Kelly Gonez currently teaches at a middle school in the Los Angeles Unified School District. She’s the only teacher running for LAUSD School Board District 6, which includes the east San Fernando Valley. She brings an interesting combination of experience to the race having served in President Obama’s administration as an education policy advisor and someone who has spent time in the classroom.
La Comadre was able to speak with Kelly about her candidacy for the LA School Board and learn more about why she’s passionate about education.
La Comadre: What inspired you to run?
Gonez: “I have dedicated my whole adult life to education and making sure that kids and families have access to a great public education. I’m motivated to run because of the students that I interact with and serve every day and also the fact that I see both the successes and what happens when a child falls through the cracks. For me, I want to make sure that no children fall through the cracks and that we provide great opportunities for all children.”
La Comadre: Tell us a little bit about your connection to District 6.
Gonez: “I grew up in the Northeast San Fernando Valley. My family is here, and I know the struggles that our community has faced. My mom, as an immigrant from Peru, faced a lot of barriers to accessing good jobs and continuing her education. The thing that gave my family a second chance was public education. My mom went to the Pacoima Skills Center, which is an LAUSD adult school that is down the down the block from my campaign office. My mom enrolled in classes and earned a vocational certification and was able to get a good job at a community hospital. This might sound like a small event, but for our family, this meant everything. Because my mom was able to get more education and training, we went from living paycheck to paycheck to having more stability. This allowed me to see my mom achieve her dreams. All of this was because of education, and my mom’s own story has made me think about the transformative impact education has.”
La Comadre: What made you decide to get into teaching?
Gonez: “I was the first in my family to go to college. I worked over three jobs over 50 hours per week to pay my way through school. I really struggled, and I almost dropped out. When I was able to make it through, I decided that I wanted to come back to teach to make sure that no kids who are from communities like mine would face those same challenges. I love teaching, and it’s been an amazing opportunity to interact with kids and help them achieve their potential. I feel like I’m really impacting my community.”
La Comadre: How do you see yourself impacting policy?
Gonez: “As a teacher, I have sometimes felt frustrated by the decisions made by the school board. Sometimes those decisions do not reflect the realities in our classrooms, and they don’t necessarily reflect the voices of the people who are in the trenches every day like the teachers, the students, and parents. So this is the reason I got involved in policy because I wanted to bring that voice to the policymaking table. The opportunity to work for the Obama administration was amazing, and as the daughter of an immigrant and the daughter of a janitor, I never really pictured myself doing that. I worked for two and a half years in the department of education.”
La Comadre: Is there an achievement or anything in particular that you are proud of having accomplished when you were working in the Obama administration?
Gonez: “I’m particularly proud of the advocacy that I did on behalf of undocumented students. Even though the President acted to support undocumented youth, there were many people in the administration who were against this for political reasons. I worked with advocacy groups and led with the creation of a resource guide to help adults support undocumented students through the education system. We need leaders who are going to fight for the students who are often forgotten.”
La Comadre: What are your top priorities if you get elected?
Gonez: “I hope to be a strong advocate for the most vulnerable kids and families. I want to make sure that every public school is a great public school. I want to make sure that all children are college and career ready. I also want to support and empower educational leaders. I’m the only teacher running in District 6, so I know that there are always more demands and work to be done, but rarely do we have the resources to get those things done. I want to make sure that teachers and principals have meaningful support and the resources that they need to do their job the best. And finally, I want to make sure that our community has a meaningful voice in how decisions are made at the LAUSD. There are a lot of parents who feel that their voices aren’t being heard, and I want to make sure that the voice of our community is included when LAUSD is making decisions and that the board is doing more to include parents in the decision making process. One example of this would be to have the board meetings rotate in different locations so that parents from the East San Fernando Valley could attend.”
To learn more about Kelly Gonez, visit her website. Gonez is facing Imelda Padilla in the May 16 runoff.
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