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LAUSD board race breakdown: Here’s how Kelly Gonez and Imelda Padilla say they are different

Sarah Favot | May 11, 2017

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Imelda Padilla, left, and Kelly Gonez are contending for the District 6 school board seat in the May 16 election.

Kelly Gonez and Imelda Padilla are two political newcomers who are running for the east San Fernando Valley seat on the LA Unified school board. Both are young Latinas who grew up in the district. LA School Report sat down separately with each of them to ask what differentiates them.

In many ways, the District 6 race for an open seat to replace Mónica Ratliff has been overshadowed by the race in District 4, where board President Steve Zimmer is being challenged by Nick Melvoin. But since the March primary, outside groups have spent slightly more on the District 6 race than the District 4 race, which dominated spending in the primary.

The balance of the board could swing to a pro-reform majority if both Gonez and Melvoin win in Tuesday’s runoff.

Gonez is supported by reformers and charter school supporters. Padilla is supported by the teachers union.

LA School Report sat down separately with Gonez, 28, and Padilla, 29, to discuss their differences as well as where they stand on big issues facing the district.

On how they are different:

Padilla points out that she is an LAUSD graduate and attended her neighborhood schools, while Gonez attended private Catholic schools. Padilla also notes that she has stayed in the East San Fernando Valley – she lives in her childhood home — while Gonez lived in Washington, D.C., for two years while she worked in the Obama Administration.

“I spent 13 years inside an LAUSD classroom,” Padilla said.

Gonez is the only candidate who has experience teaching in a classroom. She taught in the board district at a charter school in Lake View Terrace and now teaches at a charter middle school, Crown Preparatory Academy in South LA. She taught for one semester at an LAUSD school – Dorsey High School.

“My entire life has been education and I think that that’s really critical,” Gonez said. “I really think the major differentiating factor is experience and that readiness to take on this office given that experience.”

Padilla says she believes teachers need at least six years in the classroom to have a handle on the profession.

“Because I’m so familiar with all the different components of a school, not just a classroom, I’m going to be able to go to my campuses and try to figure out how do we strike that balance to make it a successful place for kids,” Padilla said.

Gonez points out that her campaign has remained positive, while Padilla’s campaign has gone negative. For example, Gonez said some of Padilla’s mailers have made digs at her.

“Obviously, there’s some narratives that we can’t control as the candidates, but I think you can always control what you say and how you behave, and she has at times, I think, come across negative and that’s something, I really make a conscious effort to be positive.”

On charter school growth:

Gonez doesn’t think there should be a specific number of charter schools.

“I think charters play an important role in the education system, but they are just one piece, one tool in the toolbox of how we improve education generally speaking in LAUSD,” she said.

She said she would evaluate each petition on a case-by-case basis.

“Charter expansion should happen only for good reasons,” she said.

Poor academics, questionable finance and governance, and administration that has stepped in the way of teachers organizing would be reasons for denying a petition, she said.

Padilla also said she would evaluate each petition on a case-by-case basis.

She wouldn’t have a problem renewing a petition for a charter school that is serving its students well.

“Expansion, I think, is where I’m going to very critical about all expansion,” she said, noting that magnets and pilot schools will also be expanding.

“I think we need to watch what happens with enrollment trends and where parents choose to send their kids,” Padilla said.

On charter school co-locations:

Padilla said the district needs to clarify what is defined as available space at a school so that computer labs and science rooms aren’t considered empty classrooms.

“We need to be 100 percent real about what’s available,” she said.

Gonez called the current process broken.

“I think the board and the district could and should be doing a lot more to make this a much smoother and more transparent process for families and for schools,” she said.

On Michelle King:

Padilla said she would vote to renew King’s contract right now.

Gonez said she liked that King knows the system in and out.

“I do think it would be great if she took more of a bold and visionary stance. I think that is the role of the superintendent. We could all benefit from her ideas and from her pushing us in directions we may not have thought of,” she said.

On raising A-G requirements to a C minimum:

Padilla said she wouldn’t support raising it to a C.

She said she wants to make sure schools have credit recovery options during the summer and after-school.

Gonez said she would like to raise the requirements to a C.

“When half of our graduates aren’t eligible for a four-year university, I think that does a disservice to kids,” she said.

On what they don’t like about each other:

Padilla said she doesn’t like that Gonez attended Catholic schools rather than district schools.

“She doesn’t know what our schools used to be or what they could be because she wasn’t here,” Padilla said.

Padilla also accused Gonez of copying her on issues she’s brought up in her campaign like being career ready.

“She can name drop policies and laws and numbers, but you know what, give me a few months and I’m going to be able to as well,” Padilla said.

Gonez pointed to Padilla’s lack of experience in education.

“I think when you have people, Secretary DeVos, who don’t have experience in education making decisions about education it doesn’t usually end up well,” she said.

“I also think she’s not always been positive in the way that she characterizes this race and I don’t think that that helps. For me, this race is about bringing people together.”

“I think that creating wedges is exactly what’s wrong with the system, and so anyone who perpetuates that I have a problem with that,” Gonez said.

If they can only do one thing in the five-and-a-half-year term, what would it be?

Padilla said it would be to expand magnets.

“Because that’s where we’re doing things right,” she said.

Gonez said she would like to look back and know that every school prepares students to be truly college and career ready.

“I think in order to accomplish that obviously, we have to be looking at academics, but we would also be doing more to make sure our schools are safe and supportive and positive welcoming environments for every kid and every family.”

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

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