Five candidates running for Roseville City School District

Three board seats open for local district
By: Sena Christian, The Press Tribune
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The Roseville City School District is experiencing something unusual for the area — growth. While the three other local school districts face declining enrollment or are staying relatively stagnant, Roseville City School District has steadily increased its student population an average of 3 percent annually for the past five years. The district now has about 9,800 students attending its 17 elementary and middle schools. But, like other districts throughout the state of California, budget concerns plague Roseville City School District. The terms of district board members Krista Bernasconi, Stella Premo and Rene Aguilera expire this year, which leaves three seats available. In July, Premo was appointed to a seat on the board and she’s running in the election to keep her seat. Aguilera is running for re-election. The Press Tribune recently sat down with the five candidates. Rene Aguilera Age: 49 Occupation: Associate Governmental Program Analyst for Caltrans Family: unmarried, no kids Q: Tell me about yourself. A: I was born and raised in Roseville. I attended Cirby School, Warren T. Eich Intermediate School and graduated from Roseville High School. My mother was one of the district’s first Spanish translators and community liaisons. In 2002, I thought, “Maybe I can run (for the school board) and be a role model like my mother.” Q: How have you liked being on the school board? A: It’s definitely been very educational. Because I’m not a teacher, I’m not a principal, I’m not an administrator. I’m a community person. Our job is like being on a 10,000-foot helicopter where we don’t want to micromanage, we just want to help set policy and direction to make sure the superintendent and principals are allowed enough resources to do the things they need to do to make sure our kids are educated. Q: Why do you want to run for a third term? A: I have a lot of experience and I want to continue learning how to help teachers, principals and the superintendent. As a proven leader, I’d come back and help the new members on the board. I would continue to advocate for the educational needs of our students, which is now close to 10,000, which is just amazing. Q: What are some pressing issues facing the district? A: Some of the things that we’ve cut out of the budget are janitorial and maintenance needs. (But) we want to make sure when kids come to school they are able to work in a clean environment. We don’t want to cut teachers. We don’t want to touch classified employees because they (provide) support. We can get away with (cutting) some of the maintenance needs and saving money on energy by turning off lights. Surprisingly, I think we saved thousands of dollars (through) energy conservation. Other issues are special education, English as a Second Language and GATE students, which are our gifted students. The needs of those students must be taken care of as well, and I feel like I’m a champion in those areas. Q: What do you hope for the future of this school district? A: We have planned in the next 10 years the opening of 10 schools. It’s important we continue to hire the best teachers we can get in our district and the best principals. In 2014, Superintendent (Richard) Pierucci is going to be retiring. It’s important that we select a good superintendent to keep the great history of this school district. Our community needs to celebrate our diversity. We have a great Ukrainian population, Punjabi population, Polish American — this mixture with the Latino and Caucasian cultures is a great mix. I think that’s one of the reasons why kids like to be in this district, because they learn a lot from each other. Ronald Hickey Age: 46 Occupation: Pittsburg Unified School District administrator Family: Wife Jo'Vel and two children Q: Why are you running for the school board?? A: I have a passion for education. Two things really generate my commitment to education. A few years back, Intel asked India to start a program at their universities that would create (Intel) employees. It was interesting that they did not ask universities here to do that. I asked myself, “Is that a confidence issue (with) public education?” We have the most aggressive assessments of any state but our average daily attendance per student funding is at the bottom. I don’t think public education is properly preparing kids for the workforce. We’ve got to do better if we’re going to offer our children a quality education. Without a quality education they become disenfranchised from pursuing a quality life. When I look at my kids, I’m not comfortable putting them in public education. So I have a responsibility to do what I can so one day I am comfortable putting my kids in public education. Q: What do you consider the most pressing issues facing the district? A: I think the pressing issues in the local district are the pressing issues we have globally. The majority of schools in RCSD, the API scores are wonderful. But what does an Academic Performance Index score really mean? Education has to be relevant to the job market. When you focus on API and assessments, you turn a student into a person who does well with rote memorization. But employers need employees who can think. I’m not sure high API scores relate to a critical thinker. Q: How can the local district better prepare students? A: Let good teachers be good teachers, and professionally develop teachers who are not up to par and let them do their job (with) more flexibility with curriculum. I think curriculum has become so rigid because we’re teaching to the test. Q: What can you bring to the school board? A: As a (public schools administrator), I oversee large budget dollars. I know administrators, I know teachers, I know their complaints (and) issues. I’m a mentor in the Sacramento City Unified School District, so I have the child’s perspective, as well. I’m a member of the Roseville Chamber of Commerce so I understand how important education is to employers. Q: What do you hope for the future of your district? A: It’s what I hope for education in general in the United States. I hope we get away from a portion of assessment exams that have forced administrators and teachers to be accountable to the results of tests and not focus on rigor and child development. Martin Luther King Jr. said it best. He said education was twofold — it should impart intelligence and character. I truly believe the most critical issue of the 21st century is education. Until we get education right, we can’t begin to solve the social ills of our country. For more information, visit Stella Premo Age: 40 Occupation: Program director for The Vanir Foundation Family: Husband Nate and two children Q: Why are you running for the school board? A: When my son was at Cooley Middle School, I served on the Parent Teacher Club. I’ve supported different fundraising events. I also served on the Measure H Citizen’s Oversight Committee several years ago when we had a bond. Right now, I participate with the Roseville Chamber of Commerce’s education committee, so I’ve done Principal for a Day. At my job, I work with (underserved) elementary schools across the state. The programs we put into the schools are all to get students academically proficient in math, science and reading. Because of the work I’ve