[dc]“T[/dc]here are 36 students in my child’s fourth grade class, and there’s no time for my daughter to even ask questions,” decries a La Puente parent in a living room interview with candidates for the upcoming elections for the Hacienda La Puente Unified School District (HLPUSD). Shaking his head, a parent of a fifth grader in Hacienda Heights reveals that his son is just one of 22 students in his dual immersion class. The average class size in the district is 26 students, according to ed-data.
The La Puente-Hacienda Heights comparisons continue: “We only have one dual immersion school in La Puente and Valinda – that’s Spanish and English. Hacienda Heights has three in Mandarin, Korean and Spanish!”
Formed in 1994 in response to the anti-immigrant state proposition 187 when Pete Wilson was governor, ¡No Te Dejes! has held voter registration drives, candidate forms and panel interviews similar to this one for over twenty years.
As the nation’s attention was on national politics and the supreme-court nomination, for the past four Saturdays, the La Puente based ¡No Te Dejes! Institute for Education has been interviewing local candidates one at a time to gauge their commitment to the community. Formed in 1994 in response to the anti-immigrant state proposition 187 when Pete Wilson was governor, ¡No Te Dejes! has held voter registration drives, candidate forms and panel interviews similar to this one for over twenty years.
Since its inception, the concerns have consistently focused on addressing the unequal representation of La Puente on the school board, inequality in the district, and lack of transparency. This time, school board candidates were also asked whether HLPUSD would finally follow other districts’ lead in establishing ethnic and gender studies classes. It’s been fifty years since the call for such classes by students and other community members from the 1968 Chicana/o School Walkouts. Nevertheless, HLPUSD, one of the largest districts in the San Gabriel Valley, has been behind neighboring districts in offering such classes.
A second crucial question focused on the District’s Safe Haven Resolution – a resolution pushed for by hundreds of community members and eventually passed in February 2017. At the time of voting, school board members removed key components from the community resolution that would have ensured changes such as establishing a community task force and implementing training for all employees. A lack of follow-through on this resolution has been concerning for community members, especially at a time of heightened anti-immigrant rhetoric and policies.
All five candidates for the three slots on the HLPUSD school board were invited to be interviewed by community members for possible endorsement. Two of the incumbents did not meet with our La Puente-based group. Community members were extremely disappointed with their absence.
The three other candidates Rudy Chavarria, Jeffrey De La Torre, and Anthony Duarte each met individually for hour-long interviews. Along with the above questions, they were also asked about the district’s financial priorities and their ideas for improving student services. The interviews were lively and informative. Candidates highlighted the need for more effective use of school resources, including for homeless and foster youth. One recalled the legacy of de jure segregation in La Puente through the 1940s when Mexican American and Japanese Americans were confined to what was once Central Avenue School.
Candidates committed to listening to students and community members, fighting for educational equity, being the squeaky wheel on the board, and ensuring that what happens inside our schools better reflects the recent exterior improvements. After hearing from these three candidates, it was decided to endorse Chavarria, De La Torre, and Duarte.
While not all members of the interviewing panel agree with everything these candidates propose, these three candidates seemed to understand the persisting inequalities in the district. Equally important, they displayed a willingness to listen, learn, and engage with La Puente community members in ways that two of the incumbents unfortunately did not.
Inequalities in our schools and district persist. And, when board members from the wealthier side of the tracks don’t meet with community members, those inequalities are glaring. That is something we cannot endorse.
Omar Alegria, La Puente Community Leader
María Ibarra, La Puente Community Leader
Manuel Maldonado, Founder of ¡No Te Dejes! and La Puente Community Leader
Elizabeth Morales, La Puente Parent and Community Leader
Enrique C. Ochoa, HLPUSD Parent
Gilda L. Ochoa, La Puente Resident
Vicky Reynoso, La Puente Community Leader