Fresno Bee voter guide

Welcome to our guide for Election 2016 races. Compare candidates' views side by side, then create your own ballot, which you can print or email.

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Important note: Candidates' responses have not been edited except for clarity, language and libel. Candidates provide their own photographs and video. Candidates for non-partisan offices are listed as No Party Preference, regardless of party registration.

Visalia Unified School District Area 5

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  • Niessen E. Foster

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    Patricia M. Griswold

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    Michael G. Washam

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Biographical Information

Were you pleased with how district officials spent new Local Control Funding Formula dollars this past school year? How would you like to see the new dollars spent this year?

School districts across the state are adjusting to the new Common Core standards. Is the district doing enough to prepare teachers and students for the new standards? What, if anything, would you change about how schools transition to this new way of teaching?

In your opinion, what are the district's top three challenges? How would you address each of these issues?

Do you favor or oppose Proposition 55, which would extend by 12 years the temporary income tax increase enacted in 2012 to support schools and colleges?

Is technology in education important? Is the district doing enough to get devices into the hands of kids? If so, how would you help improve access to technology, especially for low-income or other at-risk students?

Why are you the best candidate to serve on the school board? (Text or YouTube video.)

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Age 59
Residence Visalia
Family Husband: Lewis Children: Natalie, 17. Two grown children
Education B.A. Education, University of West Florida M.A. Special Education, Fresno Pacific University
Occupation Special Education Teacher
Public service experience 2007-2009 Conyer Elementary School Site Council 2000-2002 Divisdero Middle School Site Council
Facebook/Social media Facebook: Friends of Patricia Griswold
The district's Local Control Accountability Plan has three main goals: providing a challenging curriculum with supports for student success, engaging students and parents, and maintaining a caring and encouraging environment. To this end the district has made progress with the Full Day and Transitional kindergarten, the Linked Learning academies that provide a Career Technical Education pathway as well as college preparatory classes. The district has added teachers to improve inclusion of students with special needs and support personnel including Behavior Technicians and bilingual Student Advocates for Family Engagement (SAFE) technicians who work on every campus to increase attendance and provide outreach to families in need. The district has also made a commitment to increasing the number of A.P. classes by 5% and introduced extracurricular STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics) activities such as robotics and instrument repair. The district has used the additional funding to respond to students' needs but I would like to see improvement in class size and classroom assistance. I would also favor a intra agency alliance between the school district and police department to provide more School Youth Officers to enhance security and build community relations.
Teacher training is ongoing but teachers need time to implement new guidelines and curriculum. Students need more access to technology so that they have the necessary skills to navigate research methods and assessment measures and parents need training to understand the demands placed on their students. Common Core provides a structural component for curriculum but does not serve every student equally so additional supports maybe necessary for all students to succeed.
Visalia Unified's top three challenges are laying the groundwork to build a fifth high school, raising reading and math levels and hiring and retaining highly qualified teachers and staff. Getting the bond passed will require a collaborative effort with the community. Improving reading and math levels requires greater resources in the lower grades and remediation at the upper grades. Recruiting and retaining highly qualified teachers should include competitive salaries as wells as classroom support and staff development.
I favor passage of Prop. 55.
Technology in education is obviously vital in this day and age and Visalia Unified is largely succeeding in getting the right equipment to students but more devices and student training are needed.
I decided to run for school board because I’m passionate about education and I believe that all students deserve a public education that prepares them for life in the 21st century. This includes academic achievement and civic mindedness so we produce graduates that grow our community. I have three wonderful children, all of whom attended Visalia schools, including my youngest, currently a senior at Mt. Whitney. During this time, I served on school site councils at the elementary and middle school levels, always working towards improving the school community. I have a Masters of Arts in Special Education, and have taught as adjunct faculty at Fresno Pacific University in the teacher credentialing program. Additionally, I have served as President and am currently serving as Vice President of my teacher’s association as well as bargaining and grievance chair. In my nine years as grievance chair, all issues have been successfully resolved at the informal level. My 20 years as a special education teacher bring a fresh perspective to the board because I understand the day-to-day struggles in our classrooms, including limited resources. If elected, I would promote an honest, transparent exchange of ideas and information to establish a collaborative relationship between parents, teachers, administrators and students to reach solutions to the many challenges that the school district faces. Patricia (Trish) Griswold
Age 58
Residence Visalia, California
Family Michael and his wife Johanna Washam, recently celebrated their 19th anniversary.  The Washam's are members of Grace Community Church and currently, two of their three boys attend Visalia schools; John is a sophomore and Lucas is a seventh grader. 
Education California State Polytechic University, Pomona - College of Business Administration ·  Class of 1997 · Major in Finance, Real Estate & Law · Pomona, California * Class Valedictorian - Summa cum laude. .......... Citrus College ·  Class of 1991 · Social and Behavioral Sciences · Glendora, California * Summa cum laude – GPA 4.0 .......... University of Oklahoma - Economic Development Institute ·  Class of 2015 · Economic Development Institute · Norman, Oklahoma * The University of Oklahoma’s Economic Development Institute (OU EDI) is an executive development certificate program that has been the primary professional training program for those in the business of economic development. Fresno State University - Division of Continuing and Global Education ·  Class of 2009 · Urban and Regional Planning · Fresno, California * The Fresno State Division of Continuing and Global Education is an executive development certificate program in Urban and Regional Planning.
Occupation Economic Development and Planning Director
Public service experience Extensive work in a public agency with an emphasis in improving public infrastructure, streamlining the permitting process, and creating economic development within disadvantaged rural communities. Primarily focused on developing Community Plans, water infrastructure development and safe routes to school programs that include building sidewalk, curb and gutter in areas that previously had none. Program development required robust community outreach and participation. I currently serve on the Agricultural Policy Advisory Committee, Solid Waste Management and Technical Committee and the Economic Development Business Response Team.
Facebook/Social media
Visalia Unified School District (VUSD) engaged parents, teachers and the community when it established the initial Local Control and Accountability Plan (LCAP) before the 2014-15 school year. The eight state priority areas were addressed in the LCAP and it is reviewed and updated annually. The goals and budgeted expenditures are commendable as it addresses the identified needs in our schools. However, the annual reporting of measurable outcomes falls short of providing the needed detail and analysis required to determine if a specific program needs to be modified or eliminated. More robust community outreach and a more thorough analysis of outcomes is needed to ensure Local Control Funding Formula dollars are being spent appropriately and what, if any, modification needs to be made in the LCAP.
The Visalia Unified School District (VUSD) is in the midst of the third year of full implementation of Common Core State Standards (CCSS). It would be anticipated that a paradigm shift as large as this would have challenges during its implementation and there have been issues and concerns brought forth by teachers, students and parents. Especially in regard to mathematics, anything new or unknown can make people uncomfortable. Nevertheless, VUSD has made the transition to Common Core a top priority and has provided training and resources to teachers and parents to assist in the transition. The results of Common Core will not be seen for another few years when the kindergartners who started with Common Core get into the upper grades.
Teacher Shortage There is a significant teacher shortage in the Visalia Unified School District (VUSD) that has resulted in more non-credentialed teachers in our classrooms, higher student to teacher ratios, and the combining of multiple grades into one classroom, otherwise known as combo classes. I would address the teacher shortage by: (1) Creating an aggressive recruitment program that includes both online strategies and direct marketing at universities and colleges throughout California. (2) Creating a supportive work environment that not only promotes teacher recruitment but also retention and advancement. (3) Creating partnerships with local university and college teaching credential programs and implementing a career pathway program within VUSD to provide future teachers who might have a natural propensity to remain in Visalia after obtaining teaching credentials.

