Sonoma Valley school board selects Catalina Wetzel for Dunbar attendance area
Catalina Wetzel, a longtime Glen Ellen resident, was appointed to the Sonoma Valley Unified School District board of trustees this week, filling the Dunbar attendance area seat recently vacated by Nicole Abate Ducarroz.
District officials last month decided against holding a costly election to fill the seat and voted Sept. 3 to appoint a replacement for Ducarroz, who has one year remaining in her term. After fielding applications through a Sept. 23 deadline, two contenders filed for the seat: Jessica Strachan and Catalina Velasquez Wetzel.
At the district board meeting on Oct. 1, the trustees spent almost an hour interviewing Strachan, 49, and Catalina Wetzel, 47, for the open seat in the Dunbar School attendance area.
Community members gave public comment prior to the trustees’ deliberation. Dunbar teacher Brandy Melendy took the opportunity to provide the room with some history about the school. While noting that the campus has seen an enrollment drop from over 300 to under 200 in recent years, she stressed that there is good news to share.
“I want our trustee to report out about the great things happening on our campus,” she said.
Community member David Ransom addressed the trustees to stress the importance of broader ethnic representation on the board, considering the high percentage of Latinos at both Dunbar Elementary School and in the district as a whole.
“Let’s show that Latinas have a place in the political life of this community,” said Ransom.
District parent Mario Castillo said that he feels a responsibility “to keep the board members true and honest and to remind them of their job and responsibility.” He also noted that the community “has the power to change the person at the end of a year,” making reference to fact that the new Dunbar attendance area trustee will need to run for re-election in November 2020.
Stacy Derickson, who has a daughter in the special-education program at Dunbar, said that she hoped the board would select a trustee who will listen to the parents and support the school.
“We want a board member who will help make that school what it used to be,” she said.
Celeste Winders said she also has a special-needs student at Dunbar. She said that it was “incredibly important” to her that the Dunbar trustee be active and understand the school – in particular, the fact that Dunbar has a higher percentage of enrolled special education students than any of the other district campuses.
“Our school needs to feel supported,” she said. “We need trustees and administrators who will support our out-of-the box kids.”
Wetzel has owned and operated Catalina Skin and Body in downtown Sonoma for the past 19 years, and lived in the Dunbar trustee area for 18 years. The trustees expressed their pleasure that, as a candidate for the seat, she was both a product of the Sonoma Valley public schools – she graduated from Sonoma Valley High School in 1991 – a graduate of Dunbar Elementary and a parent of two students who attended Dunbar.
Wetzel served on the Dunbar parent-teacher organization for five years and was also part of Dunbar’s English Learner Advisory Committee. Wetzel noted in her application that she has direct experience hiring SVHS graduates.
“[This] provides me with a unique perspective about the strength and weaknesses of our schools,” she wrote.
Wetzel also has personal insight into the school district’s special education program, as her younger son currently receives services at Sonoma Valley High School.
After a short deliberation, the trustees voted 4-0 to appoint Wetzel to the Dunbar seat.
After being sworn in by Sonoma Valley Unified School District Superintendent Socorro Shiels, Wetzel grabbed her handbag and moved from the audience to the open seat on the dais.
Reached on Thursday, Wetzel told the Index-Tribune that she was impressed by her first board meeting.
“I really admired how difficult issues were handled by the board,” she said. “And it was interesting to hear all the different issues raised by the community during public comment.”
Email Lorna at firstname.lastname@example.org.