Absent a candidate on the Nov 6 ballot, the Williams Unified School District board voted 4-1 to appoint Ana B. Leos-Vera, a 2015 graduate of Williams High School, to fill the seat that would be left vacant when Trustee Kelly Lewis’ term expires in December.
Lewis, who chose not to seek reelection, was the lone dissent in the Oct. 23 meeting against the Sacramento State student and school insider to be his replacement. He cast his vote to 15-year Williams resident, Natalie McCullough, a middle school teacher at a private school, former TK-8 school principal, and former advisory board member for Williams Family Action Center.
Leos, 21, was raised in Williams and is working on a bachelor’s degree in child development. She plans to get her master’s degree in school counseling. She was an intern at Williams High School’s summer migrant school program and is a volunteer tutor at the high school. She hopes to eventually work for WUSD as a school counselor when she finishes her education.
“I know this community,” Leos-Vera said. “This is my community.”
Leos-Vera, the daughter of migrant workers, said she graduated from Williams High School ill equipped for college or career, and would like to use that experience to help change the school climate. She said it was important for her to see that the needs of all students are met so they can become more competitive in college and the workforce.
“I didn’t receive that kind of guidance and support when I was in K-12 here,” she said. “I think it needs to change, and I want to be that agent for change, alongside the board. I know it is a team effort.”
Leos said she wants to see student math scores increase and more career technical programs offered at the high school.
“I had to fight for everything to get where I am in college,” she said. “I don’t think that’s fair.”
Leos-Vera also prioritizes growth in the Dual Immersion program, which became an explosive divide last year between the school board and the teachers’ union, non-Hispanic parents, and non-Hispanic teachers.
The California Department of Education said studies show that learning content in both English and Spanish, while children are young, promotes achievement in both languages, as well as other languages that are introduced. Williams Unified also plans to introduce Chinese language development for fourth graders.
While middle-class and upper-class non-Hispanic parents across the country are on waiting lists to get their students into Dual Immersion schools so their children grow up speaking two or more languages, the divide over Dual Immersion the past few years in Williams had a different effect.
Trends in housing and immigrant settlement has led to Williams Unified becoming almost entirely Latino, which puts English/Spanish bilingual and biliteracy in jeopardy, state officials note. The Department of Education said that for Dual Immersion to work, meaningful exposure to English-speaking peers and contexts is vital for the acquisition of English.
While not all of Williams Hispanic students are considered English learners, the use of Spanish among peers on the playground, during lunch breaks, and before and after school is high.
But given that Williams Unified’s population is largely Latino, the school board believes that in order for them to effectively produce graduates from their schools that can be considered ready for college or work, they have to do better at closing the opportunity gap for English learners and socio-economically disadvantaged students by providing more and better resources.
“Our students and a group of students don’t feel that they belong, and that’s a big problem,” said Trustee Yareli Mora. “If we are going to provide them with the tools that they need, they need to feel supported by the school board. The school needs to be a family to them.”
The school board said that while both applicants for the school board have much to offer (and encouraged McCullough to run in the next election), the majority felt that Leos-Vera was a better fit when it comes to an ability to engage Latino students and their parents.
Leos-Vera will take the oath of office in January. ■