Top Winters news of 2022

New councilmembers Albert Valecillo, Carol Scianna and Richard Casavecchina take their oath of office at the Winters City Council meeting on Tuesday, Dec. 13, 2022. (Crystal Apilado/Winters Express)

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As we continued to transition from one COVID guideline to less, the past year brought a multitude of changes, from start to finish. In 2022, the Winters community experienced heartache and grief, applauded (or spoke out against) new endeavors, celebrated local youth achievements and brought back many community events.

Shift in school leadership
Winters Joint Unified School District experienced a shift in leadership, again. In May, Superintendent Diana

Superintendent Rody Boonchouy began work on Nov. 30, 2022 at Winters Joint Unified School District. (Crystal Apilado/Winters Express)

Jiménez accepted a position to be the new Superintendent at Merced City School District. Jiménez had served as Superintendent since July 2020, following the departure of former Superintendent Todd Cutler. Jiménez unanticipated move came a little over two weeks following the Board of Trustees’ unanimous approval to extend her contract an additional year, scheduled to terminate in June 2025.

Phoebe Girimonte was appointed to serve as Acting Superintendent during the interim as Trustees brought on a search firm to lead the Superintendent search efforts. Winters JUSD families and local community members were invited to engage in a series of in-person engagement sessions and to fill out an online survey — in English or Spanish.

In October, Trustees selected Dr. Rody Boonchouy to serve as the next Superintendent. Boonchouy officially began the role Nov. 30 and immediately embarked on what Boonchouy called a “whirlwind listening tour” where he met with school leaders, staff, students, and members of the community to learn more about the Winters and the school district’s culture.

New councilmembers
The November General Election brought the opportunity for residents to elect three new Winters City Councilmembers. Mayor Wade Cowan and Councilmembers Harold Anderson and Pierre Neu had collectively served in Winters city governance for decades. Anderson had served as a councilmember for 28 years, beginning council tenure in 1994. Both Cowan and Nue were elected as councilmembers in 2012.

The top three candidates who received the most votes in the November General Election took their oath of office at a Winters City Council special meeting on Tuesday, Dec. 13. Carol Scianna, Richard Casavecchia, and Albert Vallecillo were sworn in by City Manager Kathleen Salguero Trepa. In the new Council’s first action, they approved Bill Biasi as the new Mayor and Vallecillo as the new Mayor Pro Tempore.

Winters FFA wins
The Winters High School FFA chapter achieved multiple wins in 2022. Allison Aguiar, a freshman at the time, placed high honors at the 94th annual California FFA State State Leadership Conference held March 26 to 29 in downtown Sacramento. Allison received second place in the State finals for her efforts in Creed Speaking. In February, Allison had placed second in Creed Speaking at the Central Region Public Speaking contest in Modesto. Her teammate Bianca Dyer-Gonzalez placed third in Impromptu Speaking, and together the duo represented the Winters FFA chapter in the state conference. Dyer-Gonzalez placed in the top 24 in the Impromptu Speaking competition.

Joe Aguiar, Bianca Dyer Gonzalez, Ava Skinner and Allison Aguiar competed in the Ag Sale Competition at the National FFA Convention representing California at the end of October. The Friends of Winters FFA is hosted a Donation Drive to help fund their travel expenses. (Courtesy photo)

Additionally, of the 342 different FFA chapters competing at state, the Winters FFA Ag Sales Team of Dyer-Gonzalez, Ava Skinner, Allison Aguiar and Joe Aguiar returned with gold. The three-part competition included a written portion that quizzes competitors on a variety of sales topics and marketing techniques, an individual portion where competitors are all selling the same product to a panel of clients (judges), and a team portion where competitors sell their product to the four different types of customers (also played by the judges).

The State win sent the Ag Sales Team to compete in Indianapolis at the 96th National FFA Convention & Expo in November. Their team received Silver where they placed 13th out of the 37 teams competing. Allison Aguiar, now a sophomore, earned first place in the nation for her individual competition efforts.

