Talking Points: Patterson Joint Unified School District

Barbara Hartsell
Barbara Hartsell (Steve Kosko / The Modesto Bee)


Incumbents Barbara Hartsell, Bruce Kelly, Gilbert Lujan and Bobby Yamamoto are running against challengers Sonja Gunderson, Cerise Cameron-Grice and Violet Wells. The candidates, except Yamamoto, answered these questions from Bee staff writer Christina Salerno (some responses have been edited for space):

Q: Safety in schools became a concern in the wake of the Sept. 19 fights at Patterson High School. Did the school district handle the lockdown appropriately? And does anything need to be done to improve security in the schools?

HARTSELL: The lockdown followed procedures already in place. The district is implementing a few changes regarding notification and other parental concerns. A full-time police resource officer will be on campus throughout the day and the district is hiring more campus supervisors.

KELLY: The fights and the lockdown can be considered two separate incidents. The fights were over in less than 20 minutes and the students were returning to class. ... The lockdown itself went according to plan and practice. Afterward, as you do in any emergency situation, you sit down and ask what could have been down better. ... School security has been improved and will continue to be.

LUJAN: Yes, the school district handled the lockdown very well. Our administrators, teachers, office managers and classified staff did a great job of stopping the fights. ... Improvements have been made, such as: two more campus supervisors, a school resource officer at Patterson High School and at Creekside Middle School five days a week. Counseling and intervention assistance have been scheduled and are being provided by the guidance learning coordinator.

GUNDERSON: Overall, I feel the school did what needed to be done. There are always things to be improved. You never know what needs fixing until the situation arises. I believe school officials took responsibility and will make the necessary improvements.

CAMERON-GRICE: I believe the district responded swiftly and appropriately to the safety issues raised at Patterson High School. However, improvements can certainly be made. The district appears committed to strengthening parent communication, providing more on-site security at all schools and enhancing other areas of crisis management. ... Perhaps an organized program could be developed where students can safely report information that they are aware of that may jeopardize the school's safety.

WELLS: I believe that keeping our children safe was the top priority and the school district and school staff did a great job in doing that. ... Parents felt that they were not notified soon enough about the incident and this is something that the superintendent has already acknowledged and is currently working on. There are already steps being taken to improve campus security.

Q: Eliminating the achievement gap between English-learners and the rest of the school population has been cited as a priority by a number of candidates. How can this best be accomplished?

HARTSELL: Differentiated instruction within the classroom as well as intervention programs for students off-track and in summer school is essential. What works for the individual student is the only way we will close the achievement gap between English-learners as well as students who are economically disadvantaged. We need to keep informed of how other districts are successfully accomplishing closing the gap.

KELLY: Actually, the issue is not English-learners but socioeconomic disadvantaged students, many of whom are also English-learners. ... The achievement gap is associated with the expectations for each student by their community and family. ... So it is the mission of school districts and other government agencies to help raise that expectation. ... We can help with this by setting the requirements to graduate and curriculum standards for each grade level at higher levels, and expect our students to achieve them.

LUJAN: We can accomplish this goal by keeping the reading and math intervention programs, after-school programs, tutoring and mentoring. Relevant teaching will inspire our children to value the need for education. We need to create relationships between students, teachers and administrators based on trust, confidence and safety.

GUNDERSON: I believe in finding programs that have been used by others and finding a way to implement them. I do not believe this is something that can be achieved overnight.

CAMERON-GRICE: This is a complex question and deserves dedicated attention and study. I would strongly suggest that the school board carve out time to carefully analyze the strategies implemented in school districts across the country and abroad where the achievement gap between English-learners and the rest of the school population was achieved. ... Resources would then need to be identified to effectively and methodically work toward this effort.

WELLS: I think we need to continue supporting the programs that we already have and implement new programs with adequate and supportive staff and develop a strong communication between teachers, counselors, parents and students in order to meet these particular students' needs.

Q: How would you stay connected to the students, parents and taxpayers you serve?

HARTSELL: I am active in the community in several organizations. I am always willing to listen to concerns voiced by the public. I would also encourage students, parents, and taxpayers to attend Patterson School Board meetings so they can hear firsthand what is happening in our schools. The public is always welcome to voice concerns during the public presentation part of our meetings.

KELLY: I stay connected by listening to comments made by my neighbors, both parents and students, business owners and other people as I go around town or participate in other activities. I have also encouraged more communication from the district to the community.

LUJAN: I can be beneficial to my community by working in collaboration with our students, parents, city officials and law enforcement; and by interacting in dialogues, meetings, sports events, fund-raisers and through our churches.

GUNDERSON: The main key I believe is communication. Making yourself available to everyone. I have started to really focus on this community and get involved. I want to be a positive voice for the community. I want everyone's comments and opinions to matter. I don't want the community to be afraid to say what's on their minds, or to feel that their concerns do not matter. We all matter.

CAMERON-GRICE: With two children currently attending elementary school in Patterson and over 20 years of paid and unpaid work experience with youth and education, I will remain actively involved in the schools and in regular communication with students, parents, school administration, neighbors, city parks and recreation, spiritual leaders and other community members. I also participate in local events...which help me stay connected to the community.

WELLS: By continuing to work hands-on in our community and schools, by doing door-to-door outreach, e-mails and community forums in order to listen to our parents' and students' needs and concerns. If given the opportunity to serve, I would like to work with our teachers and school staff and advocate for their needs and concerns as well.

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