Three Truckee candidates looking for seat on school board
What does a retiree with more than 30 years experience in the education sector, a homeowners’ association administrator and active Rotarian, and a busy mother of three who doubles as a soccer coach and classroom volunteer have in common?
All three are candidates for the open seat on the Tahoe-Truckee Unified School District’s Board of Trustees for Area 1.
When voters head to the polls on Nov. 5, it will be first the first time they will have had the opportunity to elect school board members for this district since 1994, as all members since that time have been appointed, rather than elected.
This year, the three candidates vying for the Area 1 seat, which encompasses the western most portion of the district including parts of Truckee, Tahoe Donner and the summit, come from a variety of backgrounds and have a range of ideas for improving the educational system for the community’s children.
Here’s a glimpse at all three:
Patricia Gibbons-Johnson’s decision to run for re-election to the TTUSD board grew partly out of the feeling of having “unfinished business.”
“The way I see it is that a lot of the beginning time one spends on the board is really a time to learn,” she says. “In the last three years that I’ve served on the board, I feel I’ve learned a tremendous amount, but there’s still so much more that I want to do.”
Even though Gibbons-Johnson has spent the last 30 years of her life working in education she said she still loves it.
“I’m not burned out,” she says with a laugh. “I feel that I’ve worked very hard the last few years to be an effective board member and to take an active approach to the job.”
For her, some of the hot-button issues for the district revolve around finances and the impacts of the State budget crisis.
“I want to make sure that the district is able to retain a higher fiscal reserve,” Gibbons-Johnson said. “People are always asking if this money actually gets utilized, but it does. When we had the energy crisis a few years ago, I saw the district have to spend a huge portion of its reserve in just a few months time, just so we could keep the heaters on for students. Everything is more expensive for us up here in the mountains – particularly transportation – and finding a way to keep our budget balanced and healthy is very important.”
Other issues she wants to continue to expand on include improvements to curriculum, support and services for teachers, facilities improvements district-wide and bolstering programs for English language learners.
“I also want people to know that I am very committed to solving the current problems between the district and Prosser Creek Charter School,” she said. “The board is very committed to finding a solution and we want parents to know that we are committed to serving all of the children in the district.”
Lahontan Community Association Administrator Joseph Ferrerra’s previous experiences working with various boards sparked his interest in running for school board.
“I’ve watched a lot of boards interact and some of the biggest problems I’ve seen come from board members led by self-interest and personal agendas,” he said. “A school district, in particular, needs to be balanced and any self-interest on the board could put our educational programs at risk.”
That’s not to say that Ferrerra questions the current board, but rather was drawn to it because of its successes.
“I thought, ‘Here’s something that is running very smoothly and benefiting all types of kids in the community,’ and decided I wanted to get involved,” said the parent of two young children – one who attends Truckee Elementary. “I want to find ways to keep things running well.”
Ferrerra believes his strong business background and love of community service combined, will be able to do just that.
“I believe that every decision the board makes needs to carefully evaluated, much like a business,” he said. “You need to look at the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and restraints.”
Some of Ferrerra’s primary issues of concern include: finding ways to partner schools with parents in keeping children drug and alcohol free, improving tutoring programs and making sure there are adequate programs for all children at all academic levels.
“Through my work with Rotary, where I’ve helped raise money for so many of our local non-profits and groups, I’ve noticed that the real way to make a difference in the community is to go out and do something to help – get involved, hands-on,” he said. “The more involved we are in our community, the stronger it can become.”
When Sonya Retzlaff isn’t busy with her three young boys at home, she’s volunteer- teaching in their classrooms, coaching youth soccer and skiing, or organizing activities for the Truckee Family Connection – a local non-profit that provides services, support and activities to local families with children.
“I’ve always been an advocate for children and families,” said Retzlaff, an 18-year Truckee resident. “I’ve also always been a very hands-on person and very active in this community.”
Aside from her work with the Truckee Library, Retzlaff has been an active participant with the Sierra Nevada Children’s Museum and the KidZone, a youth sports coach, foster parent and host family for numerous foreign exchange students throughout the last few years.
“Community service is really an integral part of my life,” she said. “Being on the school board just seemed like a natural extension of my commitment to children and the community.”
If elected, Retzlaff said she hopes to bring a different voice to the school board.
“I want to encourage all educational opportunities and avenues and believe that all educational pathways and choices need to be recognized and honored,” she said. “I also want to help parents and children have more of a voice on the board.”
Retzlaff says she is a real advocate for choices in education.
“Choice is what stimulates real improvements in education,” she said. “My children attend Prosser Creek Charter School, which is a California public schoool, and we are fortunate that this is one of the many choices available for all children in the district.”
She said she also values safe school facilities and equity in how district funds and resources are distributed.
Retzlaff said she believes she will be able to bring integrity, listening skills and dependability to the board.
“Because this is not a dress rehearsal, this is the real thing,” Retzlaff said.