GOP GROUPS WEIGH IN ON SCHOOL RACE.
In the Antelope Valley Union High School District, where trustees have waged battles over textbooks, curriculum and sex education, conservative candidates could assume control of the board.
Incumbents Steve Landaker, Bill Olenick and Sue Stokka are facing challengers Yolanda Deschene, Deanna Larson, Brett Nelson and Wayne Woodhall in the Nov. 4 election.
The conservative Antelope Valley Republican Assembly has thrown its support behind Stokka and Woodhall, who both signed this year's Contract with Antelope Valley Families, which they call a ``pro-family, pro-life and pro-American'' platform for public education.
``Wayne Woodhall has been involved in our organization for some time. He's very intelligent, even-tempered and conservative,'' said Bill Pricer, president of the AVRA and a former high school trustee. ``He'd be a good addition to the board as a kind of peacemaker.''
Pricer said Stokka had been ``supportive of my votes,'' including the 3-2 board vote in 1994 to refuse to administer a controversial state learning-assessment test to students.
``I don't want to see a radical board,'' Pricer said. ``I want someone there with common sense that can make good decisions for everybody.''
The more moderate Antelope Valley California Republican League has backed Landaker, Nelson and Olenick, saying they are the most qualified candidates.
The teachers union, meanwhile, has endorsed Nelson, citing his involvement with the district's regional occupational program and describing him as a moderate who has no political agenda.
``Although relatively new to the political scene, we think he will be open-minded and weigh the pros and cons of issues and listen to both sides,'' said union President Chuck Stoll.
The union also is recommending voters ``seriously consider'' the candidacies of Landaker and Olenick. ``We have not yet been successful in contract negotiations,'' Stoll said. ``We feel like we need more support on the board for certificated employees.''
Stokka and Woodhall, if elected, would join fellow conservative trustee Kevin Carney. But a conservative voting majority might be short-lived because Carney is running for Palmdale mayor in the Nov. 4 election.
Stokka said she would ``love to serve'' with Carney and Woodhall, predicting they could institute changes such as requiring parental permission before students could be taught about human reproduction, AIDS or venereal diseases.
She said it was the conservative trio of Pricer, another former trustee, Tony Welch, and her who brought fiscal solvency to the district.
``I think our curriculum might be much cleaner. We might weed out multicultural and social aspects. We can continue to raise academic standards. There's much more to be done,'' Stokka said.
Stokka has tried to distance herself from the other incumbents. One of her campaign fliers attempts to show how her positions differ from Landaker's and Olenick's - pointing out, for instance, that they believe in the separation of church and state while she does not.
The flier asks, ``Just who are the `rubber stamps'?'' and ``Who has the courage and strength to stand alone?''
Olenick declined to comment on the flier and said, ``We are all common-sense conservatives. The majority of the board is made up of common-sense conservatives. I'm not anticipating any sort of change in that make-up.''
Landaker said he considers himself to be the ``neutral person on that board.''
``My concern is that the board doesn't get too conservative and get away from the education side of the house toward the social-religion side,'' Landaker said. ``You want five people on the board who come from different walks of life and have five different ideas. If we all thought the same, why do you need five different board members?''
Landaker added he's been unfairly labeled a liberal.
``(State Assemblyman) George Runner has endorsed me, and he's very conservative,'' Landaker said. ``I don't think I would get that vote if I was a liberal.''
Here's a look at the candidates' background and positions. Deschene could not be reached for comment.
Landaker is a 47-year-old Palmdale resident and the senior vice president of Martin Outdoor Advertising, a billboard company. He previously served on the board from 1989-1993 and was appointed in March 1995 to fill the seat left vacant by the death of Welch.
One of Landaker's priorities is to increase campus security by adding more video surveillance cameras at schools, hiring more security guards, and completing a plan to add fences at Palmdale High School so visitors must enter the administration office.
Landaker wants to reduce class sizes by hiring more teachers. The district already has reduced class sizes in some freshman science and English classes, he said.
He said the district should consider establishing vocational educational schools in vacant industrial and warehouse buildings, rather than focus on constructing comprehensive high schools at a prohibitive cost of $35 million each.
``I feel we have a lot of kids who aren't going to college who are falling between the cracks,'' Landaker said. ``If we can do hands-on programs in automotive, aerospace and printing, we can be way ahead of the game.''
Landaker said he has moved the board in a positive direction since being appointed. The district has put computers in schools, added bleacher seating at high school fields, increased security, lowered class sizes and raised test scores, he said.
``It's no secret when I got on the board, it was split 2-2. I do think we have some board members there for their agenda items. Some of us are looking at our own personal beliefs and are trying to pound those home. I think sometimes we've got to back up and listen to the community. There's a time and a place to stand firm and a time and place for compromise,'' Landaker said.
Larson is 56 and lives in Lancaster. She retired from the district last year after teaching 27 years at Palmdale, Desert Winds and Lancaster high schools.
Larson said she is running because there is no educator on the board and she would bring it actual front-line experience in the classroom.
``I feel I can bring realism to the board,'' Larson said. ``Lots of things sound good on paper, and they don't work. Having been in the classroom, I have a better idea of what works.''
Since the district has no money to build another school but enrollment has grown, Larson supports adding a ``no-frills high school'' with no sports teams or student government. Students would have a choice of whether to attend it or one of the conventional schools.
``It could be an accelerated high school where students go eight hours instead of six and graduate in three years,'' Larson said. ``A lot of students want to finish high school fast. It would cut down on expenses and house more students.''
With heavy books and no student lockers, Larson said she would like to allow students to keep textbooks at home and to supply a set of textbooks in the classroom for their use while at school.
