Antioch School Board candidates provide details of their backgrounds, views, goals

By John Crowder

Four candidates are vying for two seats on the Antioch Unified School District (AUSD) board. They are, incumbents Gary Hack and Joy Motts, and challengers Walter Ruehlig and Debra Vinson. Each candidate provided the Herald with answers to questions in which they outlined their backgrounds, experience, positions on the issues, and what they consider the most important topics in the current election.

Career History

Gary Alan Hack said that he was employed by AUSD from 1969-2010 as a certificated employee. Up until 2000, he was an elementary school classroom teacher, working at Sutter Elementary School. From 2000 to 2010, he was President of the Antioch Education Association. From 2010 to the present, he has served on the AUSD board.

Hack also owned an independent business, Hack’s Painting, from 1977 to 2000.

Joyann E. “Joy” Motts said that she has been President of the AUSD board for the last two years, and that she has been serving on the board since 2010. She is also on the California School Boards Association Linked Learning Task Force.

Motts has also been a Senior Mortgage Consultant with Delta Lending Group, and on the Board of Directors for the Celebrate Antioch Foundation. She has served as a member of the Suburban Poverty Task Force, representing Antioch.

Motts also said that she is on the California School Boards Association LCFF Collaborative Team representing AUSD (one of only 15 school districts in the state chosen to participate).

Walter Kenneth Ruehlig said that he has had a 46-year career that revolved around education. In 1968, he taught English as a Foreign Language for the Peace Corps in a Turkish village that had no electricity. Upon returning to the states, he taught ESL, Adult Basic Education, and GED for the City University of New York, Boston School Department, and Polaroid Land Corporation.

For the last 16 years he has worked for the Pittsburg Adult Education Center teaching career development classes and counseling adults with disabilities seeking reentry into the workplace.

Ruehlig said that he was also an admissions counselor at Control Data Institute, Dickinson Warren Business College and Unilex College and was a job developer in private industry.

Ruehlig was on the AUSD school board from 2004 until 2012.

Ruehlig has also owned a dry cleaning business, taught speed reading for Evelyn Woods Reading Dynamics, and operated his own resume writing business.

Debra Vinson said that she has worked as a Clinician in the mental health field in several capacities and for different organizations all over the Bay Area. Some of her work highlights include:

  • Behavior Consultant

  • School-based Therapist

  • Day Treatment Therapist (children)

  • Clinical Case Manager and Mental Health Clinical Specialist with a focus on children and families, adults and community mental health services

  • Adjunct Professor

  • Trained facilitator in Violence Prevention and Response Strategies and Implementation

Education History

Hack attended UC Davis from 1964-1968, graduating with a BA in History. From 1968-1969 he was enrolled in a M. Ed. Program in Educational Psychology. He received his permanent teaching credential through the state of California in 1970. In 1979 he received an M. Ed. In Curriculum and Instruction from the University of San Francisco. From 1979 through 2000 he obtained approximately 120 semester post-graduate units in Education.

Motts attended Los Medanos Junior College and Sacramento State University, studying Business Administration and Criminal Justice.

Ruehlig graduated cum laude as an English major from the State University of New York at Albany, School of Education. He graduated from Rutgers University John Heldrich Center for Workplace Development with a certificate as a Global Career Facilitator.

Vinson has an AA in Computer Operations from Computer Learning Center, a BA in Business Administration from Greenville College with a minor in Psychology, and a MA in Counseling from JFK University.

Why Running?

Hack said, “As a long time resident of Antioch, I understand that our public schools are an asset to our community. When I retired from the AUSD, I knew that I wanted to continue serving the students in the AUSD. Being elected to the AUSD school board allowed me to do so. I’m running for a 2nd term because I still have the passion to make a difference in the lives of our young people.”

Hack continued, “The educational landscape in Antioch has changed. That’s not a negative statement; nor is it a positive one. It’s simply a statement of reality. It is what it is. As a result, the school board is even more important than perhaps at times in the past. Over the past 4 years, the board, which I have been part of, has had to consider options, solve problems, plan strategies, make decision, be transparent, increase community involvement and communicate in new and different ways. We have done that and I look forward to continuing and enhancing those processes. It requires a tremendous commitment of time and energy – both physically and mentally. Great responsibility; awesome opportunity. I look forward to it…yet again.”

Motts said, “As a lifelong resident of Antioch, and a committed and passionate community leader, I know that Antioch students deserve the very best in education and I am dedicated to leading our schools to that goal.”

Ruehlig said, “I am running because I am greatly pained at the downward spiraling of the AUSD.” He went on to compare the state of the schools when he left the board two years ago, to where they are today. He said that a $31 million surplus had dwindled to only $5 million, the state-mandated minimum.

Out-of-control students run rampant on many of our campuses, with daily reports of disruption and violence, including teacher assaults,” Ruehlig continued. He noted there had been several parental lawsuits, including an $8 million settlement for the physical and verbal abuse and alleged cover-up involving eight autistic students, ranging in age from five to seven.

Ruehlig said AUSD, “spent vast amounts of good will, time, and money fighting Dozier-Libbey Medical High School teachers wanting to bolt the District. It should have never gotten to that point.”

Ruehlig also expressed concern with the academic performance of the district, saying that STAR tests scores, on average, are ten points below the state rankings in reading, math, and science, and that “Ed-Trust gave us a D on their last report card.”

As a District, we can’t be victims anymore, just blaming the “changing landscape,” Ruehlig said. “We need a plan and then accountability, transparency, and common sense. We can do much better for our kids.”

Vinson said she is running, “because I know that I can make a difference and work with the families to do the following:

  • Improve educational outcomes for ALL students

  • Bring focused leadership to AUSD to support the teachers and students

  • Work with the community so they will know that their concerns about the education of Antioch’s students are being heard by AUSD and acted upon.”

