Education

KPCC's LA school board candidate survey: Imelda Padilla, District 6

Imelda Padilla is running for the Los Angeles Unified School Board in the March 7 primary election.
Imelda Padilla is running for the Los Angeles Unified School Board in the March 7 primary election.
Kyle Stokes/KPCC

Imelda Padilla is running for the Los Angeles Unified School Board in the March 7 primary election. Padilla hopes to represent District 6, which covers the east San Fernando Valley.

Padilla is one of six candidates running for the District 6 seat. Click here to view survey responses from other candidates in the race.

KPCC lightly edited all responding candidates' answers for spelling, grammar and style. KPCC is presenting candidates' answers in full, but does not vouch for the accuracy of any statements they make. Here are Padilla's responses to KPCC's candidate survey:

Why do you want to be a member of the L.A. Unified School Board?

Helping young people has always been my priority. I’ve done it in all of the different capacities I have had.

I did it when I was working in the environmental justice sector. I helped increase environmental justice clubs at seven of our local schools. In addition, I have always played a role and been involved in creating mentorship spaces for young people, so much so that I even created a leadership conference where we emphasize leadership and mentorship with our local people with different professionals in the community working on a Saturday to inspire our young people.

I want to be on the school board because we need a school board member who puts the needs of parents and families ahead of everything else. I’m the only candidate in the race who has a proven track record of doing that — going to parent centers, hearing their stories, understanding their issues, and doing something about it. I don’t feel we have had that sort of representation before and I know I can bring it to the table. I will be able to hit the ground running to make sure parents, youth and families finally feel like they have an advocate on the board.

Superintendent Michelle King is in her thirteenth month in the district’s top job. On an A-F scale, how would you grade her first year? Please explain your answer.

I would give Michelle King an “incomplete." It’s far too early to evaluate her performance, and it’s impossible to separate her performance from that of the board itself, which hired her and oversees her. However, if I am granted the opportunity to represent my families, I plan to help her identify some of those missing components she wrote into her strategic plan. For example, I noticed she wants to increase magnets and dual immersion programs, as these are programs that help to increase our attendance, as they are the programs that our parents are attracted to. I know that if I’m there, I would already be able to tell her the name of maybe five schools that have told me they want to start up a magnet program, or a STEAM or a STEM program, or increased dual language immersion programs. I look forward to helping her get an A by the time I’m there, to work with her.

Please name one idea or policy you don’t see Superintendent King, district leaders or the school board discussing often enough that — if elected — you’d work on either implementing or expanding in L.A. Unified?

I could go on for hours answering this question. However, just in general, I would focus on putting the needs of children and parents ahead of everything else. Too often, the discussion is about institutional and structural factions, none of which help our students or our parents. I think this is especially true with parents of special needs children. I think we have a habit of lumping all special needs together and there is a big difference in that population between a student who might have a physical impediment versus those who might have a learning disability or a disability that is unseen but is definitely there. We need to focus on really understanding the special needs community and what their challenges and realities are.

However, there are a few things that I know they are talking about that I want to continue to talk about. That’s to have more counselors or more staff on campus trained on restorative justice practices. I think that’s very important. I want to continue having the conversation of increasing the discussion of college and college readiness and college-related topics at the middle school level.

In addition, I think something we also need to be focusing on is how we support librarians and making sure we have librarians at every school level because they’re not just someone who checks out books. They are very unique people who work with teachers to talk about curriculum and teaching those skills that you don’t necessarily cover in a classroom, like how to do research and what’s the difference between real news and fake news, and how to be seasoned on different sorts of catalogs. Every university has a different catalog. Students should learn about those sorts of things as early as middle school. 

Do you believe expanding “school choice” policies (giving parents more ability to choose the school their child attends) is a force for eliminating or exacerbating the educational opportunity gap between privileged and less-privileged racial, linguistic or socioeconomic groups? Please explain your rationale.

