On a night when Barack Obama and Mitt Romney held most voters’ attention, the four candidates for the West Contra Costa Unified School District board spoke Tuesday to about 15 people at a candidate forum at Murphy Elementary School in Richmond.
Todd Groves, Robert Studdiford, Antonio Medrano and Randy Enos are vying for two seats on the school board.
“I thought all of them were very articulate and very knowledgeable,” said moderator Jackie Coulter-Peebles, a member of the League of Women Voters, which hosted the forum. “Tonight’s forum showed the audience was really interested by their questions.”
Coulter-Peebles said of the 11 questions asked, the most surprising question came at the very end: what were the candidates action plans to stop bullying in schools? October is Bullying Prevention Month.
All of the candidates stressed the importance of communication between students, parents and school administrators. Enos, who served in the district in a variety of roles and retired as principal of Gompers High School in 2010, said the best way to cope with bullying is to model good behavior.
“To lead young people and adults to the notion that respect must be in the forefront of everything it has to be modeled every day in every classroom with every student by every teacher,” he said.
Candidates were also asked if they believed suspensions were necessary.
Studdiford, who has been a parent volunteer in the district for 12 years and served on the Citizens’ Bond Oversight Committee and Citizens’ Budget Oversight Committee, said he has seen the number of suspensions fall from double digits since Bruce Harter became superintendent.
“I believe suspensions come from issues at home, which can be out of our control,” he said, stressing that he thinks offering wraparound services at school sites can help provide stability.
Also a hot-button issue was a question addressing rumors that Hercules wants to secede from the district and form its own.
All of the candidates said they would not support that idea, and instead called for an increase in communication between frustrated members of the Hercules and Pinole communities and the board.
Antonio Medrano, who is the incumbent candidate and a retired educator, said he would like to see Hercules or Pinole send a representative to run for the school board.
Another question asked the candidates to share their thoughts on why the district does not celebrate Columbus Day.
“I had this discussion in my household on Monday,” said Groves who has been a parent volunteer for the last 16 years in West County schools and has volunteered with programs such as WriterCoach Connection. “This is a great opportunity to have this great discussion with your kids about differential views of history.”