native American community. These grants are not just to benefit Native American children but for books, computers, special needs equipment and many other programs that benefit all of the students.
Bill Myers said that his priority running for the school board is to “be me.” He said that he doesn’t know that he wants to be on the school board because it seems like a lot of work with a considerable learning curve. However, people who know him and are familiar with his volunteer work have encouraged him to run because they think that his personality, skill set, education, and background in public education would be a valuable asset for the board. He favors an approach that addresses not only the needs of students, but also teachers and administrators and reaches out to involve marginalized members of the community to increase their involvement for the future welfare of the community.
Rick Dougherty said that he is running because he felt an overwhelming need to help meet the challenges that he has become aware of through his involvement with the educational community and conversations with other parents. He also wanted to be sure that someone from Burney was running since Randy Ollar is stepping down from the Board. He has one child and three children attending school in the district. He wants to have a healthy, safe, and effective learning environment for both struggling kids and well-performing kids. He would like to see the district hire more behavioral specialists and counselors.
The second question was “Please share your experience as a student in the public school. As a board member you will be setting policy for the district. Does your experience as a student influence that? If so, how?
Venegas answered that he grew up and attended schools here. He said that he grew up poor. A large percentage of students in the district come from economically disadvantaged homes and he can relate to these students. Some kids come to school hungry, some have to share clothes with their brothers or sisters.
“Those are the kids we want to reach.” he said.
He emphasized that there is no one “cookie-cutter” system that meets the needs of all students. We need to understand the emotional needs of the children and the conditions they may be dealing with in their homes such as drug abuse or family problems. He wants the schools to be a place where every child can learn and be nurtured.
Myers said that he had been a student who was “difficult to keep in class.” Not because he left but because he was often removed. He recounted several humorous anecdotes. He remembers that there were plenty of safety nets and professional personnel in the Wilmington School District in Southwest Ohio where he attended school who could “pick up the slack” to address such situations. Due to budgetary constraints and regulations that is no longer true. His vision is to expand the network of qualified volunteers from the community who can work with the school officials and specialists to ensure an adequate safety net that will meet student needs.
Dougherty shared that after sixth grade he didn’t like school and didn’t want to be there. His father was a teacher for 30 years. Later in life when his father was encouraging him to get his teacher credentials, he asked his father why he should become a teacher when he had hated school. His father explained that that is exactly why he should become a teacher because he would be able to emphasize with those students who felt the way that he had. He hopes that his perspective will increase the Board’s ability to help struggling kids.
Vigil grew up in a large comprehensive high school in Los Angeles. She participated in an alternative program “School within a School.” That taught her that all kids learn differently. Therefore it is necessary to have a wide range of programs dealing with the diverse needs, capabilities, and backgrounds of the children including the emotional needs and trauma of children growing up in poverty. She feels that the Board’s professional development has been growing to address the needs of the whole child.
The third question was “We have four comprehensive schools in our district, and five alternative education sites. Which ones are you most familiar with? Why? How do you plan to gain information about other sites in order to be sure that their needs are met?
Myers said that Burney Elementary is where his wife teaches, where he has volunteered, and where he has engaged in advocacy journalism for several years. His wife began her teaching career at Fall River High School and his two children attended school there. He has worked with staff and students at Burney High School and Soldier Mountain through other volunteer activities. Fall River Elementary he is less familiar with. In learning more about of the sites he wants to learn from staff, parents and students at each site while at the same time being sensitive to relationships with administers, staff and teachers so as not to upset the chain of command.
Dougherty has substitute taught at all four major sites and three of the alternative sites. His kids and grandkids attend school in Burney so he is most familiar with the schools in Burney. He is also familiar with the vocational educational program in Fall River High School through the Inter-Mountain Fair. His goal is to visit each site at least once a semester during the normal school day.
Vigil said that she views the district as “one district” and that all students are equally important. She gave an example of a donor in Fall River who donated a large sum of money for one on one devices for Fall River. The Board was grateful for the donation but immediately set to work with the Superintendent and the CFO to find the money to provide the same advantage for students in Burney. Every child in the district now has a Chromebook.
Having her children attend schools in the district for 20 years and serving on the Board for 17 years she has been at programs throughout the district and gotten to know lots of people in Burney and Fall River. She looks forward to serving all of the children in the district if reelected.
Venegas said that he has tried to represent and promote both Burney and Fall River. He has been visible throughout the District and has visited all of the sites in order to try to make informed decisions. He has enjoyed visiting the sites to see how things run and to meet a lot of the children. He has learned a lot over the last nine years by doing so. He is very proud of the fact that they are one Board representing one district and that the kids are ahead of the curve in many areas.
