Asked what he would bring to the job of Yolo County superintendent of schools, candidate Jesse Ortiz said, “The thing that I would bring is a perspective of kindergarten to university experience. That’s the experience I’ve had as a policy-maker — I currently serve on the Yolo County Board of Education, I’ve served several terms on the Woodland school board.”
Ortiz also has worked for 20 years at Woodland Community College as a counselor and professor, and held some administrative posts in K-12 education in the 1980s and early ’90s.
“I like to think I can bring that big picture of education to the job, which would serve our youth best,” Ortiz said.
Ortiz grew up in Woodland and graduated from Woodland High.
Elected offices held: Yolo County Board of Education, December 2012-present; Woodland school board, 1987-91 and 2000-06 (four years as president)
Occupation: Counselor and professor at Woodland Community College, 1994-present; adjunct instructor, Sacramento State University School of Education Leadership Program; guest lecturer, UC Davis, National University, Drexel University; administrator in the former North Sacramento school district and Sacramento County Office of Education; visiting educator consultant, California Department of Education; counselor in Elk Grove school district, early 1980s
Education: Education doctorate, Brigham Young University; master’s degree, Sacramento State; bachelor’s degree, San Jose State University; associate degree, Yuba College; California K-12 administrative credential (issued in 1985, lapsed in 1990s, renewed in 2012); K-12 pupil personnel services credential (issued 1985), California Community College counseling, ethnic studies and public administration credentials (all current)
Family: Resides in Woodland, married, two adult children; Yolo County native
Noteworthy: Yolo County School Boards Association Golden Apple Award (2004, 2007); Yolo County Hispanic Chamber of Commerce Community Service Award; Woodland City Council Community Service Award; chair, Yolo County Multicultural Council; served in U.S. Marine Corps
“Woodland is a good community, the school district showed me the path,” he said. “When I think about the district, I think about teachers who really inspired me and had confidence in me.
“Sports played a major role in my life, I was a successful member of the track team and basketball team. Sports taught me that if I worked hard, I could accomplish what I wanted to do.”
Ortiz joined the Marine Corps five days after graduating from WHS. He was originally ticketed for duty in Vietnam, but ended up spending much of his two-year hitch in Okinawa.
Returning to California, Ortiz enrolled in classes through Yuba College, then transferred into San Jose State, where he participated in cross country and track. After completing his undergraduate studies in San Jose, Ortiz got a job with the Santa Clara County Office of Education working with autistic children and their families.
“That got me headed in the direction of education as a career,” he said. He eventually moved into a job as a counselor in the Elk Grove School District, and later positions with the Sacramento County Office of Education, the California Department of Education and the Los Rios Community College District (at Cosumnes River College).
Ortiz came to Woodland Community College in 1994, and has worked there ever since. And while his day job has involved community college students during the past 20 years, “I’ve always had a foot in K-12 education, working through the Woodland district as a volunteer or being on a budget advisory committee, or working on a facilities bond. I have always wanted to stay involved in K-12 education,” Ortiz said.
Ortiz served a total of 10 years on the Woodland school board (over two stints, starting in 1987 and ending in 2006, including four years as board president). More recently, he became a trustee on the Yolo County Board of Education in December 2012, and reactivated his K-12 administrative credential in 2012 in preparation for his run for Yolo County superintendent.
Among the priorities Ortiz says he’d pursue as Yolo County superintendent would be preschool for all. “One of the biggest issues in closing the student achievement gap is preschool — you have to start right out of the gate,” he said.
“In Yolo County, we have about 4,800 4-year-olds, and 45 percent of them are not attending preschool. National data and state data indicate that for every $1 you spend on preschool programs, you get $7 back (in reduced costs later on). … You minimize the impact on the criminal justice system, the school dropout rate, and teen pregnancy, and increase the percentage of students going to college. I actually favor extending preschool to all 3-year-olds.”
Ortiz also is interested in programs that would make all students “third-grade reading-ready.” He said that currently, “only 43 percent of third-graders in Yolo are reading at the third-grade level. I am not insinuating that the schools aren’t doing the best they can.” He noted that for Latino third-graders in Yolo County reading at the third-grade level is closer to 25 percent.
He also referenced the changing demographics of K-12 students in the county.
“We have about 29,000 students, and 16,000 of them are eligible for free- and reduced-price meal programs. Seventy-five percent of students in Yolo are students of color, and 55 percent of that 75 percent are students of a Latino background,” Ortiz said.
“In the class of 2014, we will have our first graduating class in Yolo County with more Latino high school graduates than white graduates, which will be a first in the history of Yolo County.”
He also said, “We have a need to look at literacy at the adult education level. I’m saying that because it’s important — when you improve adult literacy, you also improve children’s potential. This is an area we want to explore.”
Ortiz has picked up a number of endorsements, including current County Superintendent Jorge Ayala, former County Board of Education trustee Davis Campbell, Rick Gonzales of the Yolo County Concilio, Davis school board trustees Sheila Allen and Tim Taylor, and Janet Boulware, founder of the Davis Bridge Foundation.
He also has endorsements from state Sen. Lois Wolk, D-Davis; Assemblywoman Mariko Yamada, D-Davis; former Assemblywoman and County Supervisor Helen Thomson; former California Supreme Court Justice Cruz Reynoso; the Yolo County Teachers Association; and state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson.