Come Nov. 3, voters will have a packed ballot to choose from when selecting who they’d like to see represent several seats on local school boards for both Turlock Unified School District and Yosemite Community College District.
The election will feature races for TUSD Areas 1, 3, 5 and 7 and Turlock’s portion of YCCD, Area 3. While TUSD Trustees Ken Malech (Area 3) and Anthony Silva (Area 7) are running unopposed, incumbent Trustees Miranda Chalabi (Area 1) and Frank Lima (Area 5) each have two challengers to contend with.
Chalabi is seeking election after being appointed to the Board in June of last year. Turlock Black Lives Matter movement co-founder Jaimee Ellison and Patterson Joint Unified School District Alternative Education Principal Jose Sanchez are also competing for the seat.
“I’m seeking election because I have so much that I still want to accomplish,” Chalabi said.
She graduated from Turlock High School in 2003 and currently works for Stanislaus County in Behavior Health Recovery Services as a data and outcomes project coordinator.
“I care about the future of all students and I want to be a voice for those students the system has failed. I want to be the voice of our teachers, parents and community. To do that I will work to understand many perspectives and be a fair representative that balances them all. As a parent of two young TUSD students and a long-time community member, I am committed to the success of TUSD,” she said.
Sanchez is an administrator for both Del Puerto High School and Open Valley School, an independent study school. He’s held the position for five years and was previously the principal of Apricot Valley Elementary School for nine years. He has also taught at the elementary school level and is an alum of three California State Universities: Fresno, Monterey Bay and Stanislaus State. In Turlock, he has been involved with Little League and Turlock Youth Football.
Sanchez was inspired to run for a Trustee seat after seeing TUSD’s growth over the years as his children attended its schools.
“I am confident that my administrative career and volunteer opportunities will allow me to make educational and administrative decisions while supporting all stakeholders, most importantly our children. My community volunteer experiences will allow me to be a voice between the school districts and our students and families. I have a high level of interest in preserving the educational programs the Turlock school system has implemented while continuing to be innovative and improving opportunities for all students,” Sanchez said. “It is important to understand that education is constantly changing through legislation and student needs; we need to be part of the growing culture in our schools.”
If elected, Sanchez hopes to address mental health support and college/career preparedness.
“In my current position, I have the opportunity to speak with former students who have graduated and share their challenges they face when seeking advice at the postsecondary level. It is important to continue and establish a support system for students seeking assistance after graduation.”
Ellison is a first-timer on the ballot, choosing to take the plunge into public service through the school Board so that the group of Trustees has a youthful voice, she said.
“In high school I wasn’t the best student and it’s partly my fault, but now I see that there is so much potential within the school district to help students who aren’t getting the extra attention that they need,” Ellison said. “There are programs in place that are good but they can be better. Being as young as I am and having literally gone through the school system just a few years ago, I can see it and see where we might need a younger mind with new ideas. I want to give the students a youthful voice and help them get whatever they may need and more.”
A Pitman High School alumna, former member of the Army National Guard and a double-major graduate of Stanislaus State, Ellison hopes she can bring some diversity to the Board and also help the district focus on mental health.
“I think I can bring that perspective of what it’s like being a person of color and going through the TUSD system. I’m not saying it’s bad, but there are a lot of external struggles we face that aren’t really recognized until we get older,” Ellison said. “Looking back on my school years now, it’s something I’d like to address and bring to light so that hopefully, moving forward, there are more programs put in place not only for students who are low-income, but specifically minorities and people of color.”
Longtime Trustee Frank Lima of Area 5 is also running for reelection and was originally elected to the Board in 2001. Former Trustee and parole agent Grady Welch is challenging Lima for his seat, as is Parent Teacher Association secretary and parent Daniel Benedict.
Lima said his attitude and commitment to public education has not changed over the past 19 years — a big part of the reason why he decided to run again this year even though he had previously decided to step down. The coronavirus pandemic inspired him to serve another term, he said.
