Four candidates vie for two Natomas Unified governing board seats

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By Jack Fedor , Natomas Pacific Pathways Preparatory

Natomas Charter School on Oct. 12 hosted a forum for candidates to represent Areas 1 and 4 on the Natomas Unified School District Board at the Benvenuti Performing Arts Center in Sacramento.

The candidate forum was hosted as part of a collaboration between Natomas Charter, Natomas Pacific Pathways Prep and Westlake Charter. Students from each of the three schools asked candidates questions.

This is the first year that the Natomas Unified School District is holding an election for trustees by area after adopting the present trustee area maps in 2021.

Meghan Allen and Noel Mora are running to represent Area 1 which encompasses a part of South Natomas which includes district schools Two Rivers, Leroy Greene and American Lakes.

When asked about what she would like to help her area with the most, Allen explained she would like to see the district give more support to American Lakes school in the form of more onsite counselors and tutors.

When talking about what he would like to do for his area, Mora said that he would like to have more support to go to the other two schools – Two Rivers and Leroy Greene – including tutors to help students.

Monique Hokman and Cindy Quiralte are running to represent Area 4 in northeast Natomas, in which district schools such as Heron, Natomas Middle and H. Allen Heights are located.

Hokman said she would like for the district to pay for all of the background checks for volunteers to be able to help with learning loss as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Quiralte shared that she would like to help meet students where they are to help with the learning loss.

Allen said that to deal with the pandemic’s fallout on learning she would like to incentivize teachers to work in the district and to also advertise beyond the district for  open teaching positions to be able to get more teachers and aides in the classroom.

Mora said his response would center on equality, explaining he would look at different student populations and provide solutions that best meet each group’s needs.

Hokman said that mental health of students is a top priority and that she would like to see an expansion of recreational sports into the district’s middle and high schools.

Allen said she would like to allow for students to be able to catch up with learning loss with a manageable amount of school work, while Mora said he thinks school staff should have resources to make sure that students are not having too much work put on them.

Hokman expressed a similar sentiment, saying she would like to see students get back to grade level without being overloaded with assignments.

One of Allen’s top priorities, she said, is to see improved communication with parents in schools, including having a conversation about safety. Mora said he would like to see greater access to social workers at schools.

As for supporting students who may have been bullied, Quiralte said she would like the district to acknowledge that students come from different communities, while Hokman said she wants to provide greater access to counselors for students.

Allen said she is looking to advocate for all students while Mora brought up the idea of holding a district-wide pride day or month.

Regarding adoption of a new curriculum for the school district, Allen explained she would like to communicate with parents when the school district reviews the proposed curriculum. Mora shared that he would like to have transparency throughout the process, receive input from parents and to allow for engagement with parents in a number of languages.

Hokman said she would like to push for more transparency throughout the curriculum and would like for students to be able to increase their skills in spelling, grammar and phonics. Quiralte said she would like to respect differences among students and family structure, as well as improve reading and math scores, and strengthen students’ ability to better contribute to society.

Candidates were asked a question centered on the topic of school choice, which is a process in which students can attend schools other than local public schools. Mora explained that school choice has allowed for Natomas Unified to be number two in diversity within the United States. Allen said that she is in favor of school choice.

Hokman also said she favors school choice and would like for students to have the opportunity to attend the best schools. Quiralte said she believes students should be able to attend schools in which they can reach their full potential.

Hokman and Mora said they support bonds to expand charter schools, while Quiralte said she is unsure if she would support such a move.

Allen said she supports using funds to update and expand facilities within the district if there is money available to do so.

Quiralte said she is in favor of expanding dual enrollment courses at district high schools and Hokman would like to see career education in the fields of woodworking, culinary arts and mechanics. She added she also would like to see a test for students in middle and high schools to see what types of careers would interest students.

Allen said he would like to provide students more career education by partnering with businesses in Natomas. Mora expressed support for providing more career technical education in schools, as well as adding more dual enrollment courses for 11th- and 12th-grade students which would largely focus on graduation requirements.

As for food in cafeterias, Allen said she would like for the school district to get involved with a farm to fork program, and work with local farmers to bring in food which could be used for school lunches. Mora shared that education around food literacy was important.

Hokman said she would like for students to be able to learn cooking skills while serving food created in culinary arts classes. Quiralte advocated for bringing in healthy diet partners and growing education around food literacy and food nutrition.

The candidates also answered questions about how to address the teacher shortage.

Allen explained she would like to expand teacher recruiting, provide the adequate incentives and make them feel supported. Mora would like to expand professional development for teachers, as well as pay them equitable wages.

Quiralte said she would like to solve the teacher shortage issue with greater teacher retention.

With the new state graduation requirement of Ethinic Studies, Allen said she would like for students to gain greater cultural awareness, but to not have the curriculum create greater division.

Hokman also said she thinks it is a good idea to learn about different heritages, but to not create a greater divide. Quiralte said it was important for students to both learn about each other’s differences and be respectful of one another.

Allen said the curriculum which is shared in schools should be age appropriate and that addressing racial and cultural equity is a topic that should be mostly examined at the high school level.

Mora said a lot of work has to be done to address racial and cultural equity in educational institutions.

Regarding gender neutral bathrooms, Allen said that they can be created, but male and female bathrooms should also be available beside them.

Mora, Hokman and Quiralte also expressed support for gender neutral bathrooms.