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

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This lightly edited interview is part of a series of Q&As with some of the candidates running for the LAUSD Board special election in District 5 on March 5. To read about other candidates, click here.

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

Dr. 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. 

Speak UP: How old are your kids, and where do they go to school?

Cynthia: I have two daughters. One is a 1st grader at a pilot elementary school, [Lucille] Roybal-Allard Elementary in Huntington Park. [The other] one is 13, about to go to Bell High School, where I went. I haven't left the neighborhood. As I moved up and advanced in my career, people are like, "Why are you in the lower income of all the Southeast cities? Why do you still have your daughters there?" But I made it through. My daughters have me. They're for sure going to be fine.  

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[My older daughter is currently] at Nimitz Middle School in the magnet program, and that's where I went to school. I was also an assistant principal there for a year. At that school, we were able to see the huge gap. There's a School for Advanced Studies, there's a magnet school, and then there's the regular Nimitz. The reputation in the community is that it's not a good school, but when I was there, I'm like, "This school is pretty good.” I didn't even look at the data. I looked at how the staff was with the kids, how they treated them, because I don't want her to lose her love for education. If teachers treat them with respect and love, and care, they are more likely to love what they’re learning.

The biggest problem has been the regular Nimitz campus. The School for Advanced Studies is for gifted students, so you take that group of kids out from the regular Nimitz campus. Then you have the magnet school program. The parents that have the wherewithal, knowledge for advocacy, will start applying for magnet school points to be able to get in. And then you have the kids in the middle, which are usually your special education students and your English learners, and that's where you have a lot of the substitutes. That's where you had a lot of your lower-performing teachers. Usually when space is opened up in the other two schools, the teachers that were effective would go to those schools to work.

Speak UP: So the most vulnerable kids got stuck with the worst situation?  

Cynthia: Yes. And that happens across the district, and it also happens now with charter schools. When you had tracking within the campus, you'll be put on the college track or the track that's non-college bound. But as soon as charter schools started popping up, what's their theme? College. These are college-going schools so by virtue of parents hearing that message, they started, "Well I want to put my kid on the track." As a principal at Roosevelt High School, where we had the highest propensity of charter schools in Boyle Heights, we felt it. I had a teacher who had gotten a Teacher of the Year award, and as soon as we started losing enrollment, we had to make changes to our master schedule, and usually who gets impacted are your neediest ELD kids. You don't have enough students so you collapse those to keep your other English program going. So she went from being the stellar teacher to just drowning and completely ineffective. I think this is why the strike is happening. They've been ignored and not believed that the work has gotten difficult. That's been a symptom of the rapid growth of charter schools and the fact that we haven't worked out how the systems can function together.  

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Speak UP: The demographics of charters and traditional schools are pretty similar now, except for percentages of kids with most severe special needs. (Although WISH charter is asking for a state waiver to give kids with severe needs a lottery admission preference.) Magnets, however, do serve fewer kids with special needs and English learners than both charters and traditional neighborhood schools.

Cynthia: When I was at Bravo [Magnet], we never offered ELD because we never had enough students. To open up the courses, you need 20. So we would send them back to their school. If we want to change that, we need to say all schools need to service all kids, and we need to fund that. 

Speak UP: There's so much tension now between traditional schools and public charter schools. It's gotten toxic. We have parent members from all types of public schools, but we recently had a mom whose 1st-grade child at a co-located charter was locked in the bathroom by some 5th-graders at the district school who were saying, "You don't belong here," mimicking what they were hearing from UTLA. And we have members at district schools terrified that they might lose a computer lab to a charter classroom.

Cynthia: It's very polarized. When I was at Roosevelt, we had to restructure the school because of our loss of enrollment. There were all these new charter schools opening. I didn’t understand, if we don't have the kids, why aren't we working on providing this school the resources that it needs so that parents don't go? Teachers in the district need the support so that they can improve and get better, and if you give them the right support, they will. They know what the kids need. There's been such depletion in investment in the schools. Back during the Recession, they made all the cuts, and we've never received those resources back. That's why teachers are striking.  

Speak UP: When we talk to parents who are leaving, it’s often because they got stuck with rotating subs while their teacher was on leave for a year, or they got what they considered to be an ineffective teacher, or their child felt unsafe. A parent at Maywood High, where a teacher recently was arrested for beating a student, just told us her child is afraid to go to school, but no nearby charter schools have space. Do you think it's better for that child to drop out of school rather than expand the number of seats at a charter? 

