LAUSD BD5 Candidate Heather Repenning: 'I Think 100 Percent, Parents Should Have A Seat At The Table'

LAUSD BD5 Candidate Heather Repenning: 'I Think 100 Percent, Parents Should Have A Seat At The Table'

Speak UP: Tell us about yourself and why you are running for school board.

Heather Repenning: Public education is very important to me. I'm a product of public schools. Growing up, my mom was a public school teacher, and because of her understanding of public education, she was able to identify great schools for my brother and I, and I was able to go to college and do a lot more professionally than I would have done under other circumstances. My family comes from a humble background. Originally we’re from Kentucky. To me, public education is the doorway. It is how we allow our young people to pull themselves ahead to do the things that they never imagined. And I don't think that we're doing that particularly well right now. I don't think there's any one thing or person to blame, but the issues around how we create great neighborhood public schools are very complex and require a lot of hard work. Personally, I've worked in local government for many years, and I know the work it takes to move bureaucracy, create policy and build coalitions to move great policy forward. So I feel like I have the skills to do that. Because education is so important to me, I've worked [in education] at different points in my career. I was in the classroom for a few years right out of college, and I worked at LAUSD helping organize parents and other stakeholders around the process of building new schools. I worked on the previous Ambassador Hotel, now the RFK schools site, and advocating for the new schools that are now thriving on that site.

Speak UP: You taught early in your career. Was this in Honduras? Is that how you became fluent in Spanish?

Heather: Yes, I spent time teaching in Honduras, in a bilingual school, and then I moved to Southern California to pursue graduate school. Actually, I was on the pathway to becoming an academic. I was in a PhD program. At the time I was teaching composition to undergrads at UC Irvine. And I also previously taught an ESL class at LA City College.

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BD Candidate, Principal Cynthia Gonzalez: ‘People Have To See Kids Of Color As Important To Invest In’

BD Candidate, Principal Cynthia Gonzalez: ‘People Have To See Kids Of Color As Important To Invest In’

Speak UP: Tell us who you are, why you are running for School Board in District 5.

Cynthia Gonzalez: I am a high school principal. I've been with the district for 17 years as a classroom teacher, a coordinator focused on English learners, [and] an administrator now for nine years. I worked at all different types of schools so I have experience in the variety of different systems and how they impact kids. That has influenced my decision to run because I see which systems are the most effective for students, but also which systems are working against kids and how our work is more difficult when those systems aren't aligned and create inequity, both within the district and competing forces outside of the district, like charter schools. Having that understanding and the educational background and the fact that my own two daughters are in District 5 schools, and I'm a product of District 5 schools, who better than someone like me to be on the Board.

Speak UP: When you talk about the schools that work for kids and those that don't, what do you see as working for kids and not working for them?

Cynthia: I'm passionate about making sure that all schools are for all students. I have used parent choice myself, but usually when those schools [of choice] are outperforming, if you look at their data, they're not really servicing the same kids. That happens both within the district and with the charter school system. When I was at a magnet school, we didn’t offer ELD [English Language Development] so you don't have the newcomers that you’re servicing. That impacts your data dramatically. You're not servicing moderate to severe students with special needs. An effective system is a system where you can see all of those kids in that school, and all of those kids are thriving. I don't think we are there yet, but we have pilot schools in the district that service all students and carry all those programs that are doing better than the comparable local district schools, and a lot of it is giving the school site more local autonomy to be able to make decisions. That's a lot of trusting teachers and being able to provide them the resources needed. 

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Justine Gonzalez, First Transgender Candidate To Run For Office In L.A., Pulls Out Of Race

Justine Gonzalez, First Transgender Candidate To Run For Office In L.A., Pulls Out Of Race

Speak UP: Tell us who you are and why you decided to run for school board.

Justine: My name is Justine Gonzalez. I'm an LAUSD graduate and a new parent in LAUSD. [My daughter] just started pre-K at an LAUSD early education center [in Echo Park.] We’re looking at options for next year for kindergarten. I want what's best for my child, and it's a difficult decision. [My neighborhood school’s] performance is not great. One out of every four of the students in that school are meeting or exceeding math and English standards. That's very concerning. I've lived in the neighborhood across from that school for just over five years now. My block has plenty of families who have gone to both [our neighborhood school] and Gabriella charter.

