While the razor-close race for the Area 2 seat on the Sonoma Valley Unified School District Board of Trustees won by Celeste Winders was closely followed by the community for weeks, another new board member, Catarina Landry, quietly gained the Area 1 seat.
Landry was the only person who filed to run for the seat, so it was not on the Nov. 8 ballot. She began serving when she took her oath of office at the district’s board meeting on Tuesday, Dec. 13, and answered some questions about her new role this week.
“I feel called to serve as a voice for our students, educators and staff, and will evaluate all matters through the lens of what best serves their interests,” she said. “I am prepared and committed to meet the demands of the role of trustee and look forward to the challenge.”
Prior to serving, she expanded her knowledge of the district and the issues it is facing.
“In addition to attending and reviewing board meetings, studying issues and consuming relevant literature, one of my most recent and most empowering learning experiences has been through conversations with community members, mentors and friends,” she said. “I am committed to continually learning and growing through experience and training as I serve as a trustee.”
Landry is by no means starting from scratch, though. A fourth-generation Sonoman, she was born at Sonoma Valley Hospital and attended Sassarini Elementary School, Altimira Middle School and Sonoma Valley High School. Her daughter is a student at the high school and her son attends Altimira Middle School.
She served as a long-term substitute teacher at El Verano Elementary School and when her children attended Sassarini, she was involved with the Parent Teacher Organization. More recently, she joined the SVHS Boosters Club.
“I believe that my preparation for this important role began when I was a student in Sonoma Valley schools and has continued throughout my experience in serving our district as an employee, volunteer, parent and booster,” she said.
Her four-year board term begins during a time of major transition in the district. In addition to Landry replacing Cathy Coleman as the Area 1 board member and Winders replacing Melanie Blake in Area 2, Dr. Elizabeth Kaufman became acting superintendent last month, replacing Dr. Adrian Palazuelos. Meanwhile, Josh Braff took over the associate superintendent of business services post from Bruce Abbott in October. Plus, this fall six new principals and 34 new teachers began serving the district.
She feels that board members can successfully navigate through the transition by working together constructively and remaining focused on addressing the needs of students and educators.
“Each member of the school board brings something unique and valuable,” Landry said. “I believe that it is extremely important and central to the success of any governing body. It is my belief and practice to respect and appreciate individual opinions while maintaining the goal of putting the students and educators first through collaboration and transparency. We deserve a district that works together to support the children in our community, and I am fully committed to working for that end.
“A unified board that serves the children and educators of its community can accomplish wonderful things, and I am entering into this role as a trustee with the intention of doing exactly that.”
She feels that the board’s first priority is to support the best interests of students, staff and educators, followed closely by the duty to marshal district resources on behalf of its constituents and to provide effective policy direction for the superintendent.
Landry feels that quality of education, leadership continuity and teacher retention are some of the main issues that the district needs to address.
“I plan to collaborate with board member colleagues and play a role in creating solutions,” she said. “I plan to be present at our school sites, connecting with students and educators, and creating relationships that foster support and progress for a more prosperous future.”
She asserts that competitive compensation is central to successful retention and recruitment efforts of teachers and administrators and that it has been addressed, at least in part, through the negotiations process. The board reached an agreement with the Valley of the Moon Teachers Association last month that will provide teachers, librarians and secondary and elementary school counselors with a 14% salary increase over the next two academic years.
“It is my observation that the overall morale within our school district remains unacceptably low, which will require a multipronged approach to resolve, beyond compensation alone,” Landry said. “Our teachers and staff need to be heard and understood as a general theme — not only during contract negotiations.
“As a board member, I’m committed to working to ensure that constructive solutions are prioritized and that all voices are heard. I firmly believe that good working conditions and strong leadership will be part of our success in teacher and administrator retention.”
Results from the Assessment of Student Performance and Progress, issued by the California Department of Education, show a drop in student performance. Just 36.8% of students met the state standard in English language arts in 2022, compared with 42.3% in 2019, while 19.9% met math standards, as opposed to 26.8% in 2019.
“Education is not one size fits all,” Landry said. “Our system has been created to assume that all children fit into a box, and that is simply not the case. We need to listen to the experts with feet on the ground about what students’ needs are, what is working and what is missing in our classrooms.”
Landry said that students’ test scores are a reflection of them either receiving or not receiving what they need to be successful.
“Change requires our teachers being supported to teach to the needs of students and customize their instruction accordingly,” she said. “We have an amazing group of educators within our Valley, and I truly believe that listening to them and supporting them when addressing the needs of our students will positively affect student learning, thus resulting in improvement in test scores.”
She is also looking forward to playing an active role in improving student representation and creating ample opportunities to support student success. She noted that the district has an equity and inclusion task force that produces a report.
“The district is actively building programs based on the information from this report, which has included community and teacher input, as well,” Landry said. “The district is also actively building programs to improve access and inclusion for all students.”
Landry received a bachelor’s degree in liberal studies and teaching credential from Dominican University. She owns and operates Landry Farm & Ranch Management in Glen Ellen, where she lives, as well as Andrea’s Hidden Cottage, a small vacation rental just off Sonoma Plaza. Her husband, Chris Landry, is the battalion chief for the Oakland Fire Department and the volunteer battalion chief for the Sonoma Valley Fire Department.
Reach the reporter, Dan Johnson, at [email protected].
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