Cynthia: Well, I don't think that those are the two options. I have kids enrolled at my school who left charter schools for the same reason.    

Speak UP: What do you think about the current system where district teachers get tenure after 18 months, and it can take multiple years to dismiss an ineffective  teacher?

Cynthia: I've had to do that a couple of years in a row. If you push hard enough, it won't take that long. The teachers who are closer to retirement, sometimes it is better for them to just [go], but you have to do due process. It takes time. The first thing is always provide support. Do I think they have the capacity to grow? So in terms of the 18-month period, I would think that making those changes are all collective bargaining agreement changes, but I can tell when a teacher has that potential or not to get better. The problem is, the schools don't have the funding to be able to provide coaches. I feel like we haven't made the right investments in classroom instruction.  

Investing in long-term reform needs to happen. As a site principal, everything is short-term, which stresses the system out. It might produce a really short burst of change, but nothing systemic. We don't invest in the long term because this is such a political position that people want to use this as a stepping ladder to go into politics so they need to show that what they're doing is working. Oh, let's invest in something quick instead of doing something that may take five or 10 years. All due respect to politicians that have that passion to serve the community, I just feel like they don't belong in an educator’s space. If you don't know schools, then you make decisions that actually have an unintended negative impact because you don't fully understand all of the dynamics.  

Speak UP: Let's talk about the strike. Do you think it will help?

Cynthia: I've never experienced it. I told my teachers, I'm buying tennis shoes because I'm going to be walking all day. There are four schools on my campus. So, we created a plan, we're changing our bell schedule, we're creating rotations within some of our larger spaces.

Speak UP: What’s your biggest concern as a principal?

Cynthia: Our biggest concerns are our special education students. At our school, we have a high level of kids that need a lot of social-emotional support. For our psychiatric social workers, that's been an area of concern. What are we going to do if the kid is having a suicidal ideation? Because we usually have a couple a week, and they're really time-intensive. So, in terms of staffing, making sure that kids feel safe.

Speak UP: If you've got a suicidal kid, and you don't have enough staff, that kid could be seriously harmed. That’s life and death.

Cynthia: We provide the support. We're trained to do the assessment. What I told my teachers is, you tell the kids to come because our [attendance funding] can't drop. That's going to affect our budgets next year. So, if the kids want to be supportive of teachers, the best way they can do that is to be in school everyday. And even though that's harder for us to manage, I'd rather take that hit.  

Speak UP: Tell us about your vision of school choice.

Cynthia: I want parents to have systems where they aren’t choosing between good or bad schools. I want a system where parents are choosing: Do they want their kids in a comprehensive with a variety of elective courses, with large sports programs? Do they want a theme school? Do they want a smaller and more personalized school? I want parents to have that dialogue and conversation when making a choice, versus, “Well, that school is a bad school.” The only way that we can get parents there is to change the system. We can't ask parents to be sacrificial lambs with their kids.   

Speak UP: Charter schools have more autonomy in exchange for accountability. They have to come before the school board every five years and show that they're producing results for kids, or they can be denied renewal. Should all traditional district schools have that same level of accountability?

Cynthia: I think all accountability systems as they stand have been to the detriment of schools. The fact that charter schools are held to that standard of accountability has perpetuated some of the practices that we’re critical of, like recruiting higher-performing kids because they have to meet this data. Now, I want to hold schools accountable to serving all kids, but that should be across the network.  

Speak UP: You support a moratorium on charter schools. Tell us why.

Cynthia: I'm going to separate the people on the ground from the [California Charter Schools] association itself. The association needs to take a step back and look at the tenor of what's happening right now. Communities are completely divided and turned on each other. Now, that I'm in this race, I will talk to groups of parents from the same community, and we have 50 parents that are polarized against charter schools, and then we have other groups of parents that are polarized against the teacher's union and the traditional public schools, all in the same community, driving in the same streets that are dirty and in complete poverty. And instead of having these larger conversations about how we change conditions in our community, we're battling each other. It's unhealthy, and I feel like the charter school association needs to stop. Demonstrate that, look, we see what's happening, this is not what we intended.

Speak UP: But the charter schools' association doesn't open schools. It's teachers and parents who are opening schools, and the law allows them to do that.  