Growth As a result of the continued growth in the City of Visalia, new middle school opened and elementary schools continue to be built. Within a few years VUSD will need to construct a new high school to accommodate the increase in enrollment. It is critical to plan appropriately and ensure that our existing “legacy” schools located in central Visalia, Goshen and Ivanhoe are not neglected. I would address this by smart planning that will include robust community engagement and ensure the process of staffing does not negatively effect existing schools.

Safety and Discipline are other major concerns.
Yes, I do support Proposition 55 because the funds designated for education must go to the classrooms and not administrative costs. Proposition 55 includes mandatory audits and strict transparency requirements that will guarantee how and where funds are spent. Proposition 55 also provides funding to maintain the affordability of community colleges and provide expanded course offerings that are so desperately needed to allows students to complete degrees in a timely manner. Finally, Proposition 55 expands healthcare access for children which will result in healthier students ready to learn but also reduce the absenteeism rate, thereby increasing the Average Daily Attendance which is an important component of the state funding formula.
Technology is very important to learning and VUSD has made strides in getting devises into the classrooms such as Chromebooks and iPads. The current LCAP actually has allocated $300,000 for additional Chromebooks. The schools built recently have great technology infrastructure built into the classroom, things like smart boards, large flat screen monitors, charging stations and good internet connectivity. However, some of the older schools in the District would benefit from technology upgrades. Business and industry expect the workforce to have a 21st century skill set. Therefore, it is important that teachers are provided training on how to integrate technology effectively and that every student, regardless of the neighborhood in which they live, is provided equal access to the best technology.
Through my years of experience as a small business owner and in my current position as an economic development and planning director, I have acquired the unique qualifications and business perspective to provide the sage advice and clear direction required to guide Visalia Unified School District and its $300 million budget, 3,000 employees and over 28,000 students. If granted the privilege to serve on the Board, I pledge: (1) To promote and support student achievement through high quality programs, staff and facilities; (2) To be a responsible steward of district resources and assets; (3) To promote ethical leadership through transparency and accountability; and, (4) To engage the community, students, and staff in open and effective communication.