When she’s not teaching at Las Flores High School, Tami Nelson co-governs the education services for more than 75,000 students at four community colleges and six education centers across Sacramento County.
She is now running for her second term on the Los Rios Community College District board’s Trustee Area 7 seat, which represents Elk Grove. Her lone opponent is Scott Schmidt, a student and a self-described, “taxpayer advocate.”
The Citizen spoke with Nelson on her reelection campaign and her work as a trustee at a time when most Los Rios students are taking distance learning classes during the COVID-19 pandemic.
She recalled when her college district closed their campuses within a few days in March when the pandemic arose in California.
“We switched everyone to online, which was a big job since we had 75,000 students who needed to get online,” Nelson said. “We had to train our faculty – a lot of them have been teaching for a while, and they’re not necessarily Internet-savvy or computer-savvy.”
The trustee mentioned that the Los Rios system also issued refunds to students who did not want to suddenly take online classes during the spring semester.
“They could drop out without it negatively affecting their transcripts,” she said.
Nelson said that her campaign is focusing on ensuring that students have technical support for their online classes as well as mental health support during the pandemic.
“My number one priority is making sure we don’t cut those programs,” she said.
Nelson is also focusing on fiscal stability for the college district – this summer, her board adopted a tentative $427-429 million budget that depends on state funding levels for Los Rios in the 2020-21 fiscal year. She noted there are no plans for staff layoffs or furloughs.
“We don’t plan on going into our (budget) reserves or anything like that, which is now really important since we’re going into a recession,” Nelson said.
Another campaign issue is getting more high school students to take classes at Los Rios colleges and therefore gaining college credits before they graduate from high school. Nelson mentioned that route was how she first gained a college experience while she was a high school student. She said that the student’s school district can help pay for tuition and textbooks.
“My goal is to get into low-income communities and get them started with college so that way they see it’s doable,” Nelson said.
As for her board’s accomplishments in the past four years, she said that her district’s student completion rate increased by 10%. She credited the Guided Pathways program that helps students focus on classes they need to complete. Nelson also said that the district enabled more students to enroll into English and math classes that can have academic credit transferred to universities, instead of taking remedial courses.
“If you think you’re capable of going into transfer-level English, then you can go right into it,” she said about the option.
When she first ran for the Los Rios board four years ago she taught at Elk Grove’s Kerr Middle School. She now works with students individually online through the Elk Grove Unified School District’s Virtual Academy program. Nelson is based at Las Flores High, an alternative school focuses on individualized education. She noted that she also helps students with their scholarship and college applications.
“I’m able to link the community college with the high school,” Nelson said. “I seek the link more than in middle school.”
She stressed that she’s an advocate for students, and noted that she’s an immigrant who spoke English as a second language and grew up poor, like many college students. Her family from Belgium and spoke French – she said they learned English together.
“I want to be a good model for students, I want them to see that anyone can do it and education can get them out of poverty,” Nelson said.