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School board hopefuls talk about issues
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There was a lot that the three Manteca Unified School Board hopefuls agreed on when they sat down to discuss issues raised by the community on Tuesday night at Angelano’s Restaurant. 

Distinguishing between their stances came down to a matter of perspective and personal touch after nearly 90 minutes of talking about everything from how to approach bullying in schools to whether it’s fair to students to have teachers attend training and curriculum programs on instruction days. 

Retired educator Marie Freitas was the lone representative from Area 4 present – Freitas and Andrea Collins-Cambra are vying to replace longtime trustee Nancy Teicheira who is retiring after 20 years on the board – and spoke heavily of her experiences in education and how they would shape the way she would approach the position if elected. 

Current Trustee Evelyn Moore, was elected to the board in 1994 after retiring as a longtime Manteca Unified educator, answered questions alongside challenger Cathy Pope-Gotschall, a teacher-librarian for Lincoln Unified School District in Stockton. 

Interestingly, it was a comment from a member of the audience and a question posed to the three candidates that revealed the clearest differentiation between Moore and her challenger – a question about whether Manteca Unified should free up funding to allow for teachers to have more in-depth training on The Common Core and how best to implement those ideas into the classroom. 

Pope-Gotschall, in her response, detailed how teachers are already applying the standards to their lessons but noted how complex those standards can be depending on the discipline, while Moore said that she couldn’t comment on Common Core since it came into existence after she retired but said that additional teacher training could work by paying teachers for an extra week at the start of the school year so that they could be better prepared to meet the rigorous demands of the academic calendar. 

And while all three of them agreed that more can be done to help prevent teachers from getting physically burnt out during the school year, it was Freitas who hammered home the importance of the recent implementation of a fall break. 

“This fall break is the best thing that they’ve done for both teachers and students because right now is the time when both teachers and students are burning out,” Freitas said. “I think that it’s fantastic and helps a lot with that issue.”

On the subject of bullying, all three candidates said that there needs to be more done to ensure that students are able to feel safe in the schools, but each had different elements of the issue that they wanted to focus on. 

For Pope-Gotschall, that meant students becoming “upstanders” rather than “bystanders” and having students take an active role in stamping out bad behavior when it starts to arise. Moore said that the district “needs more heroes among the students” to step up since the majority of the bullying that takes place is done so away from the watchful eyes of teachers and administrators. It was Freitas who noted that the biggest challenge when it comes to bullying is handing the widespread use of social media amongst students, and she reiterated the importance of ensuring that students become good digital citizens. 

When it came to pinpointing issues that the district needs to address, each candidate had something different that they introduced into the conversation. 

Moore believes that school safety remains a top priority for the district even though it’s something that still needs to be worked on – citing the security of Manteca High School as an example of something that the district continues to work on with the assistance of the City of Manteca. Eventually, Moore said, the campus itself will open towards Moffat Boulevard rather than Yosemite Avenue, and with the construction of a new gymnasium the school will be able to place the entire student body into a single building for the first time in years. 

Freitas said that she believes that the challenges that growth presents will remain something that the district will need to keep an eye on, especially as schools reach capacity, and in some cases, exceed capacity. With such a large portion of that growth concentrated south of the Highway 120 Bypass, Freitas said that keeping a close eye on enrollment numbers and planning for the future needs to be a top priority. 

For Pope-Gotschall it was improving some of the district’s aging campuses – like French Camp and New Haven Elementary Schools, for example – and ensuring that as schools are expanded, and new schools are constructed, the older schools are not forgotten about and continue to serve their intended purpose of providing a quality education to the students who attend them. 

Trustees Cathy Howe and Stephen Schluer did not participate in the forum. Howe was unable to attend because of a previously-scheduled trip to Southern California while Schluer, who made an appearance at the end of the forum, was at a mandatory training session for another entity. Both trustees – who are running unopposed this election cycle – have agreed to answer the questions in writing for a later publication. 

To contact reporter Jason Campbell email or call 209.249.3544.