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Meet the LAUSD school board candidates: Maria Brenes is running ‘to develop policy and an LAUSD budget rooted in racial justice’

Destiny Torres and Veronica Sierra | March 1, 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. Candidates have until March 9 to qualify for the ballot by submitting signatures. Read all the pieces in the series as they are published here. Profiles have been edited for length and clarity. 

Name: Maria Brenes

District: 2

Background/profession: Education advocate, LAUSD parent and executive director of InnerCity Struggle

Why are you running?

For 20 years I have been a strong voice and advocate for educational justice and re-imagining public education to be equitable for all LAUSD students…, Historically, students of color have been academically left behind, criminalized and public schools have been severely under-resourced. Families of color have high hopes and high expectations for their children and public education can play an essential role in empowering them to reach their fullest potential… My goal would be to develop policy and an LAUSD budget rooted in racial justice… I want to… strengthen traditional neighborhood schools to be hubs of academic excellence…in highest need communities.

How are you different from other candidates?

I am a proven and tested leader in advancing campaigns and winning policy changes that benefit students of color and our highest need schools in the LAUSD. I am an education and children’s advocate, as well as an LAUSD parent of two elementary students. I have worked to transform and re-imagine public education to be equitable and just for all regardless of zip code.

What’s the most important issue in your district?

The COVID-19 pandemic has greatly impacted our highest need communities and we must close achievement and opportunity gaps by investing in equitable resources for neighborhood schools. My top priorities for LAUSD schools would include …(creating) …quality and engaging pathways toward college ready graduation for all students…Another focus would be supporting the expansion and strengthening of early education programs and services to boost academic achievement… Centering the needs of Special Education students would be a high priority as this area is under-resourced… I would focus on spotlighting the needs of foster youth and collaborate with the county and community organizations to figure out better ways to ensure…achievement. Additionally, improving school climate for students of color and in particular Black student achievement efforts would continue to be a focus of my work. Initiatives supporting English Learners, LGBTQ students and Indigenous students would also be a high priority.

What should be Superintendent Carvalho’s top priority?

Superintendent Carvalho’s top priorities should include equitable investments for highest need schools. LAUSD must provide wrap-around services for all schools, especially for those in communities hit hardest by the pandemic. He must also focus on fully staffing our schools beginning with the highest need… the superintendent must maximize all funding the district has received in response to the COVID-19 pandemic to accelerate learning and develop a clear plan for post-pandemic investments.

What skills or past experiences have prepared you to serve as a board member?

My work at InnerCity Struggle for 20 years has focused on exposing the inequities that persist in highest need schools and communities… My work in educational justice has targeted the dismantling of the school-to-prison pipeline… I have demanded higher expectations for students and greater public investment…The most significant wins I have helped secure include the construction of new LAUSD traditional public schools for the Eastside, A-G college-preparatory classes for all, eliminating willful defiance as grounds for suspension, the Student Equity Needs Index and wellness centers at Mendez and Roosevelt high schools.

If you win, what do you hope to achieve for the LAUSD?

If elected, I will be a voice for equitable funding for LAUSD students and schools by supporting the increasing of resources to address the unmet needs of students… I will focus on access to higher education, career preparation and opportunity for all by advancing deepened personalization and advocating for a greater concentration of resources in the classroom, including intervention and enrichment supports to positively impact higher graduation rates and a strong college-going culture in LAUSD schools. Lastly, I will work to increase mental health and wellness supports… by further investing in wrap-around support services that include access to affordable housing and addressing food insecurity…Every LAUSD family must be empowered as partners…and I will advocate for the centering of students and families in all decision-making.

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. 

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