“Until the COVID-19 crisis, I looked forward to addressing the Turlock High School 2020 graduates at their commencement and soon thereafter resigning or not submitting my candidacy for another term. As a result of the COVID-19 crisis, I believe TUSD, like other public school districts, will have a number of difficult and unpopular decisions to make, beginning with the opening of school for the 2020-21 school year,” Lima said. “I am willing to serve to address the concerns of our community and all TUSD stakeholders, and ultimately, support the administration during this difficult time for our students, staff and community.”
Welch stepped down from the Board of Trustees in 2013, two years into his term due to his health after sustaining injuries in a car accident. He had surgery in 2016 to repair his spine and is now doing much better health-wise, he said, and is hoping to “prove himself” after feeling pressure to resign seven years ago.
Welch hopes to bring transparency back to TUSD governance and listen to not only parents, teachers and students, but classified employees as well. He said one of his goals as a Trustee is to continue his practice of visiting campuses regularly, rather than just on Board tours.
It is also Welch’s belief that 19 years is far too long for someone to serve on any governing body.
“My opponent has controlled the Board for 19 years and I really think it’s time for a change,” Welch said. “Because I did resign in 2013, I want to prove myself and come back to politics.”
Welch is father to four boys who have all attended or are attending TUSD schools, and he hopes to represent the interests of students on the westside of town if elected.
“Area 5 consists of our most vulnerable students within Turlock Unified School District. These students and families deserve a representative that can relate to their needs and everyday life, especially during these trying times living with COVID-19,” Welch said. “These students cannot be left behind.”
Also hoping to represent Area 5 is Benedict, a father of three who has previously served as a PTA secretary and as a Board member for Turlock Nursery School. He was inspired to run after several community members reached out to him with words of encouragement, he said.
“Now that all of my kids are out of nursery school, I was looking for the next step and I thought this would be a good opportunity to contribute not only to my kids’ education, but to everyone’s education,” Benedict said.
He added that his current job as a stay-at-home parent gives him a unique perspective on student needs, and that he is impressed with TUSD’s current implementation of an Equity Task Force and Dual Immersion Academy, which promote diversity within schools.
“I think we should continue down that path, especially because we’re seeing some things in our society right now that can be harmful to certain groups of people,” he said. “One of the ways we can prevent that is by making sure kids can access an education in an environment that welcomes everyone.”
In the race for YCCD’s Board of Trustees, two candidates are hoping to replace the Area 3 seat left vacant by longtime Trustee Abe Rojas, who will not be seeking reelection. Milton Richards, retired Stanislaus State Athletic Director and husband to Turlock Mayor Amy Bublak, and Modesto City Schools teacher Bryan Rogers will both be on the ballot.
Richards said he was inspired to run from a desire to continue his service to higher education.
“My goal as a YCCD Trustee will be to work with fellow trustees, our chancellor, faculty, students, taxpayers and residents to provide affordable opportunities allowing students to transfer to a four-year college, pursue vocational careers not requiring a full four-year degree or otherwise improve their lives,” Richards said. “I will also use my previous experience as a CSU Stanislaus administrator to make it easier for YCCD students to continue their education at CSU Stanislaus.”
In addition to his time at Stanislaus State, Richards has also served in roles such as adjunct professor for Temple University Pennsylvania, United Way of Stanislaus County Board member, former Chairperson of Turlock Convention and Visitors Bureau and holds a bachelor’s, master’s and doctorate degree from West Virginia University.
Rogers has family and personal connections to YCCD — he graduated from Columbia College in 1990 and essentially grew up on the campus since his father taught there. He also attended the Modesto Junior College photo program after high school, and believes his current position as a high school teacher gives him a unique outlook on what future JC students need.
Rogers, who lives in Denair, has been hard at work meeting with YCCD stakeholders, like the chancellor, athletic directors and more, in order to find out what issues are most important to the district.
“When the opportunity came for the Board seat, I realized that I was in a unique situation where I'm actively teaching in the classroom. My students will likely go to MJC or Columbia at the end of year, and some of my former students are there now,” he said. “That’s a perspective I didn’t see on anyone else’s plate who is running for the Board. I'm in the classroom now seeing how kids are doing during the pandemic, how they’re adapting to it and how it’s affecting them.”