Kelly Wilkerson this fall has the challenge of both teaching high school students online, and running for the Los Rios Community College District board.
If she wins the Trustee Area 4 race, then she will make decisions that shall impact more than 75,000 students at four community colleges and six education centers.
“It’s a lot but so far I’ve been able to do it,” Wilkerson said about balancing campaigning and teaching.
The candidate is an English and career technology teacher at Davis Senior High School.
Wilkerson said that she did not have plans to run for office until the COVID-19 pandemic arose and she learned that the Los Rios board’s Trustee Area 4 seat was vacant. The previous Area 4 trustee, Ruth Scribner left the board last year. The area includes the West Sacramento, Davis, and western Elk Grove communities.
“I felt that I have a unique set of skills from both my experience at the high school level and my experience at community colleges,” Wilkerson said about her decision to run. “I really do believe that community colleges are at the center of our economic and educational recoveries, and so this is a place where I feel like I can serve and make a difference, and talk about how to best serve young adults.”
She is running against David Sandino and Katie Villegas for the Trustee Area 4.
Wilkerson has taught for 17 years and noted that she dedicated much of that time to preparing high school students for either college or career training.
“My goal is that every high school senior leaves high school with a plan for postsecondary training.” she said. “So it’s either going to a college or getting the training so they can get a high-paying job or a job that’s meaningful to them, whether that’s a union apprenticeship and you’re building the parking structures or bridges we need, or you are a health worker. I hope that our society, post-COVID, has an appreciation for all of those important jobs that we all depend on.”
During her interview, Wilkerson said she became an educator after the 9/11 attacks. She was working at a public relationships firm and didn’t find her work to be meaningful.
Wilkerson recalled that she challenged herself to read every New York Times obituary of each 9/11 victim.
“I remember one night when I looked at the lives of people who had a great impact and others not so much,” she said. “I just made the decision that I wanted a more meaningful job, and that’s when I became a teacher.”
In her campaign for the Los Rios board, Wilkerson said that she wants the district to make more connections between their colleges and their high schools, particularly regarding their career education programs.
She also wants to introduce more dual enrollment programs that allow high school students to take college classes. The candidate mentioned the success of West Sacramento high schools in enrolling their students in community colleges. She noted that the colleges accept students who are not academically advanced.
“(The students) might not think of themselves as college material, but once you have two years of college under your belt, it’s hard to say that you’re not college material anymore,” she said.
Regarding the Los Rios district’s distance learning practices, Wilkerson said that she’s concerned about “quiet, safe” places for homeless students during a time when libraries and coffee shops are closed.
“’Homeless’ is someone who doesn’t have a steady place to stay, and so most homeless students are couch-surfing with friends as you can imagine,” she said. “They don’t have a dedicated space to focus on their studies.”
Wilkerson said that it’s now highly important for the Los Rios district to listen to its faculty, staff, and students as the district moves toward reopening their campuses.
“We have experts on campuses, experts on student engagement, experts on diversifying our curriculum – we have all of those experts, they’re called the faculty and staff,” she said. “So we don’t really need to spend money on outside consultants. And connected with that is listening to educators and listening to students, especially as we go into this next phase of the COVID crisis, and one is reopening and doing that as safely as possible.”
Wilkerson mentioned there is a lack of Elk Grove residents running in that race; she added that Elk Grove covers half of the trustee area.
“Elk Grove (voters) need to think who is the candidate who is on the ground in Elk Grove,” she said. “Elk Grove is half the district; you can’t hide in Davis or West Sacramento and do a good job here.”
Wilkerson along with Trustee Area 7 candidate Scott Schmidt gained endorsements from the Elk Grove Chamber of Commerce’s Political Action Committee this month.