Returning students to campus as quickly as possible while being a leader in getting teachers inoculated against the coronavirus was the main thrust during a candidate’s forum this week featuring those running for Redondo Beach school board next month.
The eight candidates vying for three seats on the Board of Education for the Redondo Beach Unified School District also discussed campus safety, school funding and diversity during the forum, hosted by the League of Women Voters of Beach Cities and the Redondo Beach Unified Council PTA.
The election is Tuesday, March 2. Mail-in ballots began going out last week.
The eight candidates are Keith Arnold, Jerome Chang, Karen Ford Cull, Dan Elder, Kimberlee H. Isaacs, Rachel Silverman Nemeth, Rolf Curtis Strutzenberg and Margo Trone.
Moderators started by asking the contenders what they think a school board member’s role truly is, which turned the conversation toward the coronavirus pandemic, which has kept all but the youngest students in virtual learning since last year.
“Our job right now is to get these kids in school,” said Arnold, a political newcomer.
Strutzenberg, who serves on the city’s Planning Commission, said the district should be a leading example of getting teachers vaccinated for the coronavirus and operating schools safely while coming out of the pandemic.
Chang, meanwhile, offered a vision of the board different the traditional one that sets policy: The board, Chang said, should be a group of advisors rather than directors, with teachers and administrators running the schools.
“In that way, I want to be the sounding board,” Chang, an architect, said. “A source of advice for the superintendent, teachers and everyone in between. My (modus operandi) is always listen, learn, then lead.”
Silverman Nemeth, meanwhile, is a 21-year resident and 25-year family law attorney who said she believes the board should be a community role model, advocate for children, and have an open door for students, parents, teachers and administrators to talk about issues.
Trone, a 16-year resident and mother of three, said her top priorities are safely returning to campuses, identifying students’ learning loss and providing adequate social-emotional support. Trone founded the nonprofit Dual Immersion Foundation in 2019 to promotes bilingual and multi-cultural learning.
Elder, chair of RBUSD’s bond oversight committee who is also on the Planning Commission, said he wants to ensure that the district’s various needs can be met with the funds that are available.
The forum, meanwhile, also focused on diversity.
Nearly three-quarter of Redondo Beach residents are White, according to the most recent census data. But 55% of the district’ student population, according to RBUSD data, are non-White.
But Chang said the district’s employees do not represent that.
“When you look at the teachers, administration and (current) board, the representation doesn’t quite match that gap between minorities and other ethnicities,” Chang said. “For diversity and inclusion to work, we have to strive for better representation across the board that allows different voices (and) innate perspectives to be heard.”
Ford Cull, who’s had several positions on Redondo’s Alta Vista Elementary School PTA Board, has long been an advocate for students with disabilities, she said, and applies that same support to students who don’t feel included in other ways.
Diversity, equity and inclusion “is not just accepting people, but changing the environment we share,” Ford Cull said. “We have to make space at the table for everyone to participate.”
The district, for its part, created a Race and Equity Committee last year.
Trone, who is Latina and a daughter of immigrant parents, said her philosophy on diversity is that “we can learn from each other, our differences, and focus on our common goal.”
Isaacs, a Race and Equity Committee member, said that the district needs to work more on improving diversity, equity and inclusion — one reasons she’s running for a seat.
But the pandemic and getting students to campus to learn in-person remained the most pressing issue.
The district, Silverman Nemeth said, will need to find ways to identify the children who are have struggled with virtual learning and support them. That support and understanding should extend to teachers as well, she added, as many of them may have their own anxiety and mental health challenges.
Isaacs hit similar notes.
“We need to have empathy in grading,” Isaacs said, “make sure children understand we’re there for them and have mental health resources available to everyone.”
To watch a recording of the forum, visit Redondo Beach PTA's YouTube page.