Five candidates for three seats on the San Juan Unified School District board were quizzed last week by a panel of people who can't vote, but have a vested interest in the election high school seniors.
Wally Harmon and Sabine Wilson of Rio Americano High School and Megan Archer and Jared Anderson of El Camino High School asked candidates about the experience they would bring to the job and how they would lower dropout rates and increase test scores.
Candidates Pam Costa, a retired teacher and principal; John Hawes, a professor; Saul Hernandez, a small-business owner; Lucinda Luttgen, a retired teacher; and Mike McKibbin, a retired educator, answered questions before about 100 onlookers in the El Camino High cafeteria.
Mark Lennon, a veterans administrator, also is on the ballot but has withdrawn from the campaign, said Trent Allen, district spokesman. Lennon indicated that he would accept the seat if elected, Allen said. The Bee could not reach Lennon for comment.
Candidates at the forum boasted long associations with the school district some as educators and others as parents.
Luttgen, the only incumbent running, faced an amicable group of competitors who all seem to agree the district is headed in the right direction.
San Juan Unified is working toward becoming the "destination district" of Northern California, Luttgen said. "I certainly hope I get to continue the job we got started."
McKibbin said educators need to continue to move away from testing and toward project-based learning, and that district officials ought to work harder to close the achievement gap for minority students.
Hawes, an online college professor, said technology is a key to student success. "My desire as a board member is to have cutting-edge programs that connect students to technology," he said.
Hernandez, a parent volunteer on school site councils and district committees, said parents want to be heard. He is most proud of his work getting stadium lights installed at Del Campo High School when he was the school's Booster Club president four years ago.
McKibbin cited his success at bringing 60,000 new teachers into California schools when he was working for the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing as his shining moment. He said the program targeted people in short supply in the classroom, such as men, minorities and people looking for second careers.
Luttgen pointed to her work to change the way science is taught in the district as her finest accomplishment. As a teacher, Luttgen helped develop hands-on activities to teach science, instead of the standard "read the book and answer the questions at the back of the book" lesson.
Costa said her work writing curriculum on equity and diversity, and with the district's anti-bullying program are the things that make her the most proud. She said the programs are really changing people's lives.
Hawes said the most meaningful experience for him is when former students contact him and say he changed their lives or had an impact on their lives.
The candidates had a variety of ideas for lowering the dropout rate. Luttgen said the district is already heading in the right direction by focusing on closing the achievement gap. Costa said the effort to lower the dropout rate needs to start as early as preschool.
McKibbin and Hernandez said that educators have to give students a reason to come to school. Hawes said that parent involvement is the most important factor.
When asked about raising test scores, most candidates chose instead to talk about focusing less on test-based learning.
"Test scores have become the coin of the realm, and we have done a good job of convincing people that is what education is about," Costa said. "It's about problem-solving, being flexible with your thinking. San Juan Unified is way ahead of anyone else."
Every candidate agreed that art and music should continue to be offered.
Hernandez said that students should have the opportunity to explore their talents in school. "Having programs like the arts are so vital," he said. "It makes us versatile as people."