Meet the LAUSD school board candidates: Jess Arana is running to ‘break the curse that has been plaguing our socioeconomically challenged children for generations’
Destiny Torres, Veronica Sierra, and Rebecca Katz | March 15, 2022
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This article is part of a collaboration between The 74 and the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism.
This profile is part of “Meet the LAUSD school board candidates,” a series focusing on the candidates running for three open seats on the seven-member school board. LAUSD is the largest school district in the country with an elected school board. The primary is June 7. Read all the pieces in the series as they are published here. Profiles have been edited for length and clarity.
Name: Jess Arana
Background/profession: Public Service – Police Sergeant/Educator
Why are you running?
I am running on a student first platform and to give a voice back to parents and the community. Although we can never truly remove politics from education, decisions need to be made from the standpoint on what is best for students, parents, and the community. The interest of outside organizations with political agendas should not weigh more than student achievement and community concerns.
How are you different from other candidates?
I grew up in the trenches of my community and truly understand the plight of the children in LAUSD. Growing up in Pacoima as a poor Mexican boy to a single teenage mother of three, I know what it’s like to depend on LAUSD as my primary source of meals and childcare. My campaign for school board is genuinely a grassroots movement. I am a college graduate with a master’s degree and a proud US Army Veteran. I am a parent of four LAUSD students… I have been an employee of LAUSD for 24 years and I have been a volunteer mentor/coach with the district for over 27 years.
What’s the most important issue in your district?
Returning to a sense of normalcy… The pandemic has hit the nation hard and those most vulnerable, our socioeconomically challenged children, have been hit the hardest. Studies have shown that academics are down student-wide while mental health issues and suicide risks have increased… These issues have been exacerbated by the current political wave of pitting everyone against one another and painting people as far-left or far-right. It’s a good scare tactic for certain politicians but in the end, it impedes progress.
What should be Superintendent Carvalho’s top priority?
Declining enrollment across the district is occurring at an alarming rate… we have to take a customer service approach and give the public what it wants. Why can’t our students graduate with certificates in trades like plumbing, carpentry, and electrical? We have to place value in education by teaching our students actual skills and providing them with training where they can graduate and get a job. We have to create meaningful afterschool programs so parents will want their students involved.
What skills or past experiences have prepared you to serve as a board member?
It’s time we break the curse that has been plaguing our socioeconomically challenged children for generations. We need experienced and bold leaders who are not afraid to be the voice of students, parents, and employees. In addition to serving my country in the US Army, I possess a Master’s degree in Public Administration with an Emphasis in Leadership. As a 24 year employee of LAUSD, I understand the politics and bureaucracy of the district. I have had to navigate through the various departments and personnel within the district as both an employee and coach. As a kid, I grew up in LAUSD schools and experienced gangs, drug dealing, riots, and social injustices. As a parent of four LAUSD children, I have experienced the entire k-12 system, including; special education, fear for safety of my kids, and frustration in the quality of education my kids were receiving in the Northeast Valley. I fully understand the systemic problems that have kept our schools from reaching their true potential. Finally, I have served on the board of two successful community oriented non-profit organizations whose mission was youth intervention.
If you win, what do you hope to achieve for the LAUSD?
When parents drop off their kids at school, their biggest concern is that their kids are going to be safe. The incident rate for violence in 2021 within LAUSD is up 21 percent from 2018. This means 1 in 131 people within LAUSD will be a victim of violence. I plan to decrease school violence by reforming campus security. According to research, 1 in 5 minority children actually graduate from college with a bachelor’s degree. This means that 4 out of 5 actually go into the workplace with no degree. I plan on revamping the education system from not only focusing on college readiness but on preparing children for career pathways… It takes a village to raise a child. I plan on giving parents and our community a voice in education… I plan on tackling community issues on equity, safety, and the quality of education. Teachers are the district’s greatest asset and they have taken a back burner to COVID and other pandemic issues. I plan on empowering teachers by giving them more control over school budget, giving them more access to technology, increasing their pay, and allowing them to be more imaginative in the classroom.
Destiny Torres is a graduate student at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism pursuing a master of science degree in journalism. She earned her bachelor’s degree at CSU Dominguez Hills. She is passionate about culture and social justice issues.
Veronica Sierra is a sophomore pursuing a journalism degree at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. She was born and raised in Valencia, Venezuela; and moved to California in 2015 where she continued high school, graduating in 2020.
Rebecca Katz is a recent graduate of the USC Annenberg School for Communications and Journalism Masters Program and a Los Angeles native. She received her bachelors in English literature and political science from USC. She is passionate about mental health and education reform.