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Fleak and Huerta weigh in on Area 4 in school board elections

Joetta Flores Fleak and Philip Huerta are vying with each other for the Area 4 seat on the Madera Unified School District Governing Board.

In this article, both answer questions posed by Bill Coate, the Madera Tribune’s longtime education writer and historian.

In this coming Wednesday’s issue, candidates for Area 5 on the Board will answer questions.

The election is scheduled for Tuesday, Nov. 6. Joetta Fleak

1. Please describe your family — spouse, children, etc.

My parents, Joe and Katie Flores, were involved in various organizations in Madera. I have one sister, Marcella, she is a retired physician in Portland, Oregon.

I have two daughters, Elissa and Lynley. They both live in Southern California. Elissa is a graduate of UCLA, she works for the LA Coroner’s Department. She is a coroner’s investigator and coordinates with Homeland Security. Lynley graduated from Boston University, she has spent the last 20 years working in the culinary field. Currently she is the menu and recipe development coordinator for UCLA. They were awarded Best College Dining Hall in the USA.

Both parents, my sister and I, along with my two daughters all graduated from Madera High School.

2. Are you employed? If so, by whom?

I work a couple of days a week substituting in the elementary schools for Madera Unified School District. I enjoy working with children, and keeping up on what is happening in education.

3. What other type of employment have you had, if any?

I worked a short time in San Francisco for the telephone company. My sister was going to medical school, so I stayed with her for a while to help her adjust to the big city.

I spent several summers working in Yosemite National Park for Yosemite Park and Curry Company.

4. How long have you lived in Madera?

I was born and reared here, brought up my daughters just down the block from my parents.

5. Are you involved in any civic organizations or activities?

Currently: Madera High School Scholarship program participant.

Madera County Historical Society board member.

I’m on the tribal council of the North Fork Mono Tribe (not a casino tribe).

Member of California Retired Teachers Association, Division 79.

Treasurer of the California State Tribal Water Summit 2018.

Volunteer consultant for the “California Room” in the Madera County Library.

Member of the American Indian Education Association.

Park Restoration Committee member.

California Indian Basket Weavers Association member.

6. What high school or college degrees do you have?

I’m a proud graduate of Madera High School. I graduated from CSU, Fresno, with a Bachelor of Arts in Liberal Studies-Credential, and from the Commission on Teacher Credentialing received a professional Clear Multiple Subject Teaching Credential.

7. Explain your position on Measure M, the $120 million school bond issue that will be on the Nov. ballot.

I am for the bond, Vote Yes (Measure M), we must continue to improve our students’ educational achievement. With enough schools we will not have overcrowding, lower class size makes a difference in student learning (ask any teacher). With a new middle school the concurrent enrollment will reduce overcrowding and provide technical education programs. We can then improve student access to modern technology, which changes daily. Upgrade outdated schools, improve safety and security at school sites.

8. Is the district spending the taxpayers’ money wisely?

Overall I think they are, but there is always room for improvement. They need to pay close attention to building cost increases. Look into areas where money may be wasted, this accomplished by speaking to employees on every site.

9. What should the district do to improve test scores?

The district staff listened to Rich Smith from Sanger on how he turned Sanger into a high performing school district. Professional Learning Communities (PLC) are an important tool, this is where teachers work very closely with each other and the district staff. They implement programs that follow the curriculum and activities that encourage students to work to their full potential. Scores are improving, the district is committed to focus on continuous improvement. The district has staff that tracks test scores and programs to see what is working and what might need to be changed.

10. How would you rate the performance of the current school board?

I think they have an average performance, but they need to be more visible at schools. Not just for special activities, but for everyday monitoring and becoming familiar with schools, staff and the children.

The district has government income from various sources, LCFF local control funding formula and Title money. It is important to understand school district budgets. It should not be run like a business, we have no profit, most of the money goes to salaries, some money can only go into certain categories to be used. The school board members need to be more aware of MUSD budgets and finances. I have been looking into this, it is interesting and very complex.

11. How would you rate the current superintendent’s performance?

Superintendent Todd Lile is putting everything he has to make MUSD the best and beyond. He is a true son of Madera, he honestly cares about our children. He collaborates with other superintendents, asking them what is working with their students. Lile works closely with his Cabinet and staff. He has implemented many new innovative programs and strategies to improve our students’ knowledge. Our students’ achievement levels have improved.

12. What can you offer Madera’s school community that your opponent either can’t or won’t?

I do not know Mr. Huerta, I hope he doesn’t take offense to anything I will say.

I’m a woman, I was born and raised here, involved in the community. I have a well-rounded knowledge of Madera and MUSD’s education vision. I will share my experiences with the school board members, working together as a team. I’ve worked on finances with several organizations, I can contribute that knowledge. My career in education and the knowledge I have acquired over decades of working with children, will be a positive addition. I’m involved in my California Indian culture, I encourage children to be proud of “who you are”, (their own individual culture). Also I have a deep respect for every other culture, their beliefs and traditions.

13. Do you have children or grandchildren in school?

No I have not been blessed with grandchildren, my children are working adults.

