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Meet the candidates in LAUSD school board runoffs: Teacher Marvin Rodriguez opposes charters; boosts community, neighborhood schools

Cari Spencer | November 3, 2022

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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 Marvin Rodriguez, a long-time teacher, who is running against school board president Kelly Gonez: 

Marvin A. Rodríguez

Long-time teacher Marvin Rodríguez hopes to apply his classroom experience to a spot on the LAUSD school board where he is on the ballot to represent Board District 6.

In the June primary, Rodríguez tallied 31% of the votes, holding incumbent Kelly Gonez back from reaching a 50% threshold that would have positioned her to win outright. Rodríguez has no known endorsements or past experience on the board, but is a member of the Los Angeles teacher’s union and said his understanding of student needs equips him for the position.

“What I want my students to see, my teachers to see, and the parents to see, is that the person who’s there representing them is one of them. It’s a parent, it’s a teacher, and it’s also a person who was a student at LAUSD for 12 plus years,” Rodríguez told LA School Report.

That’s what I want my communities to understand, that the person who’s representing them is doing so and with courage, honesty, but with a lot of commitment and transparency.”

In an interview with LA School Report, Rodríguez set out a vision for LA Unified without charters, and includes more community schools with wraparound services, increased parent collaboration and more attention to each student.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Why should people vote for you instead of Kelly Gonez, who has had prior experience on the board?

I’ve been teaching for 18 years and I understand what the needs of my students are. I see them every day. I think you’re better equipped at making those decisions when you have a clear understanding of what the needs of our students are … we have to be better at going into our communities and sharing those experiences, because that is how you become more empathetic and more compassionate…” 

When looking at Gonez’s platform, is there anything that seems like a big difference between your vision and her vision?

My main focus is the delivery … I think the big difference between me and her is that I want to engage parents. I look forward to talking to parents, to engaging parents at parent centers and revamping those so that we give our parents access to us. I’m only one person, I love to represent my communities, but I don’t have all the answers and I don’t have all the solutions.

What I look for is to talk to the members of the community, talk to parents, to make sure they share their ideas and they share their concerns and together we can come up with solutions …

You’ve spoken a lot about wanting all schools to fit the community schools model. What are the steps to get there?

My vision is every school becomes a community school model.…the community schools model provides those wraparound resources for our most vulnerable communities, especially students and their families.

We can’t expect our children to be academically successful and perform for us if we haven’t given them all those wraparound resources, if we haven’t given them mental health services, health services, all the support that our children and their families need. 

Do you see any unique challenges for students in District 6, and how would you tackle those challenges?

I think the issues with LAUSD are universal. [Many] of our students are considered low-income, but in District 6 we have a little more of that … Historically, some of these schools have struggled academically and have struggled to deliver for our children meaningful learning opportunities. And that’s why you see in our communities, a lot of charter schools come up, because what charter schools are trying to do is fill that void that our neighborhood schools are failing to provide for our children.

 So one of the things I see in our district is a little more charter incursion, so the way we tackle that is to make sure we protect our neighborhood schools by delivering those resources and the funding to them so they, in turn, can provide the services that parents and students are hungry for.

In my mind, the best educational opportunity for our students has to be in their neighborhood schools. And we do that also by holding charter schools accountable … If charter schools are not performing, we have to make sure that we look into that at the board level and if we must deny charters, we will do so … If they want to come into our communities, we have to have community input. But my vision for the district is we get to a place where our communities are not asking for outside resources or funding to come in. 

So reading between the lines there, in your vision we ideally would not need charter schools?

Yes. Make it harder for charters to want to come into our community, because charters are not meant to support or bring extra resources into our communities, they’re built for one purpose – they’re built to compete with our neighborhood schools. When you’re competing with schools who already lack resources and funding, you’re starving them even more. 

Of course there are many overarching problems contributing to dropping enrollment, but in terms of keeping students in LAUSD or from moving to different schools, what do you see as the solution?

What we have control over is how we deliver meaningful learning opportunities for our children and their families. Again, I go back to that community school model. We have to create that for our students, but I also feel that we need to create for our students, culturally and racially responsive curriculum.

We have to revamp parents centers, make sure parents are back in schools and they want to be part of the school community. 

And we need buy-in from parents and buy-in from students. And I think that’s one of the things that we are lacking in education today. Our students are not buying into the education we’re selling them. I think our education is riddled with too much competition where you either hurry up or stay behind.

That reminds me of your comments about fostering a wholesome student who is confident and empowered to strive for growth. In terms of creating that empowerment and adding more meaning to education, how do you see yourself being able to create this change within District 6?

…we need to provide our students with smaller classroom sizes … it’s easier for teachers to reach [students] when they dedicate more time to them. 

When you’re dedicating more time to a child, that child feels special, feels valued, feels important… We also need to provide training for our support staff… as to how to approach young people.

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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