SU: So you’re applying to Gabriella. Anywhere else?

Justine: I am. I’m a little bit behind in that process. It's like I needed to be on waitlists already. It’s disappointing because it's sort of that shared experience that so many parents have. Can’t it just be simple? Can't my child just [go across the street to the neighborhood school.] It's convenient and perfect, and it should be quality. But I have one neighbor. It took her three years in a row to get her daughter into Gabriella entering the lottery, and it's been a life-changing experience for her daughter in terms of education and her daughter's enjoyment of going to school. I think that's important. Listening to family stories.  

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Ten Candidates, Including Five Parents, Remain in the Running For LAUSD Board District 5 Seat

Ten Candidates, Including Five Parents, Remain in the Running For LAUSD Board District 5 Seat

Ten candidates, including four parents who filed to enter the LAUSD Board District 5 race, remain in the running after filing required signatures Wednesday.

Candidates Erika Alvarez and Justine Gonzalez dropped out of the race on Monday before the city clerk had finished verifying their signatures. Another candidate who had qualified for the ballot, Eduardo Cisneros, dropped out Friday after the labor union SEIU, his former employer, backed another candidate, Heather Repenning, who is also supported by Mayor Eric Garcetti.

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LAUSD BD 5 Candidate Ana Cubas: ‘My Teachers Have Been My Saving Grace.’

LAUSD BD 5 Candidate Ana Cubas: ‘My Teachers Have Been My Saving Grace.’

Speak UP: Tell us about yourself and why you're running for school board.

Ana: For me, education has been a way out of poverty and a way to empower myself, my family, my community. I'm the first in my family to go to college. My story is like many stories in L.A. and in our country. The American dream. I came when I was 10 from El Salvador. So it breaks my heart to see the caravan because we were actually caught at the border, and we were at a detention center for three weeks. Back then, they didn't separate families so we were together, but still in a detention center. That really affected me. I knew that I had to, even as a young girl --10, for goodness' sake, a child -- fight for my rights because I often had to speak up on behalf of my family about things. Now, because I had amazing teachers, I learned English very quickly. I had a dual immersion program. 

SU: Were you in an LAUSD school? 

Ana: I ended up at a Santa Monica public school because my uncle was there, and me and my mom and my dad and my sister moved in with him in a one-bedroom apartment in the Pico neighborhood. I had an amazing teacher in my combined 5th and 6th grade class. And in high school, I had a government teacher, Mr. Cady, who went to Berkeley in the '60s. Very hippie, liberal, so the class was about social justice. And he said to me one day, "Ana, you're bright. You need to go to college. I want you to apply to Berkeley." I had never heard of Berkeley, but because of him, I applied. I got in, and I graduated with highest honors. My teachers have been my saving grace. And school for me was a safe haven from the gang activity in my neighborhood, from the dysfunction of my family and the poverty. In a nutshell, that's who I am, and why I'm running. I'm an immigrant, the first in my family to go to college. I know what works because I know what worked for me. Engaged great teachers.  

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BD5 Candidate Graciela Ortiz: 'Many Times, We Are Unfair To Teachers'

 BD5 Candidate Graciela Ortiz: 'Many Times, We Are Unfair To Teachers'

Speak UP: Tell us who you are and why you are running for school board. 

Graciela Ortiz: I was born and raised in the beautiful city of Huntington Park, and I went to all local schools, graduated from Huntington Park High School in '99. Went off to UCLA. Got my Bachelor's Degree in sociology and a Master's Degree in social work from Cal State Long Beach. I was fortunate enough to get hired with LA Unified. Been working with them for 12 years. I just started my 13th school year as a Pupil Services and Attendance (PSA) counselor. I’m at Linda Marquez High School. I started my career in the South Bay area, became a lead PSA counselor in the district office supporting other school-based counselors, but it was too political for me. So I asked for a transfer to be with the kids. For me, it's about being one-on-one, being able to make those changes. I was fortunate enough to get a school right where I live, to be able to do what I love within my own community.

