The Visalia Chamber of Commerce and the Foothills Sun Gazette held a forum at 210 café on October 18 to give Visalia residents a chance to meet their school board candidates face to face.
A total of nine candidates are running for four seats in the Visalia Unified School District (VUSD.)
Districts 1, 3, 4, and 5 are up for election this November. Each are four-year terms except District 5 which is only a two-year term to fill Patricia Griswold’s seat. Griswold sadly passed away after a nearly 40-year career in education.
Walta Gamoian and Mike Moberly – Area 1
Walta Gamoian and Mike Moberly are running for Area 1, currently held by Charles Ulmschneider, who is retiring.
Moberly has been a prosecutor for 17 years and his “number one priority is to shine a light on this silent cancer that puts these kids on a path to failure.” The cancer he is referring to is elementary school age truancy.
Being part of the judicial system, Moberly has seen firsthand how a lack of education can lead to a life of crime as many of those who land in jail are functionally illiterate. He said that even though it is a small, 3-5%, the truancy rate adds up to more than a 1000 students who are not receiving an education.
He said currently there is a law on the books that VUSD could use collaboratively with the Tulare County District Attorney’s (TCDA) office to persuade parents to get their kids to school and give them a chance at life.
“Our schools have a powerful and long lasting effect on every single one of us,” said Moberly.
Gamoian retired after teaching for 32 years at Golden West High School. Because of her experience, she has firsthand knowledge of what the students need and how to support the teachers. She stated that she has been endorsed by the Teachers Association.
She has three priorities: First, to get the students at grade level in reading and math. Second, continue the career technical education program and expand it. Third, Gamoian wants to support the teachers.
“They are the closest things to our kids and I want to see disruption in class minimized.”
When asked about Measure A, Gamoian said she went from a firm yes to undecided. As she walked the district she found many retired transplants from San Francisco and Los Angeles who were not in favor of the bond. She also said that as an elected official it was her duty to be a good steward of taxpayer money.
Moberly said he is against all new taxes but has decided to vote in favor of Measure A. His decision echoes back to his experience with the criminal justice system and seeing how important an education is. Both TCDA Tim Ward and the former DA, Phil Cline, have endorsed Moberly and Measure A for the same reasons.
Moberly also pointed out that Measure A would be a local tax and not something forced on us by Sacramento.
Jim Qualls and Joy Naylor – Area 3
Joy Naylor is challenging incumbent Jim Qualls for Area 3, which encompasses Pinkham and Annie Mitchell Elementary Schools.
Naylor has been an educator for 35 years. She has done everything from being a counselor and business teacher to working as an administrative dean. With her experience and the fact she has three children, two of whom want to be educators, she says she can be the voice of the student, teachers, and parents.
“The board needs someone who is fresh, knows what is going on, has that insight knowledge, and experience to know how to move our district forward,” said Naylor.
Naylor said that her three priorities would be Career and Technology Programs, getting students to grade level with reading and math, and supporting the teachers.
Qualls joined the school board in 1997 and then resigned because the board and the Visalia Superintendent were incompetent. He then was reelected in 2001 and has been on the board ever since, bringing 25 years of service to VUSD.
“I have proven integrity, trust and leadership.”
Unlike his experience in 1997 he said, “We now work together collaboratively with the teachers and administration. You don’t see us in the newspapers anymore about unrest in our employer groups.”
Qualls says his diverse professional back ground is an asset to the school board. He has worked with the Tulare County Agriculture Commissioner as a biologist, as an investigator with the county, and has also been a teacher and a general contractor. “So I have a lot of areas of expertise,” he said.
On the issue of Measure A, Qualls said that when he walked his district people were very supportive of the bond. In 1997 he did not support the bond because he could not trust a school board that ended up missing out on $43 million of matching funds because it did not fill out the paperwork.
“But now I have complete trust in the administration and we don’t have a lot of money. The time is right.”
Naylor said that when she walked the district she found there was a lot of controversy surrounding Measure A. “Right now I don’t have an answer,” she said.
John Crabtree and Mario Torres – Area 4
Mario Torres is challenging incumbent John Crabtree for Area 4, which is the fastest growing district in Visalia. Torres did not attend the forum.
Crabtree has been a trustee for five years and his priority has been to visit each site to get a feel for what is happening at ground level. He has two daughters and two grand-daughters currently attending Shannon Ranch School.
“My focus over the next four years will be to push for more parent involvement, bring 21st Century technology into the schools, and move the career and technology program forward because not all kids are ready to go to college when they graduate.”
Crabtree is in favor of Measure A.
Megan Casebeer Soleno, Lori Quinzon and Niessen Foster – Area 5
Attorney Megan Casebeer Soleno, life coach Lori Quinzon, and letter carrier Niessen Foster are running for Area 5, which is the central core and has the oldest schools in the district. Niessen lost to Griswold in the 2016 election.
Three generations of Niessen’s family have gone through the Conyer, Divisidero, and Mt. Whitney school system so he is very well versed in the needs of Area 5. He also says he has the endorsement from all the elected officials in town and former school administrators.
“This is a two-year term…and because I have been a board member before I don’t need a learning curve. I will be prepared from day 1.”
Niessen is a graduate of the University of Southern California and majored in education and history. Even though he received his teaching credential he has spent most of his professional life working for the postal service.
Quinzon received a Masters degree in Leadership Studies and has been an independent contractor for VUSD, teaching music and theater.
She says that she has seen things while substituting that concern her greatly in terms of unacceptable behavior by the students. “We need to get back to making the classroom a place of learning and not spend time quelling the biggest problem in the classroom. It concerns me to see some of our best and brightest teachers walk away because they are not backed by the administration.”
Quinzon said she owns her own business, is an entrepreneur and a business consultant. “I know what it is to inspire people to succeed. I want to develop education so it’s not a chore for our students or our teachers. I want to see people show up inspired and excited about learning,” she said.
Casebeer Soleno said she found herself in Visalia after meeting her future husband at the University of California, Santa Barbara, where she studied Environmental Sciences. She then got her law degree in San Francisco and has been a public defender for three and a half years.
Casebeer Soleno says her biggest assets are that she comes from the perspective of the criminal justice system and that of young mom.
“Youth is not my weakness it is my strength,” she said.
Concerning Measure A, Niessen said that when he talks to his constituents they are unhappy about the maintenance of their schools and are in favor Measure A. Area 5 has the oldest schools in the district and are in dire need of modernization.
What Quinzon has heard while walking the district is a general mistrust in how the new school boundaries were drawn. Some parents believe there was a lot of politics involved. She also said that Measure A will mean higher taxes and the voters might be affected by Proposition 6 that is a backlash against higher gas taxes.
“I support Measure A,” said Casebeer Soleno. She acknowledged there was a trust issue with the redrawing of the school boundaries and that affected area 5 the most. But she said that Visalia has a growth problem and that the city needs a new high school.
“When people decide whether to live in Exeter, Tulare or Visalia they are looking at the high schools,” she said.
Behavior issues – Support the teachers
One question concerned behavior problems in the classroom and sparked lively responses but little disagreement.
Quinzon said that she no longer substitutes because of behavioral problems in the classroom. She met one teacher that had to wear “bite sleeves” everyday to class.
The consensus was that when a teacher sends a student to the office it is unacceptable to send the student back to class without the consent of the teacher. The candidates also agreed that teachers need more support from the administration and need to know they have control over their classroom.
Naylor said that the district is still trying to figure out what to do with kids who disrupt class and wants to see how other districts handle the problem. She said those kids need an education also, but at the same time we need to keep the teachers safe.