14. What is Madera Unified’s most pressing problem? Can you offer a solution?

Financing new schools in the future, we may not always be able to pass bonds. Yes, some citizens are tired of being taxed, even for a great cause, like educating our youth. We need to convince Maderans that educating our children is so very essential to everyone, not just to the student’s future, but the future of Madera as well. The children are the future, and my main priority.

I have some ideas about paying for schools, that may or may not lead to solutions, a sales tax, grants, cutting waste, partnering with philanthropic organizations and co mpanies. Looking into putting more money into the building fund each year. Have a cost-benefit analysis of all personnel, particularly echelon administrative employees. Minimize use of outside consultants, a bedroom tax, and others. Philip Huerta

1. Please describe your family — spouse, children, etc.

I have been married for 38 years to my lovely wife, Bertha. She earned her Multiple Subject Credential with a BCLAD Emphasis degree from CSU-Fresno and has been an excellent teacher for MUSD for over 15 years. We have three grown-up children; one daughter and two sons. One is a graduate of UC Davis and another is a graduate of CSU-San Jose while our youngest is currently pursuing a degree. We’ve also been blessed with an adorable 2 1/2-year-old grandson. My extended family includes five teachers and one retired educator.

2. Are you employed? If so, by whom?

I am employed by Taylor Communications, a private conglomerate, as a regional controller for West Coast operations. Taylor Communications provides a full range of print and digital communications solutions. I have been at this place of employment for over 16 years.

3. What other type of employment have you had, if any?

My entire career has been in manufacturing accounting. How long have you lived in Madera? I have lived in Madera for over 30 years.

4. Are you involved in any civic organizations or activities?

I am currently a member of the Finance Council for St. John’s Cathedral in Fresno.

5. What high school or college degrees do you have?

I graduated from Madera High. I then attended CSU, Fresno and graduated with a Bachelor of Science in business administration, accounting. I also have an MBA from University of Phoenix.

6. Explain your position on Measure M, the $120 million school bond issue that will be on the Nov. ballot.

I am in favor of and will vote YES on Measure M. Measure M will be a bold step in the right direction for the growth of MUSD. I view Measure M as another critical and important step in the transformation of MUSD into an excellent school district.

7. Is the district spending the taxpayers’ money wisely?

Overall, I believe that the district is spending the taxpayers’ money in a prudent and responsible way. The district is aware of areas that are ripe for cost savings measures. As an example, the district is currently looking at possible ways to implement cost savings practices in utilities. The district is also looking at prudent and strategic funding of liabilities that will save the district money in the long term.

8. What should the district do to improve test scores?

The district should implement and continue to use strategies that are driven by sound data. It should be noted that strategies to improve test scores require a multi-faceted approach. It is seldom one strategy alone that will improve test scores. The multi-faceted approach should be driven by extensive data analysis, strong & focused teacher support, focused & strategic support for students, timely monitoring of student progress, and development of an engaged partnership with parents to support their child’s improvement in test scores.

9. How would you rate the performance of the current school board?

I am a member of the current school board and I believe that the board is united in the mission of providing all MUSD students with the best quality education possible. I believe that the current board has a clear vision of where the district was, where it currently is, and where it should aspire to be in terms of overall student performance and graduation rates.

10. How would you rate the current superintendent’s performance?

I believe the current superintendent is doing a very good job of leading the district. Todd Lile has been MUSD superintendent for a little over a year. In the space of a year, the superintendent has tackled and solved many challenges and seized on opportunities that are laying the foundation for a successful school district. The superintendent brings a leadership style to the district that sets a high bar for the expected performance of all MUSD employees. In addition, the superintendent has engaged the community in the “We Believe” motto which is very positive for the district.

11. What can you offer Madera’s school community that your opponent either can’t or won’t?

I have gained some valuable experience as the current appointed incumbent for Area 4 that will help me serve the community better. As the Incumbent, my mission passionately remains to ensure that every student has the opportunity to thrive academically. Achieving that mission requires clear focus on all contributors to a child’s intellectual development — from supporting both students and teachers through smaller class sizes, career technical education, meeting the needs of teachers and classified staff, to encouraging active participation by parents in their child’s education. MUSD will be faced with some major challenges in the coming years, including internal/external pressures on funding sources and developing excellent school site leadership. I will work collaboratively to make the necessary tough decisions that will help further MUSD’s transformation into an exceptional school district known for its excellence in student education.

12. What is Madera Unified’s most pressing problem? Can you offer a solution?

Two areas that are intertwined form a pressing concern for the success of MUSD. The two areas are low overall expectations and school leadership. I believe that we have become comfortable with the status quo (who we are today) and who we have been. The school community should not settle for a “passing grade.” I know that there are very legitimate reasons such as poverty, limited English skills, transportation, access to technology, and lack of parent involvement that contribute to the struggles of many students. The school community should insist on raising the level of expectations across all areas of education. I believe that we should expect ourselves to continuously improve and grow. Madera Unified should lead and is going to lead the way with higher expectations of ourselves and our students. Madera Unified will be raising expectations on all leaders starting at the top, the District level. People in leadership should be expected to insist on drawing out the best from staff and students. The expectation from every leader should be that MUSD will be an excellent school district where, “the future of all our children are driven by their aspirations, notwithstanding their circumstances. I believe that as a member of the school board I can continue to drive those expectations.

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