SU: What do you do as counselor?  

Graciela: I break down every possible barrier that keeps a child from going to school. Crisis intervention, counseling, basic needs resources. Going to the home and doing a bio-psycho-social assessment. It's about incentives [to attend school], reinforcing progress, not perfection.

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Parent, Educator Allison Bajracharya: ‘I absolutely think it's possible to serve all kids’

Parent, Educator Allison Bajracharya: ‘I absolutely think it's possible to serve all kids’

This lightly edited interview is the first in a series of Q&As with some of the candidates running for the LAUSD Board in District 5 on March 5.  

Speak UP: Tell us about your background and why you're running for school board.

Allison Bajracharya: I grew up in Kansas City, Missouri. I'm Jewish, and my parents grew up in Kansas City and faced a lot of anti-Semitism. That experience instilled the concepts of social justice and working with people who might not be in our immediate community. There are so many decisions made in our world today that are leaving so many people powerless. And it feels especially true in public education, when we're saying to a certain family, “you can only go to this school, and we're sorry that that school only has 4 percent proficiency, but that's your neighborhood school." Or "we're sorry you had a long-term sub for three years, but that's the best we can do." And it's true with our federal administration when they're making decisions or claims that suggest that certain people should be treated as second-class citizens. I absolutely disagree.

I've worked really hard to think about how to bring power to communities, and I really think education is the No. 1 opportunity. I've worked in education for the last 18 years, starting as a high school teacher and then pursuing a Masters in Public Policy because I recognized that what was happening in my classroom where I taught was really the result of a system-level failure. So I thought if I go and get my Masters in Public Policy I could look at how to influence education at a systems level. I’ve worn a lot of different hats for the last 18 years, starting as a teacher but then working at the district with Marlene Canter, who was [LAUSD] school board President. I was her Director of Community Affairs.

SU: You're also a parent in the district now. How many kids do you have and where are they in school?

Allison: I have two kids, definitely the greatest source of pride for me. My daughter, Miri, is 9 years old, and she's in 4th grade and my son, Leo, is 7, and he's in 2nd. They attend Franklin Avenue Elementary, which is our neighborhood school in Los Feliz. We’ve had amazing teachers every year, which in any school is pretty unusual. The community is a very rich part of the school. The fact that we get to walk to school is so unusual in L.A.  

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Marshall Tuck Concedes To Tony Thurmond In Race for State Superintendent of Public Instruction

Marshall Tuck Concedes To Tony Thurmond In Race for State Superintendent of Public Instruction

Marshall Tuck conceded his race for state superintendent of public instruction to opponent Tony Thurmond on Saturday, saying, “I am disappointed because I believe I could have made a real difference for our kids.”

Early results looked good for Tuck, an education reform Democrat who ran Green Dot Public Schools and the Partnership For Los Angeles Schools. The day after the Nov. 6 election, the Los Angeles resident, whose child attends an LAUSD elementary school, led 50.7 percent to 49.3 percent.  But as more ballots were tallied in what was the most expensive state superintendent race not just in California in history, but nationwide, Thurmond pulled ahead. And though Thurmond’s lead is than less 2 percent, and many ballots remained uncounted Saturday, the outstanding ballots were in counties Thurmond won handily, including Los Angeles.

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Transgender Activist Among Many Parents Vying For District 5 Board Seat

Transgender Activist Among Many Parents Vying For District 5 Board Seat

While there are currently no parents of school-age children serving on the LAUSD Board, at least seven of the 17 candidates who have filed to run in the District 5 special election on March 5 are parents, and most have included that fact in their ballot designations. One parent, Justine Gonzalez, would be the first transgender person elected to office in Los Angeles if she were to win.  

The BD5 seat has been empty since the resignation of Board Member Ref Rodriguez earlier this year. Former BD5 Board Member Bennett Kayser, whom Rodriguez defeated in the last race for the seat, has decided to run again, as has Jackie Goldberg, another former Board member and state lawmaker who failed in her attempt to get appointed to the seat after parents objected to a closed process that excluded their input.

