It’s been a long and contentious election season, but there’s been one inspiring, unsung aspect that sets this election apart from any other school board race we have seen in Los Angeles: Speak UP members have created a powerful grassroots movement of parents rising up to demand change on May 16.
As we celebrate Mother’s Day this weekend, we want to celebrate our Speak UP moms from all kinds of LAUSD schools – traditional neighborhood schools, charters, pilots, magnets and dual language immersion schools – who have joined together to knock on doors and call voters to get out the word about Nick Melvoin and his kids-first agenda.
Mothers make all kinds of sacrifices for their kids, and Speak UP moms have given up countless weekend and evening hours with their own kids in order to help create positive change in the lives of all kids in Los Angeles. We are in awe.
And now we need to finish the job by getting out the vote for Nick and by going to the polls ourselves to cast our votes on Tuesday.
In its simplest terms, this race boils down to a choice between change and more of the same. The current LAUSD School Board, with President Steve Zimmer at the helm, is dominated by a four-member majority of representatives who are products of the system we seek to change. Likewise, the superintendent and LAUSD’s top deputies all rose through the district’s administrative ranks.
It’s hard to develop a vision for change when the experiences and perspectives of LAUSD’s leaders were developed within -- and are therefore limited to -- this closed bureaucratic system. As a result, LAUSD is stuck in a rut and so mired in status quo thinking that an injection of young blood and innovative ideas is desperately needed.
We know that our kids deserve better than the status quo. After eight years with our current board member, nearly 3/4 LAUSD kids are failing to meet state academic standards in math and nearly 2/3 are failing English standards. Zimmer led the effort to artificially boost graduation rates by lowering requirements to a D-. As a result, more than half of the kids graduating aren’t eligible to attend a public university in California. Yet Zimmer still touts these graduation results as his greatest achievement.
Financially, the district is on the precipice of bankruptcy because of a more than $13 billion unfunded post-retirement benefits liability and a deficit that could reach $1.6 billion by the end of the next school year. The current board leadership simply has not addressed these very serious issues that threaten not only the solvency of the district but further imperil the quality of education our kids receive.
The reality is that with Zimmer at the helm, the board is so beholden to adult special interests that kids’ needs have become secondary, and parents are frequently marginalized. We also see a dismaying culture of division – parents pitted against one another with an “us v. them” mentality that distracts from district failures and doesn’t help our kids.
Clearly it’s time for change. And Nick Melvoin is a breath of fresh air. He’s an accessible bridge builder who listens to parents, operates with transparency and always puts the needs of students first. He wants to put aside the tired “us-versus-them” paradigm surrounding school choice and bring peace and collaboration that will benefit all children.
Nick has a vision of social justice, rooted in his teaching experiences and advocacy for kids while working with the ACLU, the Obama Administration and a camp for homeless and underserved children. He believes that all kids in Los Angeles deserve an equitable, excellent education – and that all kids absolutely can succeed with the right support.
Nick is clear-eyed about the challenges ahead, and he brings a sense of urgency to cut through red tape and raise student achievement. He has the energy and tireless work ethic to shake up the status quo and inject new life into LAUSD schools that are on life support. Nick wants to give our local neighborhood schools and their teachers the autonomy they need to succeed and attract families back, and he wants to hold all schools – regardless of model -- accountable for how they spend their money and how well they are serving kids.
Perhaps most importantly, Nick sees parents as allies in this quest rather than a nuisance. Kids don’t have lobbyists, and Nick knows that parents are their best advocates because they have no other interest than seeing their children succeed. Parents deserve a seat at the table when decisions affecting our kids are made, and Nick has that parent chair ready for us.
Parents are eager for a partner on the board and inspired by Nick’s one-city, all-kids vision of hope. We’re ready to heal the wounds of the last eight years and make Los Angeles a better place for all kids and families.
Regardless of who wins this race on May 16, Speak UP parents are not going away. We will hold all of our education leaders accountable for putting the needs of our kids first and giving parents more power in the system.
But until all the votes are cast, we will do all we can to help change the status quo at the ballot box. Together we can. So let’s do this. Get out and vote on May 16, and please tell your friends and family to pick Nick for the sake of all of our kids.
Paid for by Speak UP - Supporting Nick Melvoin for School Board 2017 (Nonprofit 501(c)(4)), 528 Palisades Drive #186, Pacific Palisades, CA 90272. Major funding provided by Megan Chernin. This advertisement was not authorized by, paid for by or coordinated with a candidate for this office or a committee controlled by a candidate for this office. Additional information is available at ethics.lacity.org.