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Meet the candidates in LAUSD school board runoffs: Rocio Rivas says her experience working in LAUSD makes her best candidate to represent Eastside communities

Bryan Sarabia | November 3, 2022

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Rocio Rivas

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 Rocio Rivas, who is running to represent school district 2 against Maria Brenes:

An established LAUSD employee and parent who is running for LA Unified school board to represent predominantly low income families from the city’s Eastside communities, Rocio Rivas intends to tackle issues the district faces using her experience as an education researcher and parent.

A parent advocate and education expert, the Berkeley and Columbia University alum is relying on her experience working for current school board member Jackie Goldberg and her leadership on neighborhood councils to guide her. 

“I know all of our schools and what is happening inside of them….I also know the roles and responsibilities of a board member because I have been working with one,” Rivas told LA School Report. “I will bring that professional experience of policy work, resolutions and breaking bureaucracy.”

Rivas said knowing those roles and responsibilities is what makes her more qualified to represent school district 2 than her opponent Maria Brenes, director of the non profit Inner City Struggle. 

In an interview with LA School Report, Rivas shared her plans for the predominantly low income communities of eastside Los Angeles on issues of enrollment decline, mental health, school policing and more: 

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

What is your relationship with LAUSD, specifically Board District 2, the area you intend to represent?

I was a student in LAUSD. I loved my education here and I had a great time. It was here that I fell in love with school and education. I went on to go to school at Berkeley and Columbia to Teacher’s College to better understand education and I came back because my purpose was always to work for the district… I worked with LAUSD doing research and program evaluation, until I decided to become a full time mom. When my son got into school, I became a parent volunteer… I became involved with schools in Board District 2 and got to know the needs of the community. 

Even after that, I wanted to help even more, so I ran for Board District 5. I ran because it was something I wanted to do. Needless to say, I didn’t win; Jackie Goldberg won. I mean, who’s gonna win against Jackie Goldberg?! Afterward, I got to know Jackie, and we hit it off. She hired me as her research and policy deputy, and that became my current connection with the district.

You’ve called yourself a parent advocate. What does that mean and how do you intend to put that into practice?

Parent advocacy is standing up for parent rights and our voices. When I first sent my son to elementary school, I felt a lot of parent voices were suppressed. We have a right to participate in our school, so I became the chair of the School Site Council and I started to hear that parents were not being heard, like the district was pushing them aside. 

So I connected with other parents and I did workshops based on our conversations. I did one on growth mindset, on intrinsic and extrinsic motivation, on parent-teacher conferences and other issues.

I see parent advocacy as holding town halls, having parent engagement committees meet on Saturdays or later on weekdays when parents can attend and other changes to make everything more accessible to parents. We have to work on improving communication between parents and the school board.

With the recent L.A. City Hall scandal, it is evident that having people of color in government does not lead to equity among its constituents of color. In other words, that representation does not free citizens from oppression. What will you do to address the needs of ALL children, regardless of race and class?

I completely agree with your statement. As Latinos, as Hispanics, we wanted representatives to meet our needs, but we also know that there’s so many others that need to be served. 

I am all for intercultural understanding. That was my focus in school: comparative and international education. We need to celebrate multiculturalism in our schools. We need to have those conversations about our internal biases and talk to our representatives about their biases as well, to keep everybody accountable. In District 2 we have Japanese students, Jewish students, Armenian students and more. 

To hear that from our LA City Council representatives hurts our souls and to combat this, we need to start in our schools. I think we need to really expand the opportunities for our students to go beyond our borders and consider expanding ways for our students to study abroad. 

When asked about police in schools, in an interview with LAist you said: “I am pretty much against all police in our schools. … For the district to be spending funds that should be going to our students and using it for law enforcement, I think that’s just going backwards.” What are some things you are planning on implementing to replace policing in LAUSD schools?

There will be police, they just won’t be inside the schools, but rather outside. I think we do need to maintain safety. There was a stabbing at Marshall High School not too long ago, there’s drugs that our students are being exposed to… inside of our schools, what I really want to bring to focus on is how we’re implementing restorative justice…

There was a student in LAUSD who brought a gun to school. He said he loved his school, but the gun was to protect himself after school: he did not feel safe leaving campus. There’s fear when our children are leaving school, so we need to think about initiatives to change this, such as implementing after school programs… 

You’ve got an endorsement from UTLA, LA’s largest teacher’s union. Why are you qualified enough to receive their endorsement? What is your commitment to teachers in LAUSD? 

Growing up, teachers were my best friends and school was my second home. I consider teaching an honorable profession. I will always fight for teachers, especially right now as they’re against the deprofessionalization of their profession. Like in any profession, not all teachers are the same, they’re all different, but we have to provide support and have those infrastructures where we can deal with the issues they face.

Having the endorsement of the Teachers Union is, for me, the solidification that they have trusted me. When I’m in the classroom and they talk to me about scaffolding or backwards planning, I know exactly what they’re talking about, because I’ve learned about that. I know pedagogy.

Enrollment decline is an urgent issue for LAUSD at the moment. How will you help address this?

We need to expand programs such as dual language immersion and schools with advanced studies. Schools like Bravo Medical Magnet have long waiting lists. In communities like Glendale and Alhambra, parents are requesting dual language programs. We need to not only expand these enrichment programs, but also market them to our parents to increase enrollment.

Both Maria Brenes and yourself agree that mental health issues in the district are important, specifically the need for greener spaces on campuses usually covered in asphalt. How do you intend to make this happen? Do you have other plans to address mental health?

Greening our schools is something we need to focus on. The district is going to have a new office on climate resiliency and it will focus on this. I will be very active in that office because there’s so many schools in Board District 2 that deserve shade and gardens.

On a different note, the pandemic really changed our students. They were affected from isolation and disconnection from their friends. When schools reopened there was no motivation, there was depression, anxiety and stress. We need full time psychiatric help in each of our campuses, not just one psychiatric social worker (PSW) that has to go to three schools at once and have high caseloads.

Brenes said she is more qualified than you to serve because she lives and works in District 2. She said she has done more for District 2 than you and that she has a “proven track record” when it comes to serving this community. Brenes said this community asked her to step up and serve. What do you have to say to that?

I was also asked to run. I was. I didn’t just say I’m gonna run, I was asked to run as well, and I was asked to step up for our schools. That’s why I ran.

Who asked you to run?

Teachers, community members, people that are supporting me now that have endorsed me. They asked me to run, and so I feel like I couldn’t say no. I mean when the community is asking you to run, and they believe in you, you have to do it.

She says she knows Board District 2, but I know all of our schools and what is happening inside of them. I am an Angeleno. I know Boyle Heights and Highland Park. I also know Koreatown and Pico Union because these are my communities. I also know the roles and responsibilities of a board member because I have been working with one. I will bring that professional experience of policy work, resolutions and breaking bureaucracy … [Brenes] has pushed from the outside. I’ve been working from the outside and the inside, so I know how to organize.

I’ve been doing the research. I was out there in our communities during the pandemic, making sure everyone had hotspots and computers. These are not things that I brag about, but they’re things I’ve done and I’m very proud of… I’m not part of the political establishment;  I don’t have political aspirations. I’m here just solely for education. I’m not here to use our communities and our schools for my own aggrandizement. I’m here to fight for our communities, our schools and our teachers.

This article is part of a collaboration between The 74 and the USC Annenberg School for Communications and Journalism.

Bryan Sarabia is a junior at the University of Southern California, originally from Houston, Texas. He is majoring in journalism and Spanish.

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