2 stay and 2 join West Side board

NEWMAN -- Two new members will join the Newman-Crows Landing Unified School District board and two incumbents will continue their work.

Although all four names will appear on the Nov. 6 ballot, there are only four openings, so the outcome isn't in doubt.

Janice P. Conforti, who has been a teacher for 39 years, said it took a little convincing for her to throw her name into the mix.

"All of my neighbors kept coming to me saying, 'We'd like you to be on it.' I kept saying, 'I'm not a political person.' I'm the workhorse kind of person. I'm not a debater. I'm not going to put up signs. I'm not going to put up any money to do this," she said. "Then I got the call from the superintendent saying, 'Janice, you are now part of the board.' It was strange not to have to run against anyone."

Talking about 'testitis'

Conforti said she's looking forward to the challenge of being on the administrative side. Coming from a teaching background, she said, she'll emphasize offering salaries that will allow the district to attract and keep passionate teachers. And she said she hopes to support policies that will let kids, well, be kids.

"Sometimes our little guys, we're so test crazy, they get 'test-itis.' They get a paper, they think it's a test. We need to let them be creative," she said. Overemphasis on tests can mean that kids lose interest in the learning process. "Children are our most precious natural resource. We're going to lose them if we're not careful."

Laura Elkinton, a homemaker and a parent, said improving the Advanced Placement system will be one of her priorities when she joins the board. Elkinton said she wants to help the district grow.

Growth is a concern for the district, which has about 2,600 students in three elementary schools, three high schools and one alternative education school. Board members say adding a fourth elementary school on the east side of town is a primary goal, if voters pass a school bond measure scheduled for the ballot in June.

Widening career options

Incumbent Barbara Alexander, branch manager at the Newman library, has been on the board since February. Her term runs to 2009. Making sure district students see college as an option, she said, is her passion.

"Just living in the valley doesn't mean you have to go on to a career in agriculture," she said. Children who aspire to those careers are well-prepared here to continue in them, but she plans to support policies that will steer kids toward college education, broader career options and better-paying jobs.

The other incumbent, RoseLee Hurst, said health, safety and curriculum are her top three concerns. Hurst joined the board in June 2006 after a seat became vacant. She hopes to have surveillance cameras and fences placed around campuses to make them safer. And she has worked on getting hand sanitizer placed in school bathrooms, which are without hot water.

Hurst, an English professor at Modesto Junior College, said that if the students in her district get a strong foundation in the classroom, she knows she'll see the payoff down the line.

"I teach at MJC," she said. "These are some of my future students."

Bee staff writer Emilie Raguso can be reached at eraguso@modbee.com or 578-2235.