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Tears, applause, and hope set theme for 3 newly inducted school board members

Mike Szymanski | July 7, 2017

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Mónica García carried a little green alien with her as she took her seat after being inaugurated for a fourth term on the LA Unified school board.

“It’s a little alien named ‘Z’ from my niece Maya, and it’s supposed to spread love and harmony and peace and calm,” Garcia said. (And it’s a social-emotional learning tool that the district is using for pre-K students.)

Will she be needing “Z” regularly at the school board meetings?

“I’ll be keeping him right here, unless Maya needs him,” García said.

Her 6-year-old niece Maya García-Bower helped give García her oath of office in both English and Spanish along with former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa on Thursday morning at the Cortines School of Visual and Performing Arts Concert Hall in downtown Los Angeles.

“I got elected in 2005 and she got elected in 2006, and I saw that this was a woman with the power of her convictions,” Villaraigosa said. “You could have run for anything, City Council, Assembly, Congress, but you chose to be here.”

Each of the three newly elected board members was honored with performances from students in their district. García’s District 2 had singers from the East LA Performing Arts Magnet singing folk tunes with Principal Carolyn McKnight leading them.

District 4 had the Venice High School Band performing John Philip Sousa marches conducted by David Lee, for Nick Melvoin. Melvoin asked a student who helped him in his campaign, Judd Wexler, to administer his oath of office. He also thanked his opponent, Steve Zimmer, when he took the stage.

Kelly Gonez was moved to tears when hearing her District 6 students from the Pacoima Middle School Singers perform songs from the musical “Hamilton” conducted by Steven Mandel.

The morning ceremony was moderated by actor Tony Plana (“Ugly Betty,” “Goal!”) and kicked off by LA County Supervisor Hilda Solis. The students of Millikan Middle School in Sherman Oaks showed a video of their tribute to “La La Land” called “Another Day of Fun.”

“That’s what they should be doing every day in school,” Plana said. “That is what will make them want to go to school every day.”

Second-grader Kay-Lynn Nwankwo from Oak Park Elementary School gave the pledge, with help from Plana. Each inductee gave a speech after being sworn in, while the incumbent school board members and Superintendent Michelle King watched from the stage.

García asked, as she often does at the beginning of board meetings, for everyone to “breathe in hope and breathe out fear.” She pointed out her family of immigrants and how she loved her community.

García talked about building 131 new schools during her tenure so far on the board and surviving the recession. Ahead “is a rough road and choices are not going to be easy,” she said, but added, “I believe the next five and a half years are going to be the best years LAUSD has.”

Melvoin quipped that he didn’t have an entourage like Garcia, but he did have a big cheering section. He talked about a teacher at the school where he taught who had inspired him. He said, “I’m eager to learn.”

Melvoin said he would fight for the children and wants to look at decentralizing bureaucracy and doing away with top-down management.

“You will find the next Diego Rivera or Beyonce in our schools,” Melvoin said. “We will help kids find their strengths in this crazy world.”

Gonez asked her husband, Manny, and students Mercy Fitzpatrick, Alijah Hernandez, and Jacob Aguilar to administer her oath. She thanked her husband for tolerating her desire to run for school board, which she decided to do only eight weeks after their wedding.

“I do not just want 100 percent graduation, but that they are all college-ready,” Gonez said. “I want to celebrate progress of every school, no matter what the model.”

At the end of the ceremony, the host school, the Cortines School of Visual and Performing Arts, showed their talents with a video directed by Debbie Allen called “Dream It! Do It! Grand Arts!”

After the performances and the induction, the board headed to the Beaudry headquarters about a mile away and took their seats in the horseshoe in the auditorium, where they held their first meeting, electing Ref Rodriquez as school board president and passing a “kids first” resolution.

Melvoin greeted everyone sitting behind him before he sat down, Gonez brought a pink sweater because it does get cold on the dais, and Garcia had “Z” sitting next to her, just in case.

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