Cynthia: But the association has attached itself to the entirety of the movement, right? I want the association and the schools to invest in sharing best practices and in solving all the other issues that we know already exist. And bringing people to the table to say, “Hey, this special-ed issue is a finance issue. We want to do it, but there's these other logistics.” Let's invest our time, resources and energy on doing that type of work so that we can co-exist. Commonsense policy pieces: A lot of bridging between traditional public schools and charter schools, a lot of having common enrollment practices across both networks.

Speak UP: Do you feel like there are enough good options for families in District 5 right now?

Cynthia: I’d like to see more pilot school options for parents. I'd like us to do a better job in talking about how pilot schools function in the district, educating teachers in existing traditional schools about the model because that would have to be adopted by the school site.

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Speak UP: Should parents who are right now in a charter school that’s serving kids well worry that you're going to try to shut down their schools?

Cynthia: No. I don't think that would be any better than proposing closing down traditional public schools. I have former staff that had left to open charter schools or work in charter schools. I have friends who I've known for a long time, who were displaced from the district back in 2006 when all the displacements happened, that were trained to be educators, and they went to work at charter schools, and they're great people. They're social justice people. That's why I’m distinguishing between CCSA, the organization and the funding and the millions of dollars and all that, from the people on the ground who are doing good work for kids and families. It’s up to us to change the larger systems that create the inequities that are getting people upset.

Speak UP: Do you feel like the schools in the Southeast of BD5 prepared you well?

Cynthia: Well, I think I was lucky. I still talk to my 2nd-grade teacher. We're still close. I'll tell you this, I stopped learning math in 3rd grade because I had a really bad teacher, and later on when I was in my admin program, and my advisor was the assistant principal of my school when I was in elementary school, I told her "This teacher..." and she's like, "Oh my god, yes, I'm so sorry." And I'm like, "I stopped learning math because of her." That was my biggest hiccup.

Speak UP: How did you get through that?

Cynthia: A lot of Cs and Pass-No Pass in college. And knowing that I'm good at budgets. As a bad test taker myself, I know it doesn't always correlate. What helped me, too, they were holding training sessions at church for parents on college information. My mom had gone to a couple of workshops and came home and was like, "Hey, we need to make sure you have these classes. You need to go talk your counselor because you're missing this class."

I've always had supportive parents. I have a lot of advantages that a lot of our kids don't have. No one has ever been on the Board that lives in the Southeast. I think that says a lot in terms of representation. Because your experience driving around Eagle Rock and Atwater Village is completely different than driving down Pacific Boulevard and the streets of Cudahy. Unless you really understand the experiences of the families, not just through empathy, but because it’s your own lived experience, you'll engage in a different way. Those schools have been abandoned to a certain degree because the votes aren't there. The parents don't feel empowered enough or represented enough to care about coming out to vote. 

Speak UP: We're trying to change that. How do you feel about your main opponent, Jackie Goldberg, who is from the North?

Cynthia: She is definitely a heavyweight. She has a lot of systems and power behind her. She was a Board member when I was in 4th-grade.  

Speak UP: She was last on the Board in the 80s and the early 90s. Do you feel like the schools are in better shape now than they were then when she was on the School Board running things?

Cynthia: It's hard to make that determination. I think there's been a lot of improvement. There are a lot of great schools. The propensity of teachers are awesome. I don't think we've talked enough about that. The rhetoric has been so negative that it's driven down the profession and how people feel about educators. Even when I was a principal at Roosevelt and [The Partnership For Los Angeles Schools] would say, "Hey, you need to let go of teachers," and I'd be like, “Whoa, all of my teachers, they just need support. They need investment, growth, professional development.” Our system isn't structured to do that. How much time do they get for professional development? It's not much, 14 days, I believe. And I think administrators just want to have the ability to do things for their schools without being shifted continuously. There's not enough stability. I've had six directors in the five years that I've been at Diego Rivera.

Speak UP: Do you think we need stability in leadership right now? If you were elected to the Board would you keep the current superintendent, or would you call for a change? 

Cynthia: There needs to be a lot of restoration. I don't know who’s advising him on how to interact with principals and with students. Because I've seen him interact in different capacities, and I am baffled to how he's chosen to approach this work. When you are with a group of principals, and your first message is to talk about the union and the lies that the union is sharing, and these principals have all been teachers and a part of the union. It's not aspirational.  

