7 vying for 4 school seats in Turlock

TURLOCK -- With seven candidates vying for four open school board seats, the Turlock Unified School District board of trustees could be one of the most hotly contested races this election season.

All four incumbents -- Frank Lima, John Sims, Victor Pedroza and Loren Holt -- are running for re-election challenged by three relative new- comers to public office -- Jonna Baughn, Yolanda Perez and Eileen Hamilton.

Baughn, 45, has served with three parent-teacher associations, including as former president of Brown Elementary School's PTA. She also has served as a substitute teacher.

"I'm a parent, a teacher, an administrator's wife, and a 15-plus-year advocate for children and their parents," she said.

Her No. 1 priority if elected, she said, is increasing parent involvement.

Hamilton, 64, is a retired high school teacher. Her husband, Hobart Hamilton, also a teacher, retired after 33 years at California State University, Stanislaus. Good education has been a dinner-table topic for years, she said.

Her primary concerns and priorities if elected are "test scores, universal achievement, school safety, elementary school modernization, recruiting and retaining highly qualified teachers," she said.

Hamilton said her advantage over other candidates includes 39 years in Turlock, her family of educators, her teaching experience and community involvement. She won the Rotary Club 2002 Outstanding Teacher Award, and in retirement is working with a dozen community groups.

Holt, 52, has served seven terms and wants an eighth. Enrollment issues and modernization brim on the horizon. If re-elected, he said, his priority is emphasizing universal achievement as state standards are rolled into the classroom.

"While four of the candidates are current board members and have similar experience, I am set apart in that I view the board's decisions globally and how they impact all students and schools in our district and am not focused on just one grade level, program or school," he said.

Lima, 43, said he's running again to bring more players to the school game. He'd like to see the city, the university and "all stakeholders" brought together for education-oriented projects.

"We have a great community, and we have no excuse to not have great public schools," he said.

Applying personal aspirations of accountability, high conduct and integrity to the school system is his single most important focus if elected, Lima said.

"Born and raised in Turlock, as a child of immigrant parents, I am committed and personally indebted to our public educational system. I am a product of Turlock public schools and a public university education," he said. "We must hold ourselves and our schools to the highest of standards. We cannot make excuses for our failures."

Pedroza, 55, said he is running for re-election because he likes the work and he wants to continue advocating for parents. He called the school board "one of the biggest responsibilities and benefits of serving our community."

Pedroza said his high-priority projects include closing the achievement gap, maintaining fiscal integrity and increasing collaboration with Chatom and Keyes school districts to ensure better transitions to high school.

"Our teachers must be supported and assisted in teaching to those expectations. When expectations are high from all of those evolved in the educational process, student achievement increases based on that expectation," he said.

Pedroza said his advantage over other candidates is experience, and he is proud of advances at Wakefield and Cunningham schools, and the bilingual immersion program at Osborn School.

"I challenge our teachers to expect success from our students and help them in meeting those expectations," he said.

Perez could not be reached for comment.

Sims, 53, said he is running because he wants to see the four-year-old unified district grow.

"I have two children ready to graduate from high school in 2008 and 2010," he said. "I'd like to continue my work to see that all students receive an education to prepare them for the challenges of the future."

If elected, he said, his priority will be schools identified by the state through the Adequate Yearly Progress process as needing improvement. Already, many of those schools are moving in a positive direction, he said.

"Through the hard work of teachers, students, and parents, in 2007 two of our schools have attained 'safe harbor' designation -- the first step towards removing themselves from program improvement status," he said.

He said he'd also like to work toward more "magnet schools, advanced placement, vocational education, dual immersion, and college courses on campus."

Bee staff writer Michael R. Shea can be reached at mshea@modbee.com or 578-2391.