Linh Nguyen

Editorial: Nguyen is best pick for West Sac schools

Published: Thursday, Feb. 7, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 8A

Voters in the Washington Unified School District in West Sacramento face a mail-only special election to fill the last two years of a resigning member's term. Ballots went out Monday and must be returned by March 5.

Unfortunately, this has turned into a sort of battle of the titans.

Mayor Christopher Cabaldon has endorsed Francisco Castillo, the deputy national press secretary for Michelle Rhee's StudentsFirst education reform nonprofit. So have two current board members: Mary Leland and Katie Villegas.

The Washington Teachers Association has endorsed Sarah Kirby-Gonzalez, a Folsom Cordova Unified Teacher of the Year in 2010-11 who currently teaches in a magnet program for high-achieving fifth-graders. So have two board members: Adam Menke and Alicia Cruz.

Both are highly qualified candidates.

If you believe that teachers need an amplified voice on educational policy on the school board in West Sacramento, then Kirby-Gonzalez is a good choice. Clearly, she is a first-rate teacher, has a nuts-and-bolts understanding of what goes on in the classroom and is passionate about the new Common Core, curriculum changes, teacher mentoring, teacher evaluations, access to basic technology in the classroom and programs for high-achievers (such as GATE). She is part of the Accomplished Teachers Network, which has lobbied at the Capitol on teacher evaluation reform.

If you believe the district needs a shake-up to improve student achievement, then Castillo is a good choice. He is a Nicaraguan immigrant who is fluent in Spanish, with a background working with Spanish-speaking students and parents. He is a former chairman of San Francisco's youth commission and did press work for then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, first lady Maria Shriver and Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom. His top priorities are preschool for all, college and career readiness, and parent engagement.

Two other candidates, Katherine Gales and Nicholas Turney, did not provide compelling reasons for running.

But for voters tired of the clash of the titans, an inspiring, qualified candidate is on the ballot who is not associated with either of the factions: Linh Nguyen. He arrived in the United States as a 12-year-old in 1983, his family fleeing Vietnam by boat. He graduated from the University of California, Davis, in 1993 with a degree in computer science and engineering. He co-founded a multimillion-dollar IT consulting firm, which he sold in 2005. He would bring a strong background in data and finance to the board.

Nguyen is an active parent, with two children in Washington Unified schools. He sees education as the great equalizer in American society, an entree to the American dream and he is distressed at performance levels in Washington Unified, particularly at the high school.

He has a sophisticated understanding of performance measurement, and would like to get beyond the Academic Performance Index to include AP classes, college acceptance, career technical courses.

A top priority for Nguyen would be the more than half of the graduating class that does not go on to college. "We need a path for them," he says, and he would be attentive to vocational technical education and mentoring.

In this election contest, Nguyen says he feels like "Switzerland caught between Germany and France." We agree, and we endorse Nguyen in the special election.

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