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Strange Bedfellows: Prison Officers’ Union Bankrolls Schools Chief Candidate Tony Thurmond

  Strange Bedfellows: Prison Officers’ Union Bankrolls Schools Chief Candidate Tony Thurmond

Why would the state prison officers’ union invest significantly in the state schools chief race?

The group has no history of doing so in the past. Nevertheless, the California Correctional Peace Officers Association has endorsed State Superintendent of Public Instruction candidate Tony Thurmond and committed $500,000 for TV ads supporting his race against Marshall Tuck. 

Thurmond, currently an assemblyman representing Richmond in Northern California, has been very good to the prison guard union. Earlier this year, he voted to approve the officers’ latest contract, which included a 5 percent wage increase at a two-year cost of nearly $340 million.

That means wages for union members have increased 67 percent since 2001. Meanwhile, Los Angeles teachers are threatening to strike because state funding for schools has LAUSD on the verge of insolvency, with class sizes that nearly everyone believes are too large.

The prison guard cash infusion has critics calling into question the “EDUCATE NOT INCARCERATE” claim on his District 15 website. California spends about five times as much per prisoner as per student, so perhaps the prison guard union wants to make sure the next state superintendent doesn’t challenge that status quo.

Tuck, who formerly ran the Partnership For Los Angeles Schools and is a parent of a child attending his local LAUSD school, has highlighted the discrepancy in funding for prisoners versus pupils in ads that began airing several weeks ago.

“Did you know that every year California spends $71,000 per prisoner but only $16,000 per student?” one ad opens. “It's no wonder our public schools rank 44th in the nation.”

News of the half million for Thurmond came shortly after those ads began airing.

“It’s ironic,” Tuck told CALmatters, “that Thurmond talks about moving money from prison to schools but has made votes to increase spending for prisons.”

Speak UP has not endorsed a candidate in the race for state superintendent, however, our organization strongly supports more state funding for education. And in the competition for dollars, we adopt the “schools not prisons” mantra.

“State economies would be much stronger over time if states invested more in education and other areas that can boost long-term economic growth and less in maintaining extremely high prison populations,” wrote Michael Mitchell, a senior policy analyst at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

Directing more money to schools might actually diminish the need for so much spending on prisons. Increasing high school graduation rates, reduces crime rates and the costs of incarceration, according to a report from the Alliance for Excellent Education.

It’s shocking that such a progressive state as California would spend so much more per prisoner than per student. The power of the prison guard union may explain why. LAUSD Board Member Richard Vladovic ranted about the fact that the state won’t respond to a UTLA strike by giving schools more funding because “They gotta pay for prisons first,” he said. “They’re not gonna pay for children.”

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Tuck Leads Thurmond In State Supe Race, Villaraigosa Concedes To Newsom, Cox For Governor

Tuck Leads Thurmond In State Supe Race, Villaraigosa Concedes To Newsom, Cox For Governor

Education reformer Marshall Tuck and union-backed candidate Tony Thurmond will face off in the fall in the race for State Superintendent of Public Instruction, while ed reform Democrat Antonio Villaraigosa placed third and was eliminated in the governor’s race, which will now be between Democrat Gavin Newsom and Republican John Cox in November. Tuck, an education reformer who led Los Angeles school turnaround efforts, was ahead with 37 percent to Thurmond’s 34 percent, with 97 percent of precincts reporting, according to LA School Report. Meanwhile, Villaraigosa conceded his race just before 11 p.m. Read more here.

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EdSource Hosts Live Q&A With State Superintendent Candidates May 23

EdSource Hosts Live Q&A With State Superintendent Candidates May 23

EdSource is hosting an online conversation with Marshall Tuck and Tony Thurmond, leading candidates for state superintendent of public instruction on May 23 at 9:30 a.m. To view and participate click on this page at that time. 

EdSource’s John Fensterwald and Louis Freedberg will ask about their positions on critical issues and their visions for California’s public schools. The state superintendent leads the California Department of Education, which oversees the state’s nearly 1,000 school districts and more than 10,000 public schools.

The two candidates will answer questions on how they plan to raise student achievement and guide California’s schools in the era of local control. Email EdSource with your questions for the candidates at spatel@edsource.org.

