Six San Fernando Valley Moms Were Honored with Volunteer of the Year Award by the California Charter School Association

On Tuesday, March 27, 2018, six charter school mothers from the Northeast San Fernando Valley were honored with The Hart Vision Award for Volunteer of the Year. Since 1995, the California Charter School Association has been recognizing individuals with this award, but this is the first time that a group has been nominated and selected to receive this honor. All six of these hard working mothers, Bielma Perez, Esmeralda Medina, Mireya Pacheco, Ramona Lopez, Roxann Nazario, and Xitlali Castro, are charter school parents from LAUSD’s Board District 6.

You might ask, “What did these six mothers did to deserve this award?”

They have been working hard and at the same time creating a reputation for themselves in their community. These mothers’ began working together in the Fall of 2016, when the candidates for School Board began campaigning. They started by meeting with each candidate one by one, as they announced their candidacy. After several meetings, these ladies organized a Meet & Greet and a Candidate Forum. After, the forum it was clear to these moms who would be the best candidate for their board district, and that candidate was Kelly Gonez. Kelly was a local girl from an immigrant family, who became a teacher. Because of this, Kelly could relate to the challenges these moms were dealing with. Although she was a teacher, she had been recently working in Washington D.C. with the Obama administration on education reform efforts. Even with her impressive background, what stood out most about Kelly was how down to earth she was and her ability to easily relate to the people in her community.

After several months of campaigning, which included phone banking, door knocking, and rallying other parents together, Kelly won! These moms shared in her victory, and at Kelly’s Inauguration, last July, she personally thanked each of these mothers in her speech, by name. To this day, they continue to meet with Kelly and advocate for their community and schools.

Immediately after the campaign, this same group of mothers started working on defeating SB 808, a bill authored by former State Senator Tony Mendoza. SB 808 would have denied charter schools the right appeal on a county or state level, if for any reason their charter school renewal was denied or deemed a “financial burden”. The women met with all of their public officials one by one, starting with Kelly Gonez. They also met with their former representative who was in office at the time, Assemblymember Raul Bocanegra. Then they met with Senator Ben Allen, State of California Education Chair, district director. And finally, they met with Senator Tony Mendoza’s district director. The meeting was originally scheduled by moms from Board District 5, who asked the Board District 6 moms to join the meeting, when the meeting was scheduled they were told that Mendoza wouldn’t be able to join them. But when they arrived and got in the elevator, Senator Mendoza was already in the elevator! They seized the moment and asked Mendoza to join them, since he was obviously there, but he refused saying he was too busy to join the meeting that was taking place in his conference room, even though he was there the entire time. Shortly after this meeting, Mendoza was accused of sexual harassment by many different accusers, which just sounds karmic. Regardless of what was going on with Mendoza, the women persisted until they knew for sure that the bill was dead. And that day came on January 10, 2018 in Sacramento where they celebrated another victory.  

Last month, the women helped organize parents in their district to participate in a Rally/”Teach-In” that took place in front of the California Democratic Party Convention on Saturday, February 24. This was in an effort to make their voices heard by the California Democratic Party, who passed a moratorium on new charter schools a day before at the convention. Over 800 charter families were in attendance as they marched and attempted to educate delegates on the reasons why they selected a charter school over the district schools in their neighborhoods.

One thing that I think is important to note is that these moms work as a team and that’s why they have been successful. As one of our newest Comadres, Roxann, said in her thank you speech at the Hart Vision Award Reception, “First and foremost, this was a group effort. There is no leader or person in charge. We each have contributed in different ways but equally. We are a group of motivated and focused charter moms who are doing their best to advocate for our local charter schools.”

Roxann also mentioned to me that these moms are different in many ways, including religious beliefs, background, or lifestyles, but they do share one common goal and that is to support successful schools in their community. And that shared interest keeps them working together as a team.

They do have one person that they credit for supporting them along the way, and that is Maria Flores. Maria is a parent organizer with the California Charter School Association, and she has been working with this group for the last year. Although Maria is not the parent organizer that originally brought them together, that initial organizer was Esmerelda Marcial, who was the former parent organizer for CCSA and now works for Kelly Gonez.  Xitlali Castro credits Maria for “Steering this group in the right direction, allowing us to control the agendas for the meetings and also facilitating contacts and data.” Xitlali adds that Maria was the one that nominated the group for the award because she didn’t want their effort to go unnoticed.

Bielma Perez said, “When you have a bunch of women working together, things can get overwhelming, but Maria is a true mediator. She constantly encourages us to speak up and listens to our feedback. Maria is passionate about her work and she always transmits positive energy to me. She constantly encourages us to be better! She’s a great person to work with and is a great friend!”

And Esmeralda Medina added, “What I love about Maria is that she’s always positive and fun. And that’s what makes her a great leader.”

These comadres have created something special, something that is having an impact in their communities. They are extremely grateful and humbled by their awards because it was unexpected. They don’t spend several hours a week volunteering for recognition, they do it because it needs to be done. And they will continue to do this work passionately for their children and their communities.

What do you think?

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