Three political newcomers are hoping to fill the remaining two-year term of the Lodi Unified School District board seat left vacant by Harvey Bills. They are Michael Abdallah, Karen Hettervik and Frank Michael. The position serves Area 6, and the term expires in 2012.
Abdallah says he is passionate about providing an excellent education for all children, and feels he brings to the board professional qualifications and experiences that will assist in defining a vision and direction for the school district.
Now retired, he taught for 32 years in California, 30 of which were for Lodi Unified at Morada Middle and Bear Creek High schools.
"I have positively influenced the lives of thousands of Lodi district students, and I would like to bring this experience and enthusiasm to the board," he said.
Hettervik, too, says she has education experience, though not in the school arena. Daily, she said she educates people as a dental hygienist.
She is running for school board to re-establish pride in the local education system, financial leadership, respect and better communication with the community, she said.
Michael says he has a proven leadership track record, having successfully operated an Allied Credit Union for more than 30 years. He also recently served on the superintendent's budget advisory committee and saw first-hand the financial issues facing the district.
Three of Michael's eight children still attend Lodi schools, where he and his wife have been active volunteers in various capacities from Science Olympiad coaches to Council Parent-Teacher Association president.
Although her two children are now grown, Hettervik coached youth basketball and soccer, was a scorekeeper for Little League baseball, volunteered in classrooms and worked on band boosters, she said. "I've always stepped in when teachers needed me."
She's also seen the district change through the years. "Lodi's school district was a great school district," she said, adding that now there is a lack of respect between the superintendent and the staff, and between students and teachers in over-crowded classrooms. "Seeing what's happening, the whole community loses," she said.
Michael's goals, if he is elected, are to recognize employees are the most valuable resource. "Every employee needs to be treated fairly — with compassion, empathy and dignity. At the same time, recognize that no one employee group is superior to another," he said on his website.
He wants to establish a rainy day fund to compensate for future economical swings.
Michael, endorsed by the San Joaquin County Republican Party, would also like to take a close look at charter schools.
He said some do a superior job of serving students who are not well served by traditional public schools, but others do not. He wants the district to recognize such schools' limitations and their effect on local traditional schools, he added.
Michael also says there needs to be a better focus on student achievement and working with teachers to make it happen. "If you have a school board that doesn't measure a superintendent on student achievement, there's a problem," he said.
Abdallah, endorsed by the teachers' union, feels the best decisions are made following open dialogue that invites all voices and perspectives. "I want to have ongoing conversations with community members to ensure their voices are not only heard, but incorporated into the decision-making process," he said.
If elected, he said he would seek opportunities to build partnerships between the school board and community groups, as well as the cities of Lodi and Stockton since the district's schools are located in both.
"The district was nice until the last few years. They are spending more money in the district office than on the students," Abdallah said, adding that parents should have more input into their children's education. "We have to be open to parents. If they have something to say, we need to hear that. At this time, their concerns are not being heard by the board."
He said he would visit parents in their homes and bring their specific issues to the board.
Hettervik, too, would like to hear from parents. In her job, she regularly hears from patients who are both teachers and parents unhappy with the state of the district.
"There's something that needs to be done, regarding the disconnect," she said. "You have to listen to the problem to find the solution."
To do this, she added, trustees must visit the schools in their area to know what's going on specific to that campus.
This goes hand in hand with rebuilding the trust of the community, she said.
Instead of closing low-performing schools, the board should look at what resources are needed, she said, adding that they may only need more assistance with English-language learner.
Hettervik, whose mother was a teacher, said the district also needs to look at doing things differently. When her daughter was in elementary school, for example, three teachers with different expertise joined up to teach specific subjects; the one with the most math knowledge taught 90 students, while the one with the best English skills took on that subject.
But before determining where the district's money should be allocated, she said she would spend hours poring over the budget document. "You have to deal with what you have."
Hettervik also wants to see the board of trustees come together without separate agendas, then come together with the superintendent.
In the end, Abdallah says he is better qualified than his peers because he's been in the trenches for more than two decades. He has seen teacher morale decline in recent years, he said, adding that all employees need to be happy and feel appreciated.
"I know what the kids have had to live through. I'm here for the kids," he said.
Michael, on the other hand, said he knows how to allocate resources as it is something he has done in his business for years. He believes the district needs a strategic focus for long-term planning. "That's been lacking. I just don't see good leadership from our current board or superintendent," he said. Hettervik said she is equally qualified, but for different reasons.
"I have a different view. I'm not in it for the money or the political role, but I like working with children. I like teenagers, too," she said.
She also feels she has "more vision," she said, adding that she's working in education as a parent, a coach and a volunteer.
Bills stepped down from his position on the school board last spring when questions surrounding his mental state became public. The board attempted to fill the seat by appointment, but abandoned the plan when some questioned whether trustees had violated their own by-laws on appointing a provisional candidate without public input.
All three applied for the position, but none were chosen as finalists.
Trustee Area 6 includes the following schools: Ansel Adams Elementary, Elkhorn 3-8 GATE, Larson Elementary, John Muir Elementary, Mosher Elementary, Westwood Elementary and Henderson Community Day schools.
Contact reporter Jennifer Bonnett at firstname.lastname@example.org.