LAUSD Mom Picking Nick: I'm Tired Of Us Versus Them

By Janet Maza

I’m passionate about supporting public schools. My children attend the traditional elementary and middle schools in our neighborhood. My mom was a public school teacher, and so was her mom. I’ve never even toured a charter school. 

But I’m voting for Nick Melvoin for school board.  Here’s why:

I don’t buy into the rhetoric that this election is about “public schools” versus “charter schools.” That’s an easy spin for a public relations person. But those of us who actually live in Westchester know that it’s more complicated. We all have friends who send their children to different schools. Many of us apply to a lot of schools – traditional, magnet, charter – and decide at the last minute where to go.  The Westside loves school choice, and demonizing parents who choose a different public school model just doesn’t work.   

This is a “status quo” versus “something better” election.  And I want something better. I was introduced to something better last year when Nick launched his campaign, and I was invited by a Speak UP parent to meet him.  There’s a story about how I came to Speak UP.

My children attended Kentwood Elementary.  A few years ago, during the summer break, LAUSD rolled out a last-minute plan to co-locate a Citizens of the World Charter school on the Kentwood campus. Long story short, the plan was bad for both the charter and Kentwood. Everyone was mad.

I joined with other Kentwood parents to complain. It played out like many school policy conflicts – we had a community meeting in our little auditorium with lots of angry people and no air conditioning.  Interim Superintendent Ramon Cortines sent underlings with job titles that included “community relations,” but they had no answers to our questions, no authority to make decisions and no ability to defend the obviously poor plan. It was ridiculous. Our board rep Steve Zimmer didn’t show up or help us at all.

Let me say that one more time.  Steve Zimmer didn’t show up. 

Instead of having meaningful communication with our school board representative, we parents ended up talking to each other. I came together with parents from other neighborhoods who permit into Kentwood, and I met CWC parents who were stressed about their situation. We’re all parents.  And we all wanted to be treated better by the District. That, in a nutshell, is why I joined Speak UP.

I now believe that LAUSD knew perfectly well that this particular co-location plan was not a good idea. And they might also have known that Kentwood has some of the most organized and vocal parents among the Westchester elementary schools. I see that we did what they wanted: By advocating for our children’s school, we rose up and objected and created more negative sentiment around charters.

In short, we were being used. Politicians at all levels of government get mired in bureaucracy and use constituent groups to advance policy goals. I get that. But just because it works doesn’t make it right. Schools and school districts should not pit parents against parents to advance their own agenda.

I’m tired of leadership that damages our community. We should do good things to achieve good things.  I’m ready for leadership that builds community.  Nick Melvoin exudes the kind of positivity we need.

I want leadership that builds consensus and operates with transparency. Public policy is supposed to be public.  Public schools are public. Nick Melvoin has made transparency a key part of his platform.  

To me, a school is a community institution -- an important and valuable institution. It should be reliable and consistent and present in the community. 

A whole lot of children on this planet don’t even get to go to school, let alone know the difference between “charter” and “traditional.” A school is a school. I’m tired of the us-versus-them policies of LAUSD. That’s a distinction that gets far too much attention, taking away time and effort from other issues that matter more to children.

Attrition out of traditional LAUSD schools is not being stopped by LAUSD’s practice of pinching charters into difficult and uncertain conditions. It’s a failed policy. You can’t use negative tactics to achieve a positive outcome. The key to maintaining enrollment in LAUSD schools is to provide good schools and good experiences. If you build it, they will come. 

If you’re a Zimmer supporter reading this, you might be thinking, “Steve didn’t single-handedly do the things she’s mad about.” Well, you’re right. No one person caused all of the LAUSD problems in Westchester over the years. But maybe if Steve had been more accessible and attentive to parents like me and the community of Westchester for the last eight years, we wouldn’t feel the need to speak up now. I only get to be heard occasionally. On May 16, I get one chance to say loudly, “I want something better.” And I’m going to take it. I hope you will join me.

-- Janet’s children attend Kentwood Elementary and Wright Middle School STEAM Magnet. She is a current and past PTO board member at Kentwood, served four years on the Kentwood School Site Council, was a delegate to the New Middle school Pathway working group last year, and is currently on the School Site Council at Orville Wright.  She lives in Westchester with her husband, two daughters and a lizard named Coconut.  


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