``There would be much less wear and tear. It would be expensive initially, but what we save on wear and tear might prove successful money-wise,'' Larson said.
Larson said she will work to improve student test scores, although she said they reflect turnover in the student population and are not a realistic gauge. The district needs to develop a better way to evaluate the students who are in the district all four years, she said.
Nelson is a 39-year-old resident of Palmdale and the owner of the Steer 'n Stein restaurant in Palmdale. He has been active with the district's culinary-skills program, which trains students for jobs in restaurants and catering.
``I come out and talk to the kids and hold seminars on how to apply for jobs, how to dress, how to fill out applications,'' Nelson said. ``I take kids with me on catering jobs and have hired quite a few.''
He also has been involved in the district's plan to restructure its curriculum to reflect what many call the new three R's, based on business and industrial reality, rigor and relevance.
``One of the big things was getting kids ready to go to work,'' Nelson said. ``So few kids go to college. We need more vocational training and hands-on training to make them more employable.''
One of Nelson's goals is to get more companies involved and to expand the district's regional occupational program to include training for careers in fields such as aerospace, computers and printing.
Nelson said he also he wants to improve the public image of the district's schools and ``get people to see the good things going on. There are too many negative stories and not enough positive said about the schools.''
Nelson said he would work to improve the articulation between the elementary schools and the high schools so students can make a smooth transition to the ninth grade. He suggests holding meetings between high school and elementary school boards.
Olenick, 46, of Quartz Hill, is a Los Angeles County deputy probation officer. He previously served on the board from 1985 to 1989 and was elected again in 1993.
Olenick said he is running to continue the progress the district has made financially, rebounding from near bankruptcy in 1992 and now maintaining at least a 5 percent budget reserve, higher than the 3 percent required by the state.
Olenick noted that the district last year started allowing students to take advanced-placement classes during the summer and established a rigorous program that, if successfully completed, could allow students to skip their freshman year in college.
For students not bound for college, Olenick said the district has established outstanding regional occupational programs in which students work in their chosen fields while going to school.
Olenick also supports the use of corporate sponsorships to bring money into the schools.
``This district has a tremendous amount of guts and leadership to begin a corporate sponsorship program that will bring in millions and not a nickel from the taxpayer,'' Olenick said.
Olenick's goals include making campuses safer and reducing class size by building a high school in southeast Palmdale. He said he would look for alternative sources of funding to pay for school construction.
``There is no money for that from the state,'' Olenick said. ``If a bond passes in June, we only get 50 percent. The easiest thing to do is turn to voters for a bond, but I believe that's a form of double taxation. Until we can change the rules, I want to turn to the private and corporate sector to pick up the tab.''
Stokka, 54, is a Lake Los Angeles homemaker. She is seeking her second term on the high school board after serving as a trustee on the Wilsona School District board for 10 years.
Stokka sees her role as being the watchdog on the board, ``one of the ones to make sure the curriculum and textbooks are researched.''
One of her main priorities is fighting for parents' rights, she said.
Stokka said she wants to show parents that they need to be aware of what's happening in the classroom and make sure the legislative process doesn't dilute their right to know.
For example, Stokka said there's a state law that allows students 12 or older to be counseled on any subject without their parents' knowledge or consent.
Stokka said she rewrote board policy so that it does not allow teen-age girls to be removed from campus to obtain abortions without parental consent.
Stokka said she will work to maintain fiscal solvency and is concerned about corporate sponsorships, saying there is potential for abuse.
``If Coca-Cola puts millions into the district, what do they do want for their dollars? Do they want Coca-Cola High School?'' Stokka said. ``The board majority and my incumbent opponents have pushed it, though, without protections.''
Stokka said she personally takes time to to review the curriculum and textbooks.
``When you control a child's mind, you control the future of America. We need to make sure textbooks are accurate,'' Stokka said.
Stokka wants to see more done in the district to celebrate American Patriotism and Heritage Month, either through a community festival or districtwide festivities.
``I would like to refine that and make it a more valuable process in the district. We celebrate every other nation, but we don't seem to celebrate our own,'' Stokka said.
Woodhall, 56, of Palmdale works as an engineer for Northrop Grumman. He is a former teacher who taught in the Los Angeles Unified School District between 1971 and 1981.
``I see a lot of the same problems that we had before. I see the same symptoms, and frankly I think I can do something about it,'' Woodhall said.
The problems he sees are ``students' conduct, lack of respect for themselves and the environment and people around them, although I do see great strides forward in those areas due to zero tolerance.''
Woodhall has his own three R's prescription, based on rigor, relevance and responsibility, that is similar to the district's.
``If the classes are rigorous, the student is involved, and if they are relevant, it would mean something to him,'' Woodhall said. ``And if he is held responsible for what he's doing in the classroom and outside the classroom, we would get a whole lot better student.''
Woodhall said he would review the curriculum to make sure it meets the standards of rigor and relevance.
``I do believe that is a board member's responsibility to understand what it takes,'' he said. ``That's the advantage of being a former instructor, a person in the classroom. They have a much better understanding of the effort that's put in.''
Woodhall said he opposes a teacher-training course, called CLAD, on cross-cultural language and academic development. The course has drawn the ire of some trustees, teachers and parents. Teachers, he said, need not be bombarded with superfluous training that doesn't help improve their students' education.
``I don't think there's room for ethnic identity or politics in schools. When you start looking at the individual as being different, you'll find differences. If you stress similarities, there are a lot more of those,'' Woodhall said. ``CLAD sends a bad message . . . that there are major differences instead of commonality.''
PHOTO (1) LARSON
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|Publication:||Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)|
|Date:||Oct 26, 1997|
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