October 8, 2004

Sweetwater school district board candidates

By Pablo Jaime Sainz

The nine candidates for two seats on the Sweetwater School District Board have one thing in common: They all say the students’ education is their priority.

And they’re doing everything they can to convince the public they’re the best candidate to serve on the board.

Members of the Board of Trustees provide policy direction to the superintendent and district staff of the Sweetwater Union High School District. They are elected to four-year terms and select board officers from among themselves.

With more than 39,000 students in grades seven through 12 and another 41,000 adult learners, the Sweetwater District is the largest secondary district in California. It serves the south San Diego county communities of Bonita, Chula Vista, EastLake, Imperial Beach, National City, Otay Mesa, San Ysidro/south San Diego.

The vast majority of the students are of Mexican-American and Latino descent.

Seat No. 2

The race for Seat No. 2 has only two candidates: Pearl Quiñones, who is running for re-election and is the president of the Board at this moment, and Stan Canaris, a former principal of Eastlake High School.

Canaris, 65, has worked in the district for more than 30 years. That experience, he said, gives them the skills needed to move the district in a good direction—something the board needs, he stated.

“I have the qualities to make a positive change,” Canaris said. “Every decision we make should be made in the best interest of the students. The current Board is not doing that. We need a complete change of attitude about the way we do things. We need to have an independent audit to evaluate how we’ve done business in the last four to eight years and have it recommend how we can do better.”

Canaris said that the biggest challenge the district faces at this time is the lack of facilities and the lack of school repairs.

“I went and asked the community and the teachers for recommendations and there’s consensus: We need more classrooms,” he said.

When it comes to helping Mexican-American students, many of whom are English-learners, Canaris said that “We need to provide after-school programs where these students can get the skills they need to learn English”.

Pearl Quiñones, 50, of National City, said that four years ago she became the first Latina to be elected to the Sweetwater District board. She points out the district achievements during her term: guaranteed admission programs for Sweetwater graduates to attend San Diego State University, Point Loma Nazarene University, and Alliance International University; and the construction of three new campuses in two years.

“Four years are not enough,” she said. “We need to get more parents involved in the education of their children.”

Quiñones works at Smythe Elementary School in San Ysidro as a drop-out prevention specialist. She said that being a Latina of Mexican-American descent, she can relate to the experience of many students in the South Bay. “I want those kids to see me as a role model. We need to move forward. We’re going to make it. Si se puede. I did it.”

Seat No. 4

Bob Griego will be finishing his term on Seat No. 4 and will not be running for re-election. Petra Barajas, Art Garcia, Richard Her-nandez, Archie McAllister, Jaime Mercado, Lorenzo Provencio, and Eduardo Valerio are running for Seat No. 4.

Petra Barajas, a retired real-estate broker from Chula Vista, is proposing several changes.

“The primary responsibilities of the board are to set a direction for the district,” she said.

Providing a structure by establishing policies, ensuring accountability, and keeping the district focused on learning and achievement for all students are some of the things she proposes.

Art Garcia, has more than 30 years in public education. He worked five years as an assistant superintendent at Sweetwater before retiring in 2001.

Like many of the other candidates, Garcia has cited school construction as a priority. He also said he’s concerned about doing more repairs to the district’s west-side schools.

Citing low test performance, Garcia states that “If the expectation of the district is that all students have the opportunity to attend college, how can they, with test scores this low in 8th and 9th grade? The Board of Trustees must provide new leadership and direction to the district staff on student improvement and hold them accountable.”

Richard Hernandez, a former INS officer and an accountant at San Ysidro, said he’s worried about teachers doing tasks that do not relate to teaching.

“I’m an administrative person”, he said. “I can rewrite the administrative responsibilities being relegated to the teachers. Education is the most important thing there is. Students at the district are not being taught what they should be taught”.

Hernandez offers a simple solution to what he said is a big problem at Sweetwater.

“I’m concerned with educating Tijuana. When I was an INS officer I noticed that many children from Mexico cross the border to get an education here. We should enforce random home checks to make sure these students live where they say they live”.

Hernandez said his main priority is “to give Latino students who already live in the U.S. a better education. They’ve become a minority within a minority. We need to give them as much as we can. I’m real sympathetic for our kids”.

Archie McAllister, a retired Navy officer, said his job as a part-time substitute teacher at Sweetwater, has given him an understanding of the students’ needs.

“I’m familiar with the kids’ problems,” he said. “I think that we need to get the kids motivated. A lot of kids don’t care about their education. We need to get them motivated. We also need to get parents back to the schools”.

McAllister said he migrated from Scotland to the U.S. when he was 9 years old. That event gives him a better understanding of newly arrived students.

“As an immigrant myself, I can relate to many of these kids’ experience. I know what it is to overcome a culture.” Jaime Mercado, who lived for many years in San Ysidro and worked for Sweetwater for 32 years, said his main concern is the construction of new campuses.

“I want to see better use of the money,” he said. “The resources are not being focused on building new classrooms or improving student teaching.” Lorenzo Provencio, 70, of Imperial Beach, has 39 years of experience as an educator. He currently is a teacher and PTA president at Parkview Elementary School in Chula Vista.

He also has experience as a board member, and has served two terms on the Sweetwater board and three terms on the board of the South Bay Union School District.

Provencio has stated that he will demand fiscal accountability.

Eduardo Valerio is the president of the Sweetwater Education Foundation, which raises money for the district’s Compact for Success, and agreement between the district and several local universities.

Valerio wants to make sure more classroom space is available for students.

“All students deserve to have the best learning environment possible,” he stated on his campaign website, www.votevalerio.com. “Proposition BB monies must be focused where they were promised. The city, developers and the school district must all share in the burden of building new schools. We must work together to provide schools for our rapidly developing community and renovate older schools at the same time.”

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