Meet the candidates in LAUSD school board runoffs: Kelly Gonez touts experience

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As two LAUSD school board races headed to runoffs in Tuesday’s election, LA School Report interviewed the four candidates vying for the seats. Here is an interview with Kelly Gonez, currently school board president and district 6 representative, who is running against long-time teacher Marvin Rodriguez:

LAUSD school board president Kelly Gonez (kellygonez.com)

Backed by both United Teachers Los Angeles and charter advocates, LAUSD school board president Kelly Gonez is on the ballot again — but after tallying just under half of the primary votes last June, Tuesday’s runoff election will determine if she gets to keep her post.

Gonez has represented the East San Fernando Valley as the LA Unified Board District 6 member since 2017. She has served as president since December 2020, taking on the position as the pandemic was beginning. Previously, Gonez taught geometry at an LAUSD high school and served as an education policy advisor during the Obama administration.

Gonez said she hopes to build on past initiatives, such as expanding early education programs and school choice, and will draw on her knowledge of the district and policy expertise to fight for mental health services, better learning opportunities and support for LA Unified staff.

“I think for voters it is really about the readiness and leadership capacity to do this work at an important time where our students and schools have overwhelming needs because of the impacts of the pandemic,” Gonez told LA School Report. “And I think that that choice is quite clear.”

In an interview, Gonez discussed her accomplishments in leading the district and future plans for helping students recover from the impacts of the pandemic.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Marvin Rodríguez, your opponent, is an LAUSD teacher of 17 years, whose campaign is tied to his close connection to LAUSD. How have you found ways to directly engage with people and how would you plan to continue doing so?

This campaign is really focused on the work that I’ve done over the last five years. And I think in terms of experience, there really is no comparison. I have experience as a classroom teacher, so I know the issues firsthand…

I have deep knowledge of every school in my district… [of the] 125 schools that I represent where I have spent a lot of time in conversation with principals, and teachers and parents and students to learn about the diverse issues that every school faces…I’m [also] a parent of an LAUSD student myself – the only one on the board.

Do you see any unique challenges for students in District 6 specifically, and how have you tackled/would you plan to tackle those challenges?

There are long standing inequities that impact the East San Fernando Valley. When you look at access to some of the most in-demand and highest quality programming the school district offers, those options just have not been present in Board District 6 in many cases… so I’ve worked really hard… to make sure those opportunities are available to our families and they don’t have to leave their neighborhoods to be able to access them.

Throughout my time on the board, I have tripled the number of dual language programs that exist in Board District 6, as well as greatly expanded the number of magnet programs, including creating some new and innovative magnet programs that didn’t exist in our community before hand

The other piece that I want to highlight is that economic inequality deeply impacts our school communities and our families in Board District 6. When you think about an issue like access to affordable housing, we know that the San Fernando Valley has had some of the highest rates of homelessness among our students compared to the rest of the school district.

This is why I have been such a proponent of our community schools and having wraparound services at our school campuses, because it’s not enough to just focus on academic instruction. Our families are reliant on our schools for a lot of other areas. And we really have to work hard… and make sure…nutrition and health and mental health and housing…are addressed.

That’s been an area and I have a bunch of work I’ve done in that space. I would specifically note my work around utilizing LAUSD underutilized or vacant properties to build housing and my resolution around expanding services and supports for students and families who are unhoused. That is born directly from my knowledge of what families are experiencing in Board District 6 and the acuteness of that challenge here in my district.

You mentioned the community schools model, which is something Rodriguez is advocating for. Is that something you’re also prioritizing?

I think the point of comparison here is words versus actions… there’s a number of community schools in Board District 6, which I’m very familiar with and I’ve helped support. I also wrote a resolution, which passed the Board unanimously in June 2021, to actually expand and fortify the community school model, to make sure we have the necessary supports…and to set aside additional funding to continue to grow and support the community schools in LA Unified … I want to see more community schools all throughout the district, but it takes funding and infrastructure to make sure that we can do so successfully and that’s work that I have done directly during my time on the board.

Of course, if re-elected, you are continuing work that you’ve already been doing, but if re-elected do you have any new first day priorities or shifts in what you envision yourself tackling with the upcoming tenure?

Equity and bringing more funding to my schools in the East San Fernando Valley will always continue to be a priority, but I do think the pandemic and its impacts on students has made me be reflective and think about what areas might we need to prioritize that have been exacerbated by the pandemic. Priority number one for me is really creating transformative learning opportunities for our students. So really expanding our arts, music, stem and career paths programs.

The second priority … is really supporting the whole family and especially the mental health and health needs of our students, families and staff … There’s a lot of work to be done to make sure that our students who most need it can access the services both preventatively but also when they are in crisis.

The last piece I would highlight is really focused on our workforce and supporting our educators. And by that I don’t just mean classroom teachers but all of the staff within LA Unified …I have a lot of concern about levels of burnout among our staff and the ways in which our staff have been impacted by the pandemic, so I am really focused on supporting our workforce.

This article is part of a collaboration between The 74 and the USC Annenberg School for Communications and Journalism.

Cari Spencer is a senior at the University of Southern California, originally from the suburbs of Minneapolis. She is studying journalism and sociology.

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