The broadcast will go live May 23 at 9:30 am. The primary election is June 5.

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State Superintendent Candidate Marshall Tuck Says Parents Can Be Strong 'Counterforce To The Status Quo'

State Superintendent Candidate Marshall Tuck Says Parents Can Be Strong 'Counterforce To The Status Quo'

Speak UP recently sat down with Marshall Tuck, a candidate for State Superintendent of Public Instruction, to discuss the state of education in CA, teacher tenure laws, ways to improve low-performing schools and the role parents play in education policy. This is part two of our two-part interview. Part one can be read here. The primary election is June 5.

Speak UP: Are you the only qualified candidate who's really deeply familiar with LAUSD?

Marshall: Definitely. I've been working in public schools in L.A since 2002, and so both as someone who's worked in charter schools and in L.A. Unified, who's led the Partnership, who's been very active with the leaders of L.A. Unified, with our school board members, and then who's also a parent in L.A Unified. As far as understanding public schools in Los Angeles, I think I have a very strong resume for that job. I worked in schools for a long time, but now having a lens as the father of Mason Tuck, it’s definitely broadened and expanded my perspective and understanding of public schools. There's so much love there, you want so much for your son to have a strong experience in school, and so it gives you a different lens.

Speak UP: Your son attends Beethoven, which is a traditional neighborhood LAUSD school. How did you choose this school for your son?  

Marshall: We're lucky where we live. I live in Mar Vista, and there are three schools that are all within a mile of our house. I knew L.A. Unified very well, but the process to be able to choose to go to one of those three was not easy. This was a little over two years when we started digging in, to figure out how to actually permit into [Beethoven]. It was very hard to actually find out the process to permit him to another school in L.A Unified. And this is from somebody who knows the district well. So I'm thrilled about the direction that the district is going in terms of a unified enrollment system.    

Beethoven is a smaller school. It's a really good school. We did what a lot of parents do. We went to greatschools.org, and we went to the California [Dashboard] website, which had not as much information as we’d have liked, to see how it was doing academically, talked to friends in the neighborhood. I talked to some educators I know in the neighborhood and just felt like it was the right fit for our son. It still was a lot of work for us to find out: What were the schools within our general neighborhood? What's the process to get into them, and what's different about the schools? It was a more time-intensive and rigorous process than I think it can be, and I'm excited and optimistic that there is some movement towards making that a better process for parents. And I'm very grateful for Speak UP for pushing hard to make that happen.


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State Superintendent Candidate Marshall Tuck Says CA Has 'Accepted Mediocrity And Failure' For Too Long

State Superintendent Candidate Marshall Tuck Says CA Has 'Accepted Mediocrity And Failure' For Too Long

Speak UP recently sat down with Marshall Tuck, a candidate for State Superintendent of Public Instruction to discuss the state of education in CA, teacher tenure laws, ways to improve low-performing schools and what role parents play in education policy. This is part one of our two-part interview. The primary election is June 5.

Speak UP: You're running for State Superintendent Public Instruction. Can you give us a brief explanation of what the job is and why parents should care about it?

Marshall Tuck: I'm a parent of a child in a public school. My son Mason is six, and he goes to Beethoven Elementary School in Los Angeles. When I think about his school, there's so many decisions that actually impact his classroom and his school that come from Sacramento, and very few parents actually know this. How much money we're going to spend on our children in public education is decided in Sacramento. What our kids are actually going to learn, what curriculum they can use, what flexibility the teachers and principals have, that comes from Sacramento.

We're the wealthiest state in the nation and yet we're 41st in per pupil funding. If you want that to change we actually have to elect people that are going to drive that change, and I think it should start with a State Superintendent, because the State Superintendent is the only elected official whose job is to wake up every day and fight for the 6.2 million kids that depend on public schools for their futures.

So this job [is] helping to create policy with the Governor and the Legislature, and also runs the California Department of Education, which is a 2500-person $350 million bureaucracy in Sacramento, whose job should be to be helping school districts best support kid, [but] far too often is creating kind of bureaucracy and regulation, which often can make it harder for teachers and principals at school sites to be creative.

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