Dunbar alum chosen to fill vacant board seat
Glen Ellen resident and Sonoma Valley native Catalina Wetzel was appointed to fill the vacant seat on the Sonoma Valley Unified School District (SVUSD) Board of Trustees at its Oct. 1 meeting. Wetzel, a Dunbar Elementary School alum, will represent the Dunbar attendance area, taking the place of longtime board trustee Nicole Abate Ducarroz who retired in September.
The board of trustees designated the majority of the Oct. 1 meeting time to interviewing Wetzel and a second candidate for the position, Jessica Strachan. In the end, after a short deliberation, the board voted 4-0 to appoint Wetzel.
Wetzel graduated from Sonoma Valley High School (SVHS) in 1991. She has owned and operated Catalina Skin & Body Care on Napa Street in Sonoma for close to two decades, and has lived in the Dunbar Elementary School attendance area for 18 years. Her two sons have also attended Sonoma public schools, first Dunbar, then Altimira and her youngest, who is also a special-needs students, is currently a senior at Sonoma Valley High School.
Wetzel, who is Latina, said that she sees a big disconnect between the board of trustees and the Latino community, as well as the special education community, and she hopes to be able to bring them closer together. “I feel that communication is the key,” Wetzel told the board.
“Having a child with special needs and having a child in regular [school] has really prepared me for this position,” she said.
Wetzel said one of her top priorities is helping English-language learners and their parents understand the process of taking – and passing – the state standardized testing. Approximately 58 percent of Dunbar’s students are classified as English-language learners, students who are unable to communicate fluently or learn effectively in English. According to a recent study commissioned by the board of trustees, in 2018-2019, only 12 percent of English-language learners at Dunbar met or exceeded grade level proficiency tests in English language arts and only 10 percent in math.
Wetzel has been active in the community, serving on Dunbar school’s PTO for five years and also on the ELAC (English Learner Advisory Committee). Wetzel has also served on the board of the Sonoma Valley Mentoring Alliance and on the event committee for Sonoma Boys & Girls Club for nine years. As a local business owner, she sponsors annual workshops for juniors and seniors interested in exploring careers in the beauty and salon industry.
This, she wrote in her application, has given her direct hiring experience with SVHS grads, “which provides me with a unique perspective about the strengths and weaknesses of our schools.”
Dunbar School, which has the distinguished position of being one of the oldest elementary schools in the state, also has a tight-knit school community, as evidenced by the impassioned parents and teachers who spoke during the public comment periods at the meeting.
“I want to see the school get everything it deserves, and I want to see the teachers get what they deserve, and I want to see those kids get every single thing that they deserve because those are some amazing kids at Dunbar,” said Celeste Winters, a Dunbar alum and Dunbar parent.
Several parents and teachers spoke of the amazing teachers, unique community, and culture of inclusion cultivated at Dunbar, especially for students with special needs. Others expressed their strong disappointment with the lack of support Dunbar has received over the last decade, something they hope the new trustee will remedy.
“We want someone to help advocate [for] us, to make that school what it used to be,” said Glen Ellen resident and Dunbar parent Stacia Derickson.
“We appreciate the community members who took the time to apply and certainly those who remained to publicly interview. The Board has a tough decision to make from qualified and motivated candidates. We are all excited to work with our new board member and appreciate her voice and perspective on the board,” said SVUSD Superintendent Socorro Shiels.
Since Ducarroz vacated her spot on the board a few months before her term was complete, Wetzel has been appointed to the vacancy until the November 2020 election, at which time there will be a formal full election process for the seat.
Sarah Phelps is an editor and reporter. She was raised in Kenwood and has a BA from Loyola Marymount University.