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JUST IN: Arne Duncan endorses Melvoin and Gonez in LAUSD races

Mike Szymanski | March 29, 2017

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Barack Obama’s former Education Secretary Arne Duncan threw his support Wednesday to two pro-reform candidates in the LA Unified school board race.

Duncan, who was appointed secretary of education by Obama in 2009, endorsed Nick Melvoin who is running against school board President Steve Zimmer, and is backing Kelly Gonez against Imelda Padilla in a race where there is no incumbent. Both Zimmer and Padilla are supported by labor leaders and the local teachers union, UTLA.

“I support Kelly Gonez and Nick Melvoin because they are both educators who are deeply committed to improving schools, supporting teachers, and empowering parents to find the schools that best meet the needs of their children,” Duncan said in a statement. “We need new blood on the Los Angeles School Board to bring a greater sense of urgency to improving America’s second-largest school district and giving every child, no matter their background, a greater shot at the American Dream.”

Last night, before the endorsement, Zimmer told LA School Report that he didn’t expect any endorsement from Duncan. “We have worked together behind the scenes more than anyone knows, but I don’t expect his endorsement,” Zimmer said. “We have had our differences of opinion.”

With less than seven weeks until the May 16 runoff, Duncan praised Gonez, who worked as an education policy advisor in the Obama administration, in his statement: “As the only Democrat in the race with professional education experience — from the classroom to President Obama’s administration — Kelly Gonez is by far the best candidate in the race to fight for California kids. Nick Melvoin has shown his commitment to education as a teacher in Watts and a true fighter, even in the courtroom, for kids in this community.  The status quo is not good enough for our kids and Nick is fighting for the change they deserve.”

Melvoin said in an email after the endorsement, “I am honored to have Secretary Duncan’s support. Secretary Duncan continues to be a champion for every student’s right to a great education. His endorsement recognizes the need for new leadership and new ideas for Los Angeles. I look forward to building on Secretary Duncan’s success by making a great education and good schools more accessible for every child in our community.”

Gonez is running for the District 6 seat in the northeast San Fernando Valley, which is being vacated by Monica Ratliff who waged an unsuccessful campaign for city council. Gonez is a seventh-grade science teacher at a STEM-focused charter middle school in South Los Angeles.

“It was an honor to work with Secretary Duncan in the Obama Administration and I am grateful to have his endorsement today,” Gonez, who worked in the Department of Education from 2014 to 2016, said in an email. “During his tenure serving our country, Secretary Duncan never backed down from fighting on behalf of every child and every family. It is this same fight that I will bring with me to the school board.”

Melvoin is running for District 4 encompassing most of West Los Angeles, Hollywood, and the west San Fernando Valley. He worked as an English teacher at Markham Middle School, an LA Unified campus in Watts. He now works as a director of Camp Harmony, a camp for homeless and underserved children.

Zimmer, when contacted after the Duncan endorsement was confirmed, issued a statement saying: “I am disappointed that the Secretary Duncan has chosen to inject himself into this battle. The Secretary and I had a strong working relationship. We disagreed about the role of competition and standardized testing in public education, but we found important common ground on issues of equity and investment in anti-poverty programs like Promise Neighborhood.

“Our campaign will continue to broadcast a narrative of hope and promise for all kids through public education,” Zimmer added. “I am saddened that the Secretary has chosen to turn away from that promise he supported when he was in office. I still believe that we do more for all children when we turn towards each other instead of against each other. Working together, we will stand for the dreams of all kids not just some kids in this struggle for the soul of public education.”

Also Wednesday, charter critic Diane Ravitch announced that the Network for Public Education Action Fund had endorsed Zimmer.

Read LA School Report’s full series of coverage at LAUSD Race 2017.

This article has been updated to add comment from Nick Melvoin and Kelly Gonez, and an endorsement for Steve Zimmer, as well as a statement from Zimmer.

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