Board Member Martinez Touts Union Support & Public Choice
Hillel Aron | October 15, 2012
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Raised in Pacoima and an alumna of San Fernando High School, District 6 School Board Member Nury Martinez earlier this fall announced that she isn’t running for re-election to the LAUSD board in order to run for City Council (see Martinez Running For City Council).
The announcement hasn’t made the four-year board member any less busy. Like District 3 Board Member Tamar Galatzan (with whom she is often allied), Martinez is also a mother who has opted to be a part-time school board member and work another job. Last week, Martinez authored a resolution to beef up arts education in the district (see Nonprofit Funds Big Arts Education Push).
In a recent interview in her office on the 24th floor of LAUSD headquarters, Martinez described how she won UTLA’s endorsement (and presumes she still has its support), why the initiative known as Public School Choice is an important vehicle for teacher empowerment, and why she hopes a woman will run to replace her.
LA School Report: Would you describe your upbringing and school experiences?
Nury Martinez: My Parents are from Zacatecas [in Mexico]. They were childhood boyfriend and girlfriend. They got married in 1971, lived in North Hollywood for four years and then bought their first home in Pacoima, and that’s where we were raised. My parents did not speak a word of English. They still don’t.
I was a third grader that could not read or write. I struggled tremendously with the language. So it was a very lonely, very sort of sad time in my life. But my mom never gave up on the fact that we were going to go to college.
LASR: What did you do before joining the school board, and what experiences did you have with the board before running for board member?
NM: I ran ten years ago for my first job, San Fernando City Council. I served as mayor for three years and I decided to run for the school board when I was six months pregnant. It was sort of unplanned.
I had dealt with the school district on A through G [an effort to raise the graduation requirements for high school students] in 2005. I went through a battle with the district on appointing local superintendents. So my experience with the district wasn’t all that great.
LASR: How did you decide to run?
NM: Six months into my pregnancy, I had heard that Julie Korenstein wasn’t going to seek another term. I’ve campaigned countless times, but when you’re ready to have a child any day, things get more colorful.
LASR: In that election, you had support of the teachers union. How did that come to pass?
NM: I just interviewed. My relationship with UTLA goes back to 1989, when my English teacher, Mrs. Roth, told me that the teachers were going to go on strike. I was a 10th grader at San Fernando High School. And I said, “Oh my god, what does that mean?” She said, “We’re fighting with the district on benefits and a fair contract.” So I got involved with the teachers union and led a lot of the student efforts on behalf of the teachers that year.
LASR: And how has your relationship with UTLA changed since coming on the board?
NM: I think I had a pretty good relationship with [former UTLA head] AJ Duffy. He and I didn’t always agree, but he was always very wiling to call me and we would meet. There’s not too much of a relationship with the current president. I don’t know Mr. Warren Fletcher personally. I’ve just seen him at meetings.
LASR: If you were running for school board again, you wouldn’t expect them to support you, would you?
NM: Sure I would.
LASR: You would?
NM: Absolutely. I’ve done nothing but support teachers in my district. Public School Choice, which was the most controversial piece of policy that we have voted on since I’ve been on the board, has created a lot of contention between the school board and UTLA, but I have to say that it’s the one thing that has created so much activism among my teachers. It has created an ability for them to step up, write their own plans, come out of their own shells, and say, you know what, I am a leader, I’m an instructional leader, and I’m going to change the makeup of my school and I’m going to lead.
I would hope that I would get their endorsement. But you know… you never know.
LASR: When I go to school board meetings, I can’t help but notice the voting cliques, and there’s a lot of tension. Is that uncomfortable?
NM: The problem with folks who don’t understand how politics works, is people- if you don’t understand politics, it’s gonna be very difficult for you to do this job. Because it does involve politics, it does involve to some degree compromising and negotiating with the powers that be. That’s all part of the job. Being uncomfortable and being frustrated is part of the job.
LASR: Your colleague Mr. Zimmer has a proposal about charter schools.* I was curious what you made of it.
NM: This is something I’ve shared with Mr. Zimmer: I don’t know what his intent is. I don’t know who’s behind it. I can’t really put my finger on why he’s doing this. I would suspect it’s because he’s trying to run for re-election and he wants to secure some key endorsements in this race.
NM: Which is fine. Just be honest about it. Putting a moratorium on charters isn’t going to solve our problems. To strip people from their choices without having a dialogue with them is insulting.
LASR: But the school board can approve or not approve charters every five years, and they can do it for political reasons, can’t they?
NM: I don’t think we’ve always made the right call. I think we need to do a better job of determining what actually will shut down a school. I think the cheating scandal last year was evident that we were serious about making sure that these schools did not operate anymore. But then a couple of months later, the embezzlement happened. My goodness. We don’t always get it right. But we need to that certain that we get it right 90% if not 99.9% of the time.
LASR: [Associated Administrators of Los Angeles rep and former school board member] David Tokofsky thinks that the school board isn’t doing enough to campaign for Propositions 30 and 38. What can the school board do?
NM: The school board needs money. Mr. Tokofsky would probably know this because he’s run for office himself. And so my question to him is, what are our partners doing like AALA to sort of help the district and be a partner with the district to raise the necessary funds to be able to get the word out? The mailers, the commercials, the phone calls, the walkers, the messaging around the importance of passing these initiatives. So what are all of our partners that have a stake in making sure that LAUSD is here next year, what are we doing as a collective group to raise the necessary money to mount a serious campaign?
LASR: You are running for city council, right?
NM: There’s not a vacancy yet, so I have to be very careful about how this comes across. As soon as there becomes a vacancy, when Mr. Tony Cardenas steps down – or whatever it’s called [Cardenas is running for Congress in November and is expected to win] – then there will be an opportunity to declare.
LASR: Is there a candidate in mind that you would like to succeed you on the school board?
NM: If Iris [Zuniga, mentioned as a possible District 6 board candidate] is ready to put her name in the race, more power to her. I absolutely believe there needs to be more women in these positions. I [also] believe there needs to be more parents on these boards. We just add a different flavor to the conversation. Women add a different dynamic to any conversation. We just have different perspectives on the way we view things. We try to get to a solution.
Edited and condensed for clarity.
*Subsequent to this interview, Zimmer announced a revised version of the charter oversight proposal. (See Zimmer Unveils Softer Charter Plan)