Colleges get new view for new era
Sacramento Bee 12/19/06
School scandals were of the practical joke variety: Albiani was crowned homecoming queen at Elk Grove High but was asked to hand over her crown when administrators discovered some pranksters had stuffed the ballot box.
Fifty years later, those dusty Central Valley memories have made way for a booming suburb with dozens of new elementary, middle and high schools -- including one named after Albiani, who served for 18 years on the school board.
As families moved into the area, Albiani pushed for an academic curriculum considered years ahead of its time and led successful campaigns for more school funding.
"It wasn't one of these, '(bring back) the good old days,'" said Bob Trigg, a former Elk Grove superintendent and state board of education member. "She wanted it better."
Albiani is now on the same determined path to raise education standards and improve finances for the state's rapidly growing community colleges.
"The world I lived in -- we all talk about the '50s -- that was all nice and warm and cuddly," said Albiani, 66. "The reality is, it's gone, and we have to prepare everybody for what's coming at us."
Last month, Albiani was named president of the statewide community college Board of Governors.
She stands out among the corporate lawyers, investment advisers and business leaders who typically serve as California State University trustees and University of California regents -- and it's not just the Christmas sweaters the grandmother of 14 wears this time of year.
Albiani, who was initially appointed to the state panel in 2004 by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, has a self-described "firm but fair" governing style that she used in raising her five children. It's part of a plan to reassert the 17-member Board of Governors as a more influential policymaking body.
The community college system is at a unique crossroads. The two-year colleges are praised for their openness -- they admit anyone older than 18, with or without a high school diploma -- but they have trouble getting students through classes.
According to a recent study by the Public Policy Institute of California, most students in vocational courses do not return the following year and most students do not transfer to a four-year institution or earn an associate's degree or certificate.
Meanwhile, the community colleges are expecting a surge of 2.1 million students by 2014, a 27 percent increase from today.
Albiani said she wants to ensure the students can succeed, and is charged with implementing a 34-point road map -- the first "strategic plan" in the system's history -- adopted recently by the Board of Governors.
The plan calls for more assessment tests of new students to start them in the appropriate classes, expanded remedial courses for those who need extra help and improved coordination with high schools to have students better prepared when they get to campus.
Petitions also are being circulated for a 2008 statewide ballot measure to boost funding for community colleges and lower student fees.
The challenges of improving a school system are not new for Albiani. She was first elected to the Elk Grove school board in 1976, two years before Proposition 13 would hobble school districts' ability to rely on property taxes for funding.
Growth threatened to overwhelm the Elk Grove school system, teachers were warned of possible layoffs and the district was considering a bus fee that drew hundreds of angry parents to board meetings.
Albiani lobbied the Legislature to allow for the passage of local school bond measures, campaigned for multimillion-dollar ones in Elk Grove and pressed for controversial developer fees on new homes to help schools.
Her independent streak also led to an algebra graduation requirement, a minimum C-average for student athletes to participate in sports and zero-tolerance for weapons -- standard policies today that Elk Grove took the early lead in adopting.
"I sound like the obnoxious kid in the front row saying, 'We're already doing that,'" Albiani said in a 1993 interview about modernizing schools.
She tried her hand at running for higher office but lost bids in 1992 for state Assembly and in 1994 for county supervisor.
She was back in the education arena by 1996, winning a seat on the Sacramento-area community college system's board of trustees. She's been re-elected twice to the Los Rios board, and is considering a fourth term in 2008.
Dave Gordon, a former Elk Grove administrator and now superintendent of education for Sacramento County, said Albiani is well-suited for improving the community college system because she sets high standards and inspires others to accomplish those goals.
"Kay would stand firm and say it's the right thing to do," Gordon said. "That's what good leaders do. She really stands for excellence in what people do in the school system. People will rise to those expectations."