done throughout the state for a few years now, it made me wonder what I’m doing here at home to help in my own backyard. Q: What do you think are the district’s strengths? A: The best parts would be the strong relationship the district has with the City of Roseville. It (also) seems the administration is supportive of all of its employees and works really hard with different unions to provide a collaborative approach. I’m still learning, but from an outside-in perspective that’s one of the things I’ve noticed. When it comes to academic performance, we’re doing well. Is there room for improvement? Yes. Q: What are some of the pressing issues facing the district? A: The funding cuts that we continue to face every single day. From the student perspective, how do we reach the underserved in our community — (for example), the English language learners — and how do we get them to excel academically? Q: How would you help address budget issues? A: Very carefully. Making sure as we move forward and face difficult decisions that we take a look at every single alternative and option to make sure the best interests of our children are taken into consideration. (Also) having a stronger relationship with our city and business community and (working with) the Roseville City School Foundation to see what we can do. I think the foundation has done a really great job because they’ve done surveys to find out what the schools’ biggest needs are and they’ve done a good job fundraising to meet those needs. The organization is still young so it has opportunity for growth. Q: What do you hope for the future of your district? A: My vision is to ensure that we are preparing our kids at the elementary school level with the proficiency or skills needed in order for them to successfully complete high school. Whether they choose to go to college, or a trade or just be employable, we lose too many kids at the high school age because they’re not prepared academically. That’s not the only reason. … but that’s one less challenge they have to face. Hallie Romero Age: 43 Occupation: Stay-at-home mom Family: Husband Robert and two children Q: Why did you decide to run for the school board A: We watched our kids’ school being built right down the street (and) over the years, I jumped in and tried to help as much as possible. It was exciting to really build the school from the ground up. I was extremely active in the Parent Teacher Club. I served as president, vice president. I also worked with the Roseville City School Foundation, which raises funds for teacher grants and technology in our schools. When these board positions became available, some people suggested I become a bigger part of the overall picture. Q: What do you think you can bring to the board? A: I think the main thing I would bring is a parent’s perspective. As a parent that’s been very involved over the years, I see things from the view of the student. I’ve been in the classroom. I’ve worked with the teachers directly. Q: What are the most pressing issues facing the district right now? A: Of course, the economy. Being fiscally responsible yet making sure we ensure the education of our students — that’s a difficult balance. Roseville City School District is a fantastic district that ranks highly in testing each year and it’s one of the only districts in California that’s still growing and expanding. Making sure we’re able to expand and watching how we spend our money and making sure education stays at that top quality is a balance we need to focus on in coming years. I also believe technology is very important. Our children need that background. We may not have the funding to put the highest quality (technology) in our schools at the moment but as we move on, how are we going to make sure (students) can be 21st-century learners? Q: How do you balance fiscal responsibility with maintaining programs for students? A: Well, I don’t even know that our country has figured that out yet. Being diligent to find the expenses, to cut where necessary but try not to take away from the educational aspect. If we’re moving to a new math system, we don’t use the math books from the 1950s, that’s an expense that has to be made. You have to take each piece and be aware you’re affecting people’s lives, whether it’s the kids’ lives or the employees’ lives. Q: What do you want for the future of your district? A: At the district level, (we need to) communicate. Parents need to know what’s going on. The more people feel connected, the more they’re going to be involved. The more they feel like they have a say and know what’s going on, the more they’re going to pay attention and look to make it better. For more information, visit Brian Vlahos Age: 45 Occupation: Commercial construction worker Family: Wife Kim and three children, one grandchild Q: Why are you running for the school board? A: My family has been here 85 years. I’ve lived in Roseville my whole life and my three kids were born and raised here. I have a history in the town that means a great deal to me. Roseville’s always been a great place to live and I would like to give back somehow. I started going to Roseville Joint Union High School District board meetings last year when my son was a freshman. I go to City Council meetings (and RCSD) meetings. The elementary level is the most pivotal, formative years (for kids). I want to help younger kids enjoy the same prosperity from their public education that my family did. Q: Have you been involved in the school district before this? A: Just when my kids were in school, helping with events. I coached my oldest son. I helped with fundraisers, (but) never really government or political-type stuff. Q: What do you consider the most pressing issues facing the district right now? A: Obviously, budget. Keeping the high standard of education where it is. This is a personal (issue) — respect. You see a lot of kids these days have lost respect for (older people). I’d like to find ways to bring respect back. Q: How would you help address budget issues? A: Go through line-by-line and find things we don’t necessarily need. I assume the (district administrators) do that and I want to let people do their jobs but I think there needs to be some oversight and reconsideration of certain things. Travel, out-of-the-area training — things that are important but maybe we can cut back on. I know there are smarter people than me, but sometimes, like in construction, you can be in construction for 27 years and the kid who’s brand new and never touched a tool could walk up and say, “Why you doing that? Why don’t you do it this way?” Q: What would you bring to the board? A: I’ve been in construction for 27 years. Working on large commercial projects, you have to coordinate all the crafts and all the different groups with their wants and needs — you have to get them all together to focus on the end goal. You’re dealing with the workers and being able to understand the budget. I think I bring a different perspective to the school board. I’m the kind of person (that) tries to get all the facts before I make a decision and I think that’s what we need right now. You’ve got to work with people and all come together to a collective decision. Q: What do you hope for the future of your district? A: The main goal is to keep what we have and improve on that. Keep the positive atmosphere going and don’t let people get down on this economic stuff. Sena Christian can be reached at