Look, when I first got to my school at Roosevelt, there were teachers who chose not to engage with me. It took me some time to get teachers to trust me. The traditional structure in district schools and with administrators and principals is, they both have separate unions, and it's this very divided culture. But, I don't lead that way. I lead in a very distributed, collaborative way. I've never told staff, “I'm the principal, this is how it's going to go.” [That] doesn’t mean you give up on pushing people. You have to be clear about your vision. I feel like that's what he’s missing. What does he want the district to do? What's his larger vision? I know he has the reimagine piece, but what are the details? How is he building relationships to get people on board? That's the sign of a good leader. So either he comes to change his practice, or it's not healthy for the district. I believe in restoration. I think it's hypocritical to talk about restoration and the importance of it and not believe that people can do that, but there needs to be shift. 

Speak UP: So, do you think he's the only that needs to shift? Do you think that the union's rhetoric demonizing him and calling him names, do you think that's helping?

Cynthia: I think this is the symptom of people feeling completely disenfranchised. 

Speak UP: But the union's very powerful. This is the most powerful lobbying group in the entire state.

Cynthia: Yeah, but then if you think about the type of investment that has been made in schools. Right now, they're showing their power and their might. When we look at how much power they've had in terms of bringing resources and investments to schools, I don’t know.

Speak UP: Our per-pupil funding is not the highest. We have this incredibly powerful teacher's union that's really one of the strongest forces in the Democratic Party in a Democratic state, but our funding doesn't reflect that. Why do you think that is?

Cynthia: Do you want me to be honest? This all goes back to Prop 13. Before, when schools were funded with local property taxes, and the changes happened in the state law where it was all going to go to one place, people did not want to have to subsidize schools for kids of color. Let's just call it what it is. 

Speak UP: So it’s basically racism. 

Cynthia: In order to make these larger changes around how we're going to fund schools, people have to see kids of color as important to invest in. I'm hoping that we're getting closer to realizing that not investing in those kids means not investing in our state.  

Speak UP: Let's talk about district finances. We just had a neutral state-appointed fact finder confirm the district’s financial crisis. He urged UTLA to take the 6 percent raise being offered and work together to get more money for the other demands because the funding comes from state. How would a local strike affect things?

Cynthia: I can speak to it at the high school level. We have some budgets at our school sites that roll over, right? So some schools might have money to be able to sustain, but we only look at our budgets on a yearly basis. If we were to develop a multi-year budget, I can project how much staff I can keep without losing any support staff for a good 3- or 4-year period, before I run out of my rollover money, which is when I'd have to start displacing teachers.

Speak UP: But UTLA wants to take your unused carryover money away from your school.

Cynthia: Yeah, I know, we're losing some of it. So, being able to keep those dollars and project, because most of the staff that I have hired through those dollars are UTLA members, counselors, stuff like that.  

Speak UP: The district says if we meet all of UTLA’s demands right now, we would instantly be insolvent. The county CFO and someone from the state superintendent’s office have both come to the board meeting and said, “We're going to take away your authority” if you do this. If you accept the premise that the district is in financial crisis, what do you think is the cause of that and how do we fix it?

Cynthia: I think there's a lot of misspent money. I'm not even going to put it on the teacher's health benefits. I know that always comes up. You know what? That's how I recruit some of my teachers. But there's a lot of waste. We just need to look at things that aren't working and talk to the people at the schools.  

Speak UP: There's a $15 billion unfunded retiree healthcare liability that the board has failed to pre-fund, and now the bill is coming due because we have so many teachers going into retirement, and pensions and free lifetime health benefits for them and their spouses are going to take up 50 percent of the budget within the next ten years. How will you deal with that? 

Cynthia: I would have to look at everything. I need to see the budget and where all the things are being allocated to be able to see where we can make those changes. As a principal, I've seen thousands misspent, just at my site. I can, off of the top of my head, talk about things that they had me do that cost me $60,000 that I didn't need, and that was just at my school. Multiply it across every school, how much money is being spent that's not needed? That's why the more we talk to schools, the better we'll be.  

Speak UP: That's the point of Superintendent Austin Beutner’s reimagining plan. He wants to send the money more directly to the schools and decentralize. 

