LEMON GROVE SCHOOL BOARD ELECTION: PART TWO

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By Robin N. Kendall

Photo, left to right:  Blanca Brown, Yajaira Preciado and Cheryl Robertson.

September 29, 2020 (Lemon Grove) -- Voters in Lemon Grove will fill two full-term seats on the school board from a slate of three candidates. (In a previous story, we reported on the two candidates for the short-term seat.) The three candidates for the full-term seat are Blanca Brown, Yajaira Preciado and Cheryl Robertson. 

In spite of being one of San Diego’s smallest school districts with 4,000 students in grades preschool though middle school, Lemon Grove is a microcosm of what’s happening in schools and homes during the pandemic. Children are trying to study at home with parents instead of qualified teachers, joblessness has taken its toll, and the fight for racial injustice has taken to the streets.

Read on to learn what these three candidates say from the town that claims to have the “best climate on earth” and has a history of combating racial injustice in education. 

Blanca Brown, candidate for Lemon Grove School Board

Biography: Brown is running for re-election to the board. Her district website profile says she is a businesswoman, catechist, child advocate, childcare provider, and preschool teacher that has been involved as a parent of children who attended Monterey Heights School. She earned a bachelor’s degree in interdisciplinary studies and her master’s in education at National University.

Her involvement with the school district has included assisting Excelencia y Justicia en Educacion, a Latino parent involvement organization. She has also served as an English Language Acquisition Committee/District English Language Acquisition Committee (ELAC/DELAC) member as well as a parent representative to the District Oversight and Planning Team for work on equity. Her core belief is that "all children can learn and be educated."

Blanca Brown’s answers to ECM questions:

1. What are the most significant current challenges facing education in this community?      

The most significant current challenges facing education in Lemon Grove is the establishment of an effective distant or hybrid learning model during the COVID pandemic, to include all students having access to asynchronous learning through personal computers and internet connectivity. 

The second most significant challenge is the health and safety of students which has become a high priority as directives change constantly. I support in-classroom learning.

How can the school board address these challenges?

The school board in partnership with teachers, administrators and parents has established an effective distant learning model. As we move into a hybrid-model, teachers are part of the decision making.  

In addition, the school board adopts agreements with bargaining units to provide support to students and their families.

2. What motivates you to want to serve on the school board? Were there experiences in your education or career that sparked you to do this?

I am motivated by the historical impact of The Lemon Grove Incident. The Lemon Grove School District historically had discriminated against equal educational access for Latino children. As my own children attended Lemon Grove schools, I am very proud of the equity lens I have brought to the district’s Excellence and Justice in Education.

[Editor’s Note: The Lemon Grove Incident occurred in 1930 and 1931 when the Lemon Grove School District attempted to build a separate school for children of Mexican origin, but the Superior Court of San Diego County ruled this was a violation of California state laws.]

3.  For incumbents, what accomplishments on the board are you most proud of? For challengers, what do you most hope to change?

 

I along with the school board, superintendent and the district worked together to bring Pacific Educational Group (PEG)-Beyond Diversity to the school district. PEG is committed to achieving racial equity. Through training, coaching and consulting to transform beliefs, behaviors and results, people of all races can achieve at their highest levels https://courageousconversation.com/about/.

4.  Who has endorsed your candidacy?

The most significant endorsements come from parents, grandparents and voices of young children; my colleagues on the school board, Mr Jay Bass, Mr Larry Loschen, Mr. Timothy Shaw and Mrs. April Leon: Planned Parenthood of the Pacific; and Run Women Run.

5.  What is your vision for education in this community?

My vision for education in this community is to afford ALL students, Pre-8th grade, the highest quality education based on research and best practices, regardless of race, ethnicity, social economic status, family make-up, religion and ability.

Along the same lines, education is central to the community of Lemon Grove as the largest employer and public business entity in the city. 

6.  Please discuss your views on how you, if elected, could address the issue of racial inequities in the school district. For example, do you think there is a need for more diversity training?

As a school board member, it is my duty to address racial disparities intentionally, explicitly and comprehensively in education. The current state of our nation signals that more work has to be done to address the institutional inequities that exist. For the short term, I have started a dialogue with teachers at one of the schools who are interested in looking more in-depth into disparities in education. Long term, it is my goal to have racial inequities in education as a stand-alone ongoing agenda item. A simple matrix to use is student outcomes and academic performance indicators for all students based on race and ethnicity. 

 

Yajaira Preciado, candidate for Lemon Grove School Board

Biography: Yajaira Preciado grew up in Lemon Grove and attended San Miguel elementary and Lemon Grove Middle School. She graduated from Helix Charter and earned a bachelor’s in social work from San Diego State University. She is married and has two school-aged children who are enrolled in the Lemon Grove School District. They own a home in Lemon Grove.