Top Priorities

Hack listed his top priorities as:

  • Successfully implement LCFF and LCAP

  • Maintain the fiscal solvency of the District

  • Enhance the academic integrity of the AUSD

  • Increase the number of elective class options for both secondary and elementary schools

  • Continue to make our district exemplary in the education, safety and support of our students

Motts listed her top priorities as:

  • Schools that are safe and promote a culture of positive behavior and academic achievement

  • Keeping our students in school, engaged and on pathways for success in college, career and life

  • Provide early and consistent intervention strategies and programs that will support our high needs students’ academic success

  • Successful implementation and integration of LCAP (local control accountability plan) and LCFF (local control funding formula), involving community and stakeholders through full implementation

Ruehlig listed his top priorities as:

  • Bring safety, respect, order and a conducive teaching/learning environment back to all our campuses

  • Increase the number of guidance counselors to offer academic and social direction and interventions

  • Expand on-going tutoring and the summer booster programs for incoming freshmen with particular attention to closing the achievement gap

  • Stop the three-year deficit spending habit and reverse the fiscal slide

  • Continue stressing choice, as one-size doesn’t fit all. The career-themed academies are a boon that have proved immensely enriching. We can’t exclude home schooling, digital learning, independent study, charter schools, etc., as viable alternatives that deserve a seat at the table.

  • Establish a more professional distance so that the Board does not fall prey to the “Club” syndrome where people are so buddy they feel reticent about asking tough questions, occasionally poking, prodding staff and stirring the pot

  • Increase parental involvement through televised meetings and more accessibility by rotating meeting locations in the community; more welcoming atmosphere of parental volunteers, bilingual office aides, expansion of the PIQUE program (Parental Involvement in Quality Education), more school sponsored workshops on topics like anti-bullying, gang prevention, tutoring, School Loop, navigating college admission, etc.

  • Accentuate accountability with a standardized, simple, user-friendly annual report card that details progress or regression in graduation rates, U-C qualified, CAHSEE passing, STAR or other state-wide testing scores, college admissions, SAT scores, truancy, and violent acts

Vinson listed her top priorities as:

  • Safety concerns at school and in the community

  • Fiscal accountability

  • Parent engagement

Previous Accomplishments

Hack said that his previous accomplishments include his “ongoing commitment (45 years) to the youth of Antioch in both public and private avenues (with all that involves)…thereby making a difference in their lives.” He also said that he has been an ordained deacon at St. Ignatius of Antioch, has been involved in both adult and youth education, and has been involved with multiple community programs.

Motts said, “During the last four years, I have worked to improve education at all levels with early intervention programs, increased counseling, Linked Learning Academies and through openness to innovation and new ideas.”

She continued, “The economic recession was a very difficult time for public education. Many school districts were forced to lay off employees, institute furlough days, cut programs and counselors and shorten the school year. I am proud to say Antioch Unified did not have to make those tough choices. Through diligent planning and budgeting we established a significant reserve that allowed us to make it through these tough financial times without making those types of cuts that would have dramatically affected our students. Thanks to Proposition 30, the voters of California and a legislature that is determined to equitably fund public education, revenue for our schools is improving and in Antioch, graduation rates are increasing and CAHSEE pass rates are improving. Our projection for next year and beyond is that AUSD revenues will meet expenditures and we will continue to be fiscally solvent, will maintain sufficient reserves and will continue to build our capacity to provide academic excellence for all of our students.”

Motts also listed other significant achievements she said she was, “proud to have supported in the last 4 years and will continue to build upon.” These included the installation of solar panels on 20 of 24 school sites, that she said would save AUSD $47 million over the next 30 years, and energy savings programs that would lessen our carbon footprint and lower energy expenses. Other programs include the full implementation of Linked Learning Academies, Lead the Way, and STEM.

Motts also mentioned, “Supporting the full intention of the new Local Control Accountability Plan that will bring our parents and community members to the table in determining policy and programs that will best serve the students of our community.” Other achievements she touted were transitional programs to provide intense support for “our most at risk youth, updating our infrastructure to meet the 21st [century] needs of students in technology and curriculum,” and “continuing the employment of additional security to support the safety of our schools until such time the City of Antioch resources are at full restoration,” and the passage of Measure B to rebuild Antioch High School.

Ruehlig said that his accomplishments included serving two terms on the AUSD board (2004-2012) and included his being a two-time president of the board, 2012 Antioch Citizen of the Year (Lifetime Achievement), 2004 County Board of Supervisors Humanitarian of the Year Award, 2004 Columbian Squire California Counselor of the Year, Former Chairman of both the CCC Human Relations Commission and Library Commission, a Founder of the Antioch Music Foundation, Former President of the Mello Roos Board, and a member of the Celebrate Antioch Foundation (involved with bringing the 4th of July parade back to Rivertown four years ago.)

Ruehlig’s accomplishments while serving on the AUSD board included:

  • Bringing back guidance counselors and elementary instrumental music program

  • Taking District off Fiscal County Watch list in first year on Board and building rainy day fund (ending fund balance) to $31 million

  • Instituting an innovative k-8 school (Orchard Park)

  • Encouraging school choice by opening five career-themed academies and the second and third Antioch-based charter schools

  • Introducing school uniforms district-wide to elementary and middle schools

  • Overseeing dropout rate fall from 27% to 19%

  • API increase in seven of eight years from 702 to 742

Vinson said her previous accomplishments include serving as:

  • California State Appointed Advocate

  • Volunteer in Probation

  • Youth Intervention Network Family Mediator

  • Antioch Site Council

  • PTA Member

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