6 seek 3 trustee spots for Oxnard district
By Kathleen Wilson, firstname.lastname@example.org
Ventura County Star October 17, 2002
Trustees elected to the Oxnard School District board in November must figure out
how to boost learning amid controversy over bilingual education and to deal with
contentious labor relations with teachers.
The debates over those questions come in a year when incumbents Roy Caffrey,
Arthur Joe Lopez and Dorothie Sterling
are seeking re-election, meaning there is no vacant seat for the challengers to
grab. The challengers are businesswoman and former teacher Ana Del Rio Barba,
retired Oxnard principal John MacArthur and Rio School District teacher
Though all six candidates are either current or former educators, they have
different views on the issues, including
Sterling said the program needs to be changed. Caffrey wants to take a close
look at other methods. And Lopez said
the board should look closely and routinely at how well it's being implemented.
Trustee Bill Thrasher, who is not up for election this year, has expressed
strong reservations about the program and questioned whether too much Spanish is
being taught. The fifth trustee, Francisco Dominguez, has shown support for it.
Whether the board's view on bilingual education would change with new trustees
is unclear. But O'Leary and MacArthur both consider themselves advocates for
bilingual education. Barba said she wants to examine the data on the program
before making up her mind.
How bilingual education works
Under bilingual education, students are taught academic courses in Spanish while
they learn English, eventually moving into mainstream English classes by the
fourth grade. Voters curtailed the offering of bilingual education when they
passed Proposition 227, but the initiative allows parents to sign waivers
Many parents in the district, which has the largest number of limited-English
students in the county, have done just
that. Last year, state records showed that 45 percent of the Oxnard district's
limited-English students were taught
using the approach compared to 31 percent in the county and 11 percent
Thrasher drew criticism earlier this year when he said he was frustrated by the
amount of Spanish used in the schools
and by parents speaking Spanish at board meetings.
Some officials say Thrasher was not reacting so much to parents' right to speak
in Spanish, as to how language is
taught. And several trustees indicated they are questioning aspects of the
"I think bilingual education is necessary but in a different mode than now
being offered," Sterling said. "I think there
has to be more emphasis on English by teachers who speak Spanish as an example
for their students. We have
some excellent bilingual teachers and we have some that, in my considered
opinion, speak too much Spanish."
Caffrey wants more analysis
Caffrey, a retired Hueneme School District teacher, said he is interested in
examining the effectiveness of bilingual
education and other means of teaching limited-English students. He called for
analyzing why some school districts that
dropped bilingual education after voters passed Proposition 227 in 1998 have
seen student test scores rise
"What is it that they're doing that seems to be effective in English-language
instruction?" he said. "If they are able to improve their children's education
and at the same time improve English-language acquisition through another
then I think we should discuss what is that other method. Right now we've only
heard the bilingual side. I want to hear the other side."
Incumbent Lopez said the program has not been evaluated closely as the district
has focused on reading, writing and math.
"There's nothing wrong with revisiting this," the Santa Paula middle school
The challengers expressed mixed opinions as well.
Barba said she wants to check the results first. "I would follow the law," she
said. "I believe there are some areas that need to be looked at. Let's look at
our program and what's working and isn't working."
MacArthur called for more support for students in the upper grades to help them
learn the nuances of the English language
and more careful selection of students for bilingual classes.
O'Leary has been an advocate
O'Leary said he believes in bilingual instruction because as a former exchange
student in Chile he knows what it's like to be educated in a foreign culture. As
an educator, he has advocated for it locally, in Sacramento and around the
nation. Without it, he said, students fall too far behind in learning their
subjects as they pick up English.
"It works," said O'Leary, president of the Ventura County chapter of the
California Association for Bilingual Education. "It is superior to English
He added, though, that he fully supports the parents' right to choose the method
of instruction, as Proposition 227 allows.
The education of the district's English learners -- about half the enrollment --
is considered key in raising the district's academic achievement. But other
issues also are arising in the diverse school system of 16,000 kindergarten
through eighth-graders. Test scores have improved over the past five years, but,
on average, students still fall considerably below the national average in
reading at the end of eighth grade.
Caffrey is pushing conversion to kindergarten through eighth-grade schools,
starting with Thurgood Marshall School, a
north Oxnard campus scheduled to open next fall. He also spearheaded an
instrumental music program that started as a
pilot at five schools this year. And he strongly endorses a computerized program
the district is using to follow student
performance through their school years.
Focus on language, fine arts
Lopez said that as a two-term board member, he would keep the school district
focused on student achievement by insisting that administrators stay glued to
the task. He wants to focus particularly on language and the fine arts.
"We've made some improvements in math, but not nearly that much in language
arts," he said. "I'm going to continue asking the tough question of why we can't
get this done. For every year we are not making those goals, there goes another
generation of kids from our (seventh and eighth-grade) schools into our high
schools that have not been fully prepared."
Sterling, a 13-year veteran of the school board and a retired district teacher,
called for less pressure on educators along with fewer marching orders from the
"I'm a firm believer that schools should be run in their community. ... The
brains to run the schools are here in the community."
She said educators are overloaded.
"I think to improve student achievement we have to take part of the stress off
administrators and teachers and all of our school employees so they can work
without having to go home at the end of the day or at midnight and say, 'I'm not
finished, I haven't finished my job.' "
Barba said she would push better communication between teachers and district
officials, try to improve employee morale and invest money in programs for
children. The former kindergarten teacher said she wants to know why more money
was not cut from the district office instead of schools to balance this year's
More time to teach
MacArthur said teachers need more time to teach, arguing that they are being
pulled out of the classroom too much for training and conferences. "The
education of the children is getting lost," he said.
He also called for holding board meetings in the afternoon or early evening so
they don't drag late into the evening, improving the sound on television
broadcasts of the meeting, and making sure administrators are in the classrooms
seeing that California's objectives for education are being taught.
"I would like to bring the board a sense of common sense. Just because it's new
doesn't mean it's good."
He questioned the board's decision to spend $100,000 to start the new music
program. That money could have gone toward classroom aides to help improve
students' reading and math skills, he said.
District officials say $100,000 would have paid for about 20 classroom aides
working two hours a day. On the other hand, research shows that music
instruction boosts children's skills in a wide variety of subjects, including
O'Leary would improve schools by phasing out the district's multitrack,
year-round calendar and by making sure students are admitted into classes for
gifted students regardless of their knowledge of English. "There are very
intelligent students who speak other languages," said O'Leary, who has three
sons in the district.
Calendar revised decades ago
The school district began converting to a year-round, staggered calendar decades
ago to house the enrollment in one of the fastest-growing areas in the state.
But O'Leary said there is no evidence that it provides any economic benefit. He
also would like to see board meetings translated for Spanish speakers.
This year's campaign comes at a time when labor relations between teachers and
the board are at impasse, a common event in the school district. Teachers
rejected a labor contract in September, and a new mediation effort failed last
week. The candidates called for improved communication, changing the
personalities at the negotiating table and fostering more
openness and respect in the talks.
The teachers' union endorsed Barba, Caffrey and Lopez in the race. Barba was
endorsed by the United Food & Commercial Workers Union and O'Leary by the United
According to campaign finance statements filed earlier this month, O'Leary
raised the most in contributions. He had $2,280 in contributions to Barba's
$1,138. Caffrey, MacArthur and Sterling were not required to list their
contributions because they filed statements saying they had spent less than
$1,000 in the race.
County elections officials said Lopez did not file a campaign statement.