In 2015, Preciado began working for the Lemon Grove School District as Parent Volunteer Coordinator at Monterey Heights. Prior to working for Lemon Grove School District, she worked for the YWCA of San Diego as a case manager for Becky’s House Emergency Shelter and Transitional Housing Program, advocating for women and children who were domestic violence survivors.

Yajaira Preciado’s answers to ECM questions:

1. What are the most significant current challenges facing education in this community? How can the school board address these challenges?

I believe the current dilemma our school board is facing right now is the issue of figuring out when and what is the best and safest way for our students and staff to return to school. Hybrid learning, a combination of both distance and in-person learning, would be ideal if we can’t do virtual learning for the whole school year.

Currently our district launched Virtual Academies, and the need was so high that there is a waitlist. When we return to school via the hybrid model, I hope the district can accommodate all families into the Virtual Academies, if they choose to not return. Not everyone is ready to come back, especially with Covid-19 being new and unpredictable, and they should not be forced to.

When, and if we return for this school year, I support social distancing, smaller class sizes, and mask wearing for the safety of our students, teachers and staff. 

2.  What motivates you to want to serve on the school board?  Were there experiences in your education or career that sparked you to do this?

When I was a student in the Lemon School District, I vividly remember multicultural fairs, Halloween carnivals and after school folkloric dance classes. I learned how to play the violin and my brother played the trumpet in school. That sparked my interest in wanting to help our schools so I joined the PTA when my son was in preschool. How can we as parents help and advocate to bring additional enrichment programs into our schools?

During my time working for the school district, with the help of the PTA and staff, I’ve worked hard to bring back a Multicultural Fair, Harvest Festival and establish a sense of community in our school by collaboration with local business, city officials and the local law enforcement. I work hard to achieve meaningful engagement from all the parents that walk onto our campus, and I absolutely love what I do.

Daily, I see firsthand how hard teachers work in and out of the classrooms to get everything they need to support our students. I remember attending a board meeting where the board was discussing the purchase of a new curriculum. My son was part of the pilot group, and we were very interested to know what would be decided. It was an absolutely devastating moment when the school board decided against the teacher and staff recommendation. That was what sparked my interest in finding out what you need to be a school board member.

In 2018 I decided to take a stand and advocate for the children in our Lemon Grove School District. Amid the uproar over curriculum and staff changes, many of us saw a disconnect between our district leaders and key stakeholders--parents, teachers and staff—who work directly with the kids. I wanted to be part of the solution.

3.  For incumbents, what accomplishments on the board are you most proud of?  For challengers, what do you most hope to change?

I would hope to change the way people see our School District. I will strive to create a culture of collaboration where staff, parents, students, and the community are partners in shaping the schools Lemon Grove students deserve.

4.  Who has endorsed your candidacy? 

Shirley Weber - 79th District Assemblymember; Jay Bass - Lemon Grove School Board Member; Charda Fontenot- La Mesa Spring Valley School Board Member; Jennifer Mendoza - Lemon Grove City Councilmember; Yadira Altamirano - Lemon Grove City Councilmember; San Diego County Democratic Party; Spring Valley-Lemon Grove Democratic Club.

5.  What is your vision for education in this community, and how can the district better address racial inequalities?

Short term our district needs to repair its relationship with stakeholders - parents, teachers and staff. In doing so, we can create and strategize a communication plan for meaningful engagement and involvement.

Long term our district should empower all our students to learn by providing quality, inclusive education that will equip students with the knowledge and skills to be ready to go out into the real world. I would also like to see more enrichment programs offered to all students.

6.  Please discuss your views on how you, if elected, could address the issue of racial inequities in the school district. For example, do you think there is a need for more diversity training?

The Lemon Grove School District Mission states, “We believe that caring relationships based on integrity, honesty, and a respect for diversity are essential to learning.” More diversity trainings are always welcomed and needed in order to create an inclusive learning environment for all our students. We need to continue to learn to counter unconscious bias and create a supportive culture in our classrooms.

Preciado’s website is www.yajairapreciado.com

 

Cheryl Robertson, candidate for Lemon Grove School Board

Biography: Robertson describes herself as the mother of four and an advocate for justice, with, “two children of my own, one step-son, one foster child, and one sweet grand-baby.”

She says that education has been a big part of her life and she believe it is the cornerstone of our society. “I am a teacher who has spent five years teaching special education and advocating for the individual needs of our youth. I want to get parents and teachers involved in the governing process. Together we can bring quality, individualized education, back to the district.”