Cynthia: I agree with more direct dollars going to schools. I agree with more local control at the school site. I don't think you necessarily have to break the district up or separate it into 32 parts to do that. 

Speak UP: Should all schools have the same autonomy that pilot schools have? Because you have more autonomy for your curriculum and budget than most schools, right?

Cynthia: Yeah, we do. I would definitely want to expand the model. I think for people to understand that it's a very teacher-driven model, a teacher empowerment model, and I think to create spaces where we can share best practices. I don't think we do that enough as a district, actually talk about what's working and why and with what population of kids and how could we expand it. That goes the same with charter schools that are building those networks because it's so toxic now.

Speak UP: And nobody's working together. Charters were envisioned as a lab for innovation. Many families would love to see the district do a much better job with inclusive education for kids with special needs, and we have models in WISH and CHIME that could be replicated by LAUSD. There's an opportunity to work together.

Cynthia: I know they're moving towards it. We just participated in a pilot program. We've been doing about 89 percent integrated. We moved away from Special Day Class classrooms. We do full integration. It's made such a huge difference in the culture of our school, in kids actually building friendship networks across the entire school. But where it hasn't been great is that the kids still have the high needs, and we don't have enough support or funding to actually make sure that academically, they're able to maintain. In the Special Day Class classrooms, some of the teachers may have watered down difficult curriculum too much. So, when kids moved into the regular courses, there was a huge gap. We had to figure out how to meet kids in the middle because they're really low, and they shouldn't be that low. My kids would come to my office crying, “It’s too hard,” and I’m like “I know, it's supposed to be.”   

Speak UP: So you do want to raise expectations for all the kids?

Cynthia: You want to raise expectations. At my school, we have a minimum D policy. Kids really are A, B, C, or fail. We've had conversations with staff about some of our special education kids, and we go back and forth. Because if we say they can get Ds, then that means we're not setting that expectation for them, [but] we want to make sure that they can graduate.

Speak UP: Your school is CATS in South Central, Communication and Technology School. Let's talk about the data. I looked at greatschools.org, and I don’t think they updated it with the just-released data, but it was a 3 out of 10, a 2 for test scores, a 2 in equity. Only 7 percent of kids were meeting math standards, and less than 1 percent of the kids with disabilities met math or English.

Cynthia: That's old data. Look at graduation rates. My first graduating class in 2014, it was 59 percent. Now it's 86.4. We've also increased the amount of kids meeting UC and CSU eligibility: 84 students out of 110 are UC-CSU eligible. Usually, what we do with the rest of the kids is we started a community college pipeline program. We spent the summer meeting with kids for a week and using public transportation to the community colleges, having them enroll, having them meet counselors, taking away that fear of what this process is about, to make sure that they don't stop.  

Obviously, our math scores have struggled. When I first came into the school, our baseline SBAC data was one of the highest in District South. But in a small school your data tends to fluctuate a lot more. My math teacher who taught Algebra 2 left in 2015, and when she left, I got must-place subs, and I fought the district because I said, “I had one of the highest math scores in the district, and you're giving me a must-place sub,” and then my scores tanked.

Speak UP: So, do you want to change this “must-place” situation that we have with forced hiring of teachers?

Cynthia: That's a place where I want to have some collaboration, but I'd want to couple that conversation with a lot of teacher investment and professional development. I don't think any school likes that, right? The teacher or administrator.

Speak UP: It doesn't help the kids, that’s for sure.

Cynthia: Yeah, for sure. That impacted our scores so if you look at our SBAC scores, you'll see that we took some dips, and my other, really top English teacher left to be a writer, [and] the same thing happened in English. We've struggled. This is the first year where I have a full staff without any subs. That's a huge problem. You go into these communities, a lot of them still have vacancies.  But I talk to friends who are like, “Yeah, I thought about teaching, but then I hear about the cuts, constantly losing your job, there's no sense of safety anymore.” Before, going into teaching was a stable job, with good benefits.

Speak UP: We're going to have a lot more layoffs coming, too, because of this financial crisis we're in. 

Cynthia: When I was younger, teaching was a really stable profession that was respected. There's been a lot of rhetoric around teacher effectiveness that demoralized people.  

