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San Juan has 3 new school board members. What will that mean for 2023?

San Juan Unified School District board members, from left to right. Top: Saul Hernandez, Tanya Kravchuk, Paula Villescaz. Bottom: Ben Avey, Zima Creason, Steve Miller, Pam Costa. // Images:

By Sara Beth Williams–
The San Juan Unified School District board of education looks very different in 2023, with three newly elected board members and two new seats altogether.

Starting in November 2022, San Juan Unified moved to by-trustee area elections, and increased the size of the board from five to seven board members, according to the district’s website. Four seats were up for grabs during the 2022 elections, with 10 candidates running for election in all.

Final election results determined Zima Creason to be the only school board member to be reelected. As previously reported, Tanya Kravchuk, a mom of four and a small business owner, unseated union-backed former school board president Michael McKibbin in Area 5. Independent Ben Avey won in Area 6 and former Citrus Heights City Councilman Steve Miller won in Area 7.

The new trustee areas, Area 6 and Area 7, now offer guaranteed representation on the board for Fair Oaks and Citrus Heights.

Although school board members are listed as nonpartisan, the seven board members are diverse in their political affiliations. Together, the members bring a range of experience and expertise to the new board, including small business ownership and extensive volunteer experience, according to the board members’ biographies on the district website.

The SJUSD school board is responsible for approving an annual budget and setting policies and goals that affect approximately 40,000 students throughout the entire San Juan district, which includes Citrus Heights.

So what could be different this year, with the new makeup of the board?

In an email to The Sentinel earlier this month, Avey said as a parent of children in the district, he did not feel “adequately informed” or welcomed in the decision-making process during the pandemic. As such, Avey said “this year I will be an advocate for increasing transparency and engaging more parents and families in the decision-making process.”

While multiple attempts to reach other board members for comment went unanswered before press time, newly elected board members gave indications of what their focus will be in statements during the election.

Despite differing political affiliations, many of the board members have similar goals in mind.

Both Creason and Kravchuck, though differing politically, have expressed the desire to address a skilled workforce shortage.

In a previous interview with The Sentinel, Kravchuck stressed that her focus would be on addressing “learning loss” during the pandemic and emphasizing “academic achievement.” During a video interview with Del Campo’s Koug Media, Kravchuk praised the student-oriented media program for providing “real world experience.”

Kravchuk said she’s already made a request for the school board to revisit and revise the district’s mission statement to encourage and emphasize academic rigor.

Creason serves as the Executive Director of the California EDGE Coalition and as President and Chief Executive Officer of Mental Health America of California. In a interview, she listed one of her priorities as “positive academic outcomes that lead students to economic mobility.”

Also on The Sentinel: Union-backed candidates lost all school board races in Citrus Heights. What happened?

Many of the board members also plan to address the role of parents’ voice in education.

Miller, Avey, Creason and Kravchuk have each expressed the desire to enhance the level of communication between the district, local schools, and their surrounding communities.

“Parents and caregivers deserve accountability and transparency,” Kravchuk wrote on her website.

Creason told Capital Public Radio that the parent voice is “crucial” in education and noted at the time that she was the only seated board member with a child attending a school in the district before the election — although that has since changed with the election of Avey and Kravchuk, both of whom have children in the district.

In an interview with The Sentinel, Miller similarly shared a desire to meet with families and students, so they could “come and voice their concerns.”

Related: Citrus Heights Police Chief says cost could run $2.5M to put cops in schools

Miller, as the first school board member to represent the newly created Area 7, representing Citrus Heights, also plans to be an advocate for improving public schools within the boundaries of the city.

“My biggest concern is the equitable treatment of schools within Citrus Heights, including adequate funding for education, facilities, and safe campuses on par with schools in Fair Oaks, Carmichael and Orangevale,” Miller said in a statement to Capital Public Radio.

Another change in 2023 could be seen with the district having a new superintendent, which is the top executive position in the district and reports directly the the school board. Melissa Bassanelli replaced former Superintendent Kent Kern on Jan. 1 of this year, a change Miller said could result in the district being more receptive to addressing “grievances” about Citrus Heights schools.

Each school board member serves in four-year terms. Board members Pam Costa, Saul Hernandez and Paula Villescaz will be up for reelection in 2024, while those most recently elected will not be back on the ballot until 2026.

Related:Vice mayor floats idea to form Citrus Heights Unified School District

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