Auburn City Councilman’s daughter wins school board seat

Sarah Kirby-Gonzalez to be sworn in by father Dr. Bill Kirby
By: Jon Schultz, Journal Staff Writer
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Unhappy with the current state of education in West Sacramento, Sarah Kirby-Gonzalez drew from the past advice of her father and longtime Auburn public figure Dr. Bill Kirby.

“You can never complain about something unless you’re willing to get involved and make a difference,” Kirby-Gonzalez recalled.

She got involved, and now she has her chance to make a difference – and it will be her father who will swear her in tonight as the newest board member of the Washington Unified School District.

Kirby-Gonzalez received 51.2 percent of the votes, beating Francisco Castillo who garnered 26.1 percent in the special election held to fill the remaining 18 months of a seat on the board of the district that has nine schools and about 7,400 total enrollment.

“I want to feel really good about my daughter going to the local public school,” she said of 1 1/2-year-old Addison. “And that’s why I’m running, because right now I don’t know if I would feel that way.”

A graduate of St. Joseph’s Elementary School, Placer High School and Sacramento State, Kirby-Gonzalez has been an elementary teacher in Rancho Cordova since 2004 and won Teacher of the Year honors in 2011 for Folsom-Cordova Unified School District.

Her new role as elected official came a little sooner than expected, she said.

Growing up, she helped her father campaign for various seats in Auburn, where he had already been well entrenched in the community, whereas she has only lived in West Sacramento for five years.

But after seeing the field of candidates and their relative inexperience, she jumped at the opportunity, she said.

“This was definitely a hard-fought election and not a typical one for West Sacramento, but an unfortunate new trend in very large amounts of money getting poured in,” Kirby-Gonzalez said. “I knew I was the most qualified candidate.”

Some media outlets billed it as a test case pitting a union-backed candidate, Kirby-Gonzalez, against one supported by an outside education interest group looking to change education through charter schools and different hiring practices.

“This is not about national ideology or ideology in general,” said Castillo, who ran as a parent and “education advocate.” “This is about electing the person who can look after the best interests of West Sacramento kids.

“I congratulate Sarah. I think she’s a great candidate. She is going to be a great board member. We’ve got to rally behind her and not pit two groups against each other, but still hold her accountable just as with the rest of the school board.”

Castillo raised around $60,000 including a significant donation from StudentsFirst, a group founded by former Washington, D.C. public schools chancellor Michelle Rhee, while Kirby-Gonzalez’s $30,000 fundraising total consisting mainly of union contributions, she said.

Despite being outspent by double in what she said was a record amount of spending for a West Sacramento school board race, Kirby-Gonzalez won all eight precincts – and it wasn’t close in any of them.

“I have never seen a win like that,” said Kirby, who was reelected to a second term on the Auburn City Council in November 2012.

Asked how he felt the first time he had been elected to public office 14 years ago, Kirby said it didn’t really compare.

“I remember the fact that I was 51 years old when I ran for ARD (Auburn Recreation District) and she’s 31. … It’s unbelievable,” he said. “Had I won or lost, it didn’t really matter. This election really matters, so I was on pins and needles for her, and then when she won in a landslide, I was just relieved.”

Kirby-Gonzalez said her focus will be on working toward a “rich curriculum” that provides parents choices with an emphasis on professional development.

Different educational choices are not limited to the charter movement, she said, and presenting parents with options that fit their child’s needs within traditional schools is important.

The fifth-grade class she teaches uses an “innovative, inquiry-based” program targeted at high-achieving students, she said.

“What I teach now is a different type of curriculum for some of our core classes, and it fills the needs of parents whose kids needed something different,” Kirby-Gonzalez said.


Jon Schultz can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @Jon_AJNews