Speak UP: But policies on the part of the union also perpetuate that. Parents are going to charter schools because they have the ability to hire the staff they want and need, and teachers that don't cut it are often gone very quickly. You don't get a situation where kids are flailing for years with a teacher who really isn't cut out to teach. So, why doesn’t the union adapt and say, “Okay, clearly this is a problem. It's creating this narrative about bad teachers. Why don't we adapt to help attract families back by making some changes to these policies that protect ineffective teachers?” Parents a few years ago drove out a drunk teacher from a West Side elementary, and he got transferred to South L.A.  

Cynthia: I know. I mean, look at churches and look at priests, you know. 

 Speak UP: It's the same problem. Why not change that?

Cynthia: The problem with systems is people are in them, and people are not without fault. I'm not going to talk about the union leadership. I'm going to talk about teachers on the ground. For the most part, they don't want that either. There's something to be said about having conversations and mobilizing from within. Any system requires that type of mobilization, which is why I believe in the pilot schools because it's reform from within with our own people, with our own staff. Teachers that are on the ground need to have that same type of conversation about what are the changes to benefit us all?  There's equity pieces to sort out around which teachers are serving in the toughest community with the really challenging [situations.]

Speak UP: Why can't we pay them more? The union says no.

Cynthia: Yeah, we need to have that conversation. I started thinking, how would we recruit teachers from high-performing schools that are vetted as having effective strategies and then create a recruitment process for the whole plan of taking those teachers, selected by directors, like we do players in the NBA? Who's good, what skill do they have, is that the skill that's needed at the school?

Speak UP: Does everybody know who the good teachers are?

Cynthia: To me, it's relationships first. And how the classroom feels. You want to see the data growth, which, if you have the right relationships, and you have the right skill set, you're going to see. It might not be where the state wants you to be, but it will be growth.

Speak UP: So, you see the importance of growth data in evaluating effectiveness of teachers and schools?

Cynthia: Growth should be a marker that we look at more. Any teacher wants to know if what they're doing is working or not. They know that their kids might not be at grade level. If they're in high school reading at a 5th grade level, they're not going to be scoring in one year at the high school level where they're supposed to be. But if they can see that what they're doing is working [through growth]…Now if I'm going to say I'm going to use that to evaluate you and pay you, that added pressure might lead them to start freaking out. So, it's like, how do you balance it so that you don't get cheating. There's already so much pressure.

Speak UP: Do you think parents have real power in the district, and would you like to see any changes to increase parent power?  

Cynthia: I stopped teaching to work with parents. When I was in the classroom, I started parent workshops on budget transparency. I didn’t like the way parents were treated at the school that I was in, and we started doing a lot of parent education. And then we started leafleting and growing a little parent group, and then we started the PTA at Bethune. They voted me to be the president of the PTA, and I’m like, "That's not how this is supposed to go." I was a teacher. But I was really passionate about parent work. So, when the position opened up at Bravo for a coordinator, one of the biggest pieces was running the Parent Center. 

Speak UP: You created a program to give workshops to parents of kids who were struggling.

Cynthia. Yes, if you're in an intervention, then your parents are the ones that have to come to this program. We had 100 parents every Saturday. I had six counselors, 10 teachers. Every week, we'd give surveys to parents. They’d tell us what they wanted to learn. We'd spend the next week crafting the workshops. The kids would go on Saturday to their intervention courses. The parents would stay during that time to do the workshops. We saw big shifts in our 9th to 10th grade and also on their CST [California Standardized Test] data.  

One thing I'd want to change as a board member would be to be at the school sites more and actually listen to the needs of the parents, because I feel like that doesn’t happen enough, and then when it does happen, it's very fake and theatrical. They clean everything up, they make everything pretty. I walk away with not an accurate picture of what's happening at the schools.  

Speak UP: What is the number one challenge facing LAUSD right now?

Cynthia: Unity. Honestly, just coming together on behalf of kids. Also, feeling good. I want to get to a place where we feel good about talking about our district. We have feel-good moments, but when we look at the larger landscape, it's always so negative and toxic. So, how do we change the narrative? Telling the great stories of our teachers in our schools. Not enough of that is happening. Now, if I think which of the candidates can actually have that conversation, some of them that are running are very polarizing. And then some have zero experience in schools. It really requires someone who's done the work. How do we have a message that's moving us forward in a positive way? Sometimes when people see the middle, they think of it as being weak. I think there's a strong center of what's best for kids. To be really strong about what's best for kids, where there's agreement on both sides, that's where we can start.