I think parents should have the ability to choose the best possible public school that meets their child’s needs. Thousands of LAUSD parents — rich and poor — want more choice. The desire to give your kids the best possible education is universal.

However, what we have failed to do as a district is to empower the less privileged on what those choices are. Assuming that parents are going to pick up a booklet that talks about choice and understand what their choices are just because it’s delivered to them once a year is not doing anybody any favors. What we need to do is be more aggressive as a district to host workshops, to host forums, to go to the parents — whether it’s at their worksites, their place of worship — to tell them what their options are and to help them navigate through the system.

We have also failed as a district to replicate the best practices. For example, I myself had a father who died never speaking a word of English or being able to have a conversation in the English language, yet he had three daughters that got into the top universities in the state of California — UCLA and UC Berkeley. But that was because we had teachers in our community who were willing to bring in our mother and tell them about what the district was willing to offer, sat her down with a magnet choice book, and explained it to her. Unless we have a board member that’s willing to have those aggressive recruitment efforts to work with our parents about what the choices are, we’re going to continue to have a situation where those who have access to the internet or have access to time to sit down and research and think through, then we’re never going to be able to help those that are less fortunate to understand what their options are. I plan to address that.

How, if at all, would you change L.A. Unified’s approach to “authorizing” and overseeing charter schools? (Your answer may touch on any facet of the relationship — from vetting applications to open new charter schools; renewing or revoking existing charters; monitoring charter schools’ performance, governance and finance; handling Prop. 39 campus-sharing arrangements.)

I believe that all charter schools must be held accountable for their academic and financial performance. They already have autonomy to pursue excellence in their own ways, but they nonetheless must be held to the same standards as traditional schools.

One thing I think we need to focus on as well, however, is we need to support the charter department of the district. Do they have the proper amount of resources given the amount of charter schools we currently have? Are we respecting their decisions whenever they have something to bring to the discussion?

In terms of Prop. 39, there’s a lot of work to be done, and I’m hoping we can figure out a way to make it more of a seamless process between the parents of the traditional schools and the stakeholders who are interested in the co-location. Currently, I have not — at least on my side of town — seen a situation where it has felt seamless.

L.A. Unified faces long-term financial challenges, including declining enrollment and rising costs for pensions and employee benefits. A blue-ribbon panel in Nov. 2015 also highlighted further issues that cloud the district’s financial future. If elected, what immediate steps would you take to address these financial challenges?

The financial priority has to be making sure that money goes into the classrooms, not into overhead. And while there are many causes for declining enrollment, the one we have the best ability to combat is the quality of our schools. Many parents are leaving the district because they believe their children aren’t receiving a quality education or receiving quality programs that make them want to stay on our campuses. If we fix that, we will substantially reduce declining enrollment. There is also a number of things on the report of the Independent Financial Review Panel that I hope to explore and work on if elected to the board.

The L.A. Unified board has set a district-wide goal of a 100 percent high school graduation rate. How, if at all, would you change the district’s approach to meeting this goal? (Or would you change the goal itself?)

I do support the goal, and in fact, believe that we also need to incorporate the goal that every student who graduates must be college- or career-ready. The goal shouldn’t be to pass tests; the goal should be to prepare our children for adulthood.

I bring up “career-ready” because I’m a true believer, in that because we stopped to focus on career-ready is why we also had some of our 16-year-olds, 15-year-olds leave the district early, before they were 17, and en route to graduation. If you’re not supporting programs that prepare you for adulthood that are not necessarily college-based, then you lose them for the high school graduation age. We need to make sure that our schools service all types of students to get that high school diploma regardless of whether they’re going to college or whether they’re going to the blue-collar workforce.

I’m going to be the board member that brings back that sort of readiness and also replicates the best practices of our schools that have the highest rate of A-G completion for those who want to go to college.

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KPCC lightly edited all responding candidates' answers for spelling, grammar and style. KPCC is presenting candidates' answers in full, but does not vouch for the accuracy of any statements they make.