Winters FFA’s achievements didn’t stop there. In collaboration with Pat and Chris Calvert from Ciarlo Fruit & Nut, Winters FFA was able to produce about 2,800 pounds of olives into its first batch of bottled extra virgin olive oil. In May, the Winters FFA olive oil won a gold standard of excellence in the California State Fair olive oil competition. Of the 117 olive oil entries, the Winters FFA olive oil was one of the 30 gold medal recipients.

Land-use split decision
Grand Prince Odeum owner Rhonda Pope Flores’ challenges in opening her event space continued throughout the

The grand opening of the Grand Prince Odeum was on on Saturday July 23, 2022 (Courtesy photo)

beginning of the year, but officially opened doors to the community on July 23. However, appeals regarding the local noise ordinance and hours of operation brought the Grand Prince Odeum back onto a Winters Planning Commission agenda in September.

During a public hearing, residents spoke against and for the Grand Prince Odeum. Winters City Attorney Ethan Walsh and Senior Planner Kirk Skierski presented commissioners with the land use issues surrounding the property’s legal non-conforming or conditional use, and discussions about a baseline determination were shared. Pope-Flores’ Attorney Gregory Thatch brought concerns about equal treatment saying no other Winters church had a baseline determination imposed upon their operation. Commissioners adjourned with plans to continue public testimony and asked staff to return with more information.

The Planning Commission resumed discussions regarding concepts of the baseline determination at a special meeting on Nov. 17. Following the public hearing and City staff presentations, the Commissioners voted unanimously to adopt the resolution for legal non-conforming use. However, a motion to adopt a baseline determination that included the amendments recommended by the neighbors failed in a split decision vote and no action was made.

An amended motion to adopt a baseline determination that did not include the amendments recommended by the neighbors also failed in a split vote. The final result of the agenda item is the Planning Commission confirmed the legal non-conforming use and decided to not apply a baseline determination.

Winters Robotics growth
Students participating in the Winters Robotics Inc. program made huge strides in competition in 2022. Seven teams

August Nelson, Holly Selleck and Andrew Coleman, the winning Winters Middle School robotics team, are ranked 18th in the state of California. (Courtesy photo)

qualified for the state tournament on March 13. Many of the teams made it to the elimination round, with two of them receiving Judge’s Awards. One team qualified for VEX World Championships in Dallas, Texas in May. Although they didn’t bring home a big win at the World Championship, they did bring home an immense amount of experience to apply toward future competitions.

In October, Winters Robotics hosted 28 teams from around Northern California at the Winters High School Gym for a competition. The middle school team comprised of August Nelson, Holly Selleck and Andrew Coleman scored a win and ranked 18th in the State. Teams continued to gain more experience on the floor with their robots and unleashed it at further competitions at the end of 2022 where they brought home more wins and Judge’s Awards.

The team capped 2022 with the initiation of eight Winters Robotics members being inducted into the International Robotics Honor Society.

Thanksgiving dinner changeover
In March, three volunteers helping to run the annual Winters Community Dinner publicly stepped away from hosting the annual Thanksgiving event after questions and concerns arose regarding spending discrepancies. The resignations followed the departure of its founder Marie Rojo-Heilman in January. Volunteers Lisa Gonsalves and

Winters High School athletes volunteered to serve food to the community at the first
Be Thankful Banquet Thanksgiving meal on Sunday, Nov. 20 at St. Anthony’s Parish Hall. (Aaron Geerts/Winters Express)

Gwen Pisani spoke with the Express about their concerns that funds raised for the event were spent on purchases unrelated to the event. Meanwhile, volunteer Emily Back declined to comment on the situation but wrote the Express to announce her resignation from WCD “due to misappropriation of funds by another member.” 

Come November, community members began talking about bringing a community-wide Thanksgiving dinner back and the “Be Thankful Banquet” revived the dinner under a new name, but with the same intention to support Winters residents. While the St. Vincent de Paul Society took the reins, other local organizations stepped up to help resurrect this community feast that looked to serve seniors and those in need.

Al Calderone, one of the lead event coordinators, said the event carried nostalgia as his church originally put on a Thanksgiving community meal in 1998. The event organizers are looking to continue the Be Thankful Banquet around the same time next year.

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