Robertson believes that, “Right now parents are leaving Lemon Grove Schools to seek education for their kids in surrounding districts. There is no reason that the Lemon Grove School District can’t be the district parents flock to. We just need the right leadership. Our success as a community depends upon the success of our youth.”

Cheryl Robertson’s answers to ECM questions:

1.  What are the most significant current challenges facing education in this community? How can the school board address these challenges?

There are several big challenges that face the school board. The most obvious one, and the one with the most immediate need at the moment is how to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic. Initially I was very unhappy with the way the board was handling our reopening processes, but since our state government has sent down more specific guidelines, they have done very well. For me, I think about all the multi-generational houses in Lemon Grove. If our students bring home the coronavirus, it has the potential to be devastating to our families and our community. I am an advocate for waiting to open and for having all students wear a mask who can when we do. While I feel very strongly about these things, I also know there are students, especially those with certain special education services, who will get very little out of distance learning no matter how amazing their teacher is. There are also a few students who are unhoused and several single parents I know who are struggling to make distance learning work. We need to create a safe social distance setting for these students to succeed. My initial thoughts are that maybe we could open up one school site to students with a significant need, but I would work with the district, other board members, our teacher and staff unions, and the community at large to come up with the best solution for our community.

2.  What motivates you to want to serve on the school board? Were there experiences in your education or career that sparked you to do this?

In March of 2019, the School Board voted to accept the resignation of 16 teachers who would otherwise be fired. Sixteen may not seem like a high number, but we are a very small district. We have roughly 175 teachers, which is similar to the number of teachers a large high school might have. Sixteen fired teachers in one high school would be significant and sixteen teachers in our district is significant. One of the most important things in building strong community relationships is retaining teachers and staff who build trusting and lasting relationships within our community. If parents and students are constantly seeing new faces, we will never build the connections we need to uplift our community. I am running to advocate for teachers and staff who advocate for our children. No one should be punished for advocating for our students.

3.  For incumbents, what accomplishments on the board are you most proud of?  For challengers, what do you most hope to change?

The current relationship between the community and Lemon Grove School District is very damaged. There is an obvious disconnect that has left the community feeling unheard and left out. It is extremely important that we restore the community’s faith in the school district. Without mutual trust between the community and our schools, our students will never reach their full potential.

4.  Who has endorsed your candidacy?

San Diego Democratic Party; Jenifer Mendoza – Lemon Grove City Councilmember; Yadira Altamirano – Lemon Grove City Councilmember; Chardá Fontenot – Board of Trustees, La Mesa Spring Valley School District; Kenya Taylor – Health and Human Services Expert and Former San Diego County Board of Supervisors District 2 Candidate; San Diego Progressive Democratic Club; Spring Valley Lemon Grove Democratic Club

5.  What is your vision for education in this community?

Initially, my primary goal will be to ensure the safety of our children, while also ensuring they are receiving a great and meaningful education.

Once we are able to get past our struggles from the current pandemic, I want to shift our educational focus to a growth mindset. Instead of teaching to the test, I want to focus on how we can uplift each child on a more individual level. As we are doing that, I also want to focus on increasing community engagement and involving parents in the day-to-day decisions. Our community has a significant population that is at a socioeconomic disadvantage. I want to work with the city government and community organizations to provide supports to our most marginalized families. If we do all of these things, our schools and our test scores will improve naturally. Subsequently, this will lift our entire community.

6.  Please discuss your views on how you, if elected, could address the issue of racial inequities in the school district. For example, do you think there is a need for more diversity training?

Lemon Grove is a very diverse community and new teachers are required to take classes on teaching tolerance and celebrating diversity. However, these are things that have only been part of our teacher education for a little more than a decade. Seasoned teachers and all staff would have missed out on this education. It would be highly beneficial to our student bodies if our faculty and staff regularly engaged in professional development that focused on the different cultures of our community, important holiday and traditions, appropriate communication modes, and how to create classroom environments that are inclusive of all races and cultures. In addition, I believe incorporating restorative justice practices into our schools will build a supportive community where our students are holding each other accountable instead of the current punitive approach.

Robertson’s website is www.cherylrobertson.com and her Facebook Page is https://www.facebook.com/Robertson4Ed

 

Robin Norris Kendall is from La Mesa and graduated from Helix High School and San Diego State University. She has worked as a writer and editor in a variety of fields including health communications, science education, public relations and marketing. Her experiences are in STEM education, higher education PR, recreation marketing, military life and outdoor education. She volunteers for the San Diego Natural History Museum and San Diego Zoo/Safari Park. She is currently working on two books for children. Her passions include natural history, bird watching, dogs and nature travel. She is the mother of two and grandmother of three.

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