Question number four was “As a board member, what challenges will you face, and how do you plan to meet these challenges in the coming year?
Dougherty said that his biggest challenge will be learning the details of how the Board operates. As manager of the Mosquito Abatement District he has experience working with that Board and understands things such as the Brown Act. He has already begun doing research on school board operations and responsibilities and also believes that Superintendent Hawkins and other staff will be very helpful. He feels that there are a lot of good things going on in the district and he wants to help and support the development of such programs.
Vigil said that the biggest challenge will be budget. California ranks 46th in the nation for school funding receiving about $1200 less per student than the national average. She helps lobby in Sacramento and Washington DC for increased funding for schools in California and will continue to do so. “Money can change so fast in education.” Eighty to eighty-five percent of budget goes for salaries and compensation. The District has raised salaries by about 20% over the past five years.. It is important to keep an eye on the money so we can stay fiscally solvent and provide the academic programs that children need.
Venegas agreed with Vigil on the importance of funding and said that is why he continues to seek grants to supplement funding. He also said that it is important to be proactive in safety. Noting school shootings across the country, he said that we can’t assume it won’t happen here and we need to be proactive.
Meyers answered the question from a personal point of view and said that his challenge in serving on the Board will be to generate adequate household income for his family and still maintain his volunteer activities. Based on 35 years of experience he has faith that he will be able to do so even though he is not sure how.
After all candidates had answered the four prepared questions, moderator Clark read two additional questions that had been presented by members of the audience.
The first was “What role could the board have in recruiting qualified teaching and staff for our rural community?”
Vigil said that it was important to have fair compensation and a supportive environment for teachers and staff. She also spoke of her work for the State School Boards Association and lobbying efforts in Sacramento to provide tax credits, low interest loans for housing, and other benefits to encourage teachers to teach in rural area. She also emphasized encouraging students to do their student teaching in the areas of their four year degrees to facilitate accreditation and hiring. She added that the shortage of teachers is not only local or rural, but statewide.
Venegas said that over the last years teachers coming and going has been an issue. If you want to get good people pay them fair and if you want to keep good people pay them what they are worth.
Myers said there are similar issues attracting personnel to the Intermountain Area in healthcare and other professions. One model that has worked is to have programs to develop career oriented relationships with local students, support and maintain them as they go through college, and encourage them to return to the area where they were raised for employment.
Dougherty commented on pay, looking at disparity between administrative pay and teacher salaries, and providing a safe environment. He said we should look to colleges such as Chico State where students come from rural areas and might be more likely to want to come teach in a rural school.
The second question from the audience was “Do you have any realistic dreams you feel the Board can achieve?”
Venegas said he wants to work with the board to provide better education for greater opportunities. He wants the kids to feel that they have been well prepared when they go to college.
Myers stressed the importance of letting people in the community know all of the good things that are already happening in the school system. This increases community pride and participation. He noted the many activities that are supported by local service organizations like the Rotary and the Lions and ad hoc committees that he has helped make known through advocacy journalism.
Dougherty agreed that the local clergy, sheriff’s organization, Rotary, Lions, and others have been working with the school district for years to support the youth. When he got his teaching credentials, he wrote a paper about how much community involvement helps the school system. Stressing the realistic he said that we are up against is the “substance abuse, the broken families, and the poverty.” Even if these problems are diminished, we can’t expect them to just go away. Therefore, we need to keep plugging away in order to make the dream of a safe, healthy, effective learning environment a reality.
Vigil said that her dream for the district is that “every child feels precious and loved and that every child have the opportunity to go on to higher education, or technical work, or whatever they want to do.” Children should be college or career ready when they graduate. She gave the example of her daughter who was lucky enough to go to Harvard. She had no difficulty because the teachers of the district had taught her well. She gave another example of a Hispanic boy who got several scholarships at Chico State. His parents who came from Mexico had maybe only a second grade education and now he is studying to become an engineer. These are the dreams that are becoming a reality in our schools. Families are being changed generationally. Parents dream dreams for their children and we have the opportunity to make those dream come true.
Sarah Clark closed the program by thanking everyone for coming and inviting people to stay for refreshments. The four candidates and people who attended stayed for an hour after the panel discussion to continue the conversation on an informal basis.
Thanks to Burney Elementary School, the PTA, and the Burney Boosters for this opportunity to “Meet the Candidates.”
To view video of hearing see Meet the Candidates for 2018 Fall River Joint School Board Election