PATTERSON -- Closing the achievement gap for English-learners and modernizing school facilities are among the top priorities for the candidates competing for four seats on the Patterson school board.
Safety recently was propelled to the forefront of the discussion after a series of fights and a campus lockdown Sept. 19 at Patterson High School. The district held a forum for parents in the aftermath, and officials are looking at ways to strengthen security on campuses.
Challengers Sonja Gunderson, Cerise Cameron-Grice and Violet Wells are running against incumbents Bruce Kelly, Barbara Hartsell, Bobby Yamamoto and Gilbert Lujan.
Patterson Unified School District serves 5,655 students in nine schools, and has an annual budget of $40 million.
Wells is a community developer with the Westside Community Alliance, a grassroots organization in Patterson that provides outreach and social services.
She said she wants to focus on maintaining a high quality of education as Patterson continues to grow. Safety also is a concern. Wells said she would like to see more campus supervisors at the schools, as well as improved communication between the school district, Police Department and parents.
Wells, 49, is chairwoman of the Safe Haven Parent Committee at Patterson High School.
Gunderson moved to Pat-terson in 2003 and began looking for oppor-tunities to get involved with her adopted hometown.
"I thought, 'Why not just dive in and see what I can do?' I thought I'd get involved to make a posi- tive difference," said Gunderson, whose son is a toddler. She said she could have waited a few years until he was enrolled in the district, but decided to start early.
Gunderson, 39, said she would like to see children, teenagers and their parents become more engaged with the school district. That could be accomplished through activities or programs, she said.
Gunderson is a pharmacy clerk at Kaiser Permanente in Livermore.
Cameron-Grice, 44, is a child welfare analyst for foster youth in Alameda County. She said she wants to concentrate on the district's strategic plan for reading, math and the overall quality of education.
"In each of those areas, you are looking at teaching methodol-ogy, assessment and periodic review so that the test result is the end product. We need to be making sure we are focusing more on the children who need more attention," Cameron-Grice said.
She moved to Patterson three years ago from Hayward for a more "family-oriented" community. She has two children who attend Apricot Valley Elementary School.
Kelly was first elected to the board in 1993, and serves as school board president. Over the years, Kelly said, he has developed a reputation as the board member who "supports positions that are positive for education, even if they are not popular."
He said his two major priorities are to eliminate the achievement gap and implement the district wellness policy.
Kelly, 58, works as a chaos system administrator at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.
Hartsell is a retired teacher who continues to be active in education, in part because she has three grandchildren in Patterson schools. She was elected to the school board in 2004.
She said she wants to con- tinue working on reducing the achievement gap between English learners and the rest of the school population. Other priorities include upgrading the schools, improving test scores and revamping the GATE pro- gram for gifted students.
Hartsell said she supports switching the schools from a year-round schedule to a traditional calendar to give families more time together in the summer.
"Education is very, very dear to my heart. I've gone to school since I was 5 years old and never gotten out," said Hartsell, 67.
She taught for 33 years in the Evergreen Elementary School District in San Jose.
Lujan has been a board member since 2002. He said he would like to implement "proactive strategies" to close the achievement gap in Patterson schools, provide better nutritional choices in the cafeterias and assure safety for all children.
A native of Mexico, Lujan is fluent in English and Spanish, and said his background helps him "communicate and understand" the needs and issues of the district's large Latino population.
"When it comes down to testing and performing academi- cally, the English learners have a tendency of displaying a bigger gap on the achievement part. One thing I strongly believe in is providing effective training for teachers," he said.
Lujan, 54, is an engineer with the state Department of Water Resources in the San Luis field division.
Yamamoto believes safety and academics go hand in hand. Children can't learn in an environment where they don't feel secure, he said.
"There is going to have to be more campus supervisors and community involvement. It has to come from within the whole town of Patterson and the parents," Yamamoto said.
The board has been successful in starting to modernize the district's aging schools, he said, and he would like to see that work continue.
Yamamoto, 49, is a longtime Westley farmer and assistant football coach at Patterson High School. He was elected to the board in 2005.
Bee staff writer Christina Salerno can be reached at email@example.com or 238-4574.