Weeks away from leaving Congress after 20 years representing the North Coast, Rep. Lynn Woolsey fielded questions from about 175 high school seniors from Piner and Grace high schools Friday, calling the students "100 percent of the future."
"You give me confidence," Woolsey said on the stage of Piner's performing arts auditorium.
The question-and-answer session was arranged by Andrea Correia, Piner's government teacher who for three weeks has been guiding student research projects on different members of Congress.
"I think it's important for them to see our public servants and our public officials," Correia said. "It's our job to know what they are doing. It's important to use our voice or vote to keep them representing us or to remove them."
In years past, the projects, which include detailed letters to Representatives, have elicited responses of letters, trinkets, even phone calls — but never a visit.
Woolsey, who turns 75 on Nov. 3, will serve her last day in Congress Jan. 3, 2013. Democratic Assemblyman Jared Huffman of San Rafael and Republican Dan Roberts, a securities broker from Tiburon, are squaring off to replace her.
"I don't care if you are involved in what I support or not, just get involved," Woolsey told the audience. "If you stand by and watch everybody else do something and wish you were part of it — get involved."
Woolsey told the students that when she arrived on Capitol Hill 20 years ago — before this class of seniors was born — that support and attention for education was lacking.
"I did not find that your education was getting the attention it deserves," she said.
Still, Sonoma County is leagues ahead of other areas across the country, Woolsey said. "Thank your stars that this is one of the best educated areas," she said. "Imagine Mississippi. Imagine the hills of Kentucky."
But the responsibility for education funding lays largely at the feet of state government, not federal representatives, she said.
"We are at the bottom," she said. "The federal government is not going to make that up."
When asked by a student if there were any decisions in her 20-year career she would change, she cited her yes vote on the creation of the No Child Left Behind law was one.
"Had it been funded, it would have been very useful, but it ended up punishing" school and districts, she said.
Piner senior Rashna Sharma did her government project on Woolsey and quizzed the Congresswoman on state Propositions 30 and 38 on the November ballot.
Woolsey said Proposition 30 is the best bet but encouraged people to vote for both education funding efforts.
"She was straightforward," Sharma said, adding that she had hoped that Woolsey would have elaborated more on the pros and cons of each proposal.
"I was excited to meet her," she said.
(Staff Writer Kerry Benefield writes an education blog at extracredit.blogs.pressdemocrat.com. She can be reached at 526-8671, firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @benefield.)