HomeBlocksFront-GridContenders Vie for Seats on GUSD Board

Contenders Vie for Seats on GUSD Board

First published in the June 4 print issue of the Glendale News Press.

As election day looms, four of the candidates for the Glendale Unified School District Board of Education maintain that, if nothing else, they have enjoyed and learned a lot from their campaigns.
For Trustee Area B, candidates Lerna Amiryans and Ingrid Gunnell are vying for the open seat. In Trustee Area C, candidate Kathleen Cross is challenging two-term incumbent Armina Gharpetian. Election winners will represent their geographical districts on the board for the next four years.
First-term board member Shant Sahakian, who represents Area D, was not challenged for re-election and has thus already secured his second term.
Amiryans, who grew up in Glendale and has children in the district, said it has been a touching experience to meet new people in her district who then pledge their support to her campaign.
“The entire campaign process has been very rewarding and exciting for me. The outpouring of community members, parents, students, teachers, my peers has been really overwhelming,” she said in a recent interview. “One of my favorite parts has been meeting new people and earning their trust and support. It just has been incredibly rewarding and I feel like I have everyone in the community supporting me.”
As an immigrant from Iran who moved here at an elementary school age, she said she retains an important perspective for Glendale’s families.
“It helps me understand what our community’s needs and priorities are,” Amiryans said. “Our community has such a large immigrant population, especially in District B.”
A longtime PTA volunteer and the incoming Glendale Council PTA president, Amiryans said she has been a strong advocate for ramping up mental health wellness options for students in the district. She noted she is working on her master’s degree in educational counseling, with a concentration in family and school-based counseling.
“We should focus on social emotional learning and behavioral health,” Amiryans said. “This is one of those areas where we need to make sure we’re culturally sensitive and we need to have bridge programs to help students transition back into the classroom.”
Amiryans added that this plays into another important issue for her, which is safety on campus. She touted her support of the district’s partnership with the Glendale Police Department and its use of resource officers on campuses.
Another issue she said she has been hearing from prospective voters concerns academics in GUSD schools and a feeling that parents’ concerns are not always acknowledged or heeded. Amiryans said she, as a longtime parent volunteer, had some awareness of this and her campaign has only amplified it.
“I feel like there’s been a divergence from student academics and we need to return to that and make sure students are ready for that when they graduate from our schools,” she said.
“What I learned was how adamant our parents and community members are about student academics and school safety,” Amiryans added. “I have been hearing that repeatedly, over and over again. To me, that’s something I will carry with me. I will make sure I’m representing the parent voice and student voice for our district.”

Ingrid Gunnell

Gunnell, a teacher for 24 years whose children are in GUSD schools, noted that her campaign this year is largely different from her 2011 campaign, when the school board was still at-large and saw all three incumbents re-elected. She said she has received a lot of support from her fellow educators “who work with students on a daily basis,” in addition to receiving grassroots community support.
“That grassroots support has been very important to me. I believe that we have a very strong chance of winning,” she added. “I feel very good about our campaign and am very grateful for our volunteers, donors and people who have supported us.”
If elected, Gunnell said she would focus on ramping up mental health support for students and employees — a need she said has always existed because of the various experiences those people have faced and has only been exacerbated by the pandemic.
“We in education have known that students have been experiencing trauma for a very long time,” she said. “The pandemic has exposed to the rest of the world what we’ve known.”
Gunnell added that she feels school districts and teachers are being unfairly targeted by outside groups that are eager to exploit teachers and students for political purposes.
“This is nothing new. It’s morphed recently into the anti-mask and anti-vax movement, and the open-schools-at-any-cost movement, and now we’ve seen the anti-[Critical Race Theory], anti-sex education and anti-LGBTQ education,” she said, pointing out other states’ legislation on those topics. “I am a candidate who has always stood for the truth.”
Gunnell also said she aims to bring good faith back to labor negotiations.
“It is not appropriate or fair to bargain on social media, to present things to the public that are inaccurate. We need to treat our employees with respect and not demean them from the dais,” she said. “We need to be fair with salary and health benefits. Especially in this state where we’ve seen historic levels of funding for education, we should not make our teachers beg for [cost of living adjustments]. That should be a starting point.”
On the trail, Gunnell noted she has often encountered hateful or discriminatory attitudes and would strive to address those views.
“There is a lot of hate in Glendale and there is a lot of love in Glendale. We need to reach out, we need to have restorative circles where we bring in all sides and talk about our issues,” she said. “It’s a dichotomy, but I do believe the love is stronger and that is what I’m going to take with me to the school board dais.”
Cross, a social worker with children in the district and longtime PTA volunteer, said she has particularly enjoyed the grassroots nature of her first-ever political campaign.
“It’s a learning curve and I’ve loved it. I’m one of those people that have never been able to sit still since I was a child, so having new experiences and opportunities to learn different ways and things is something I’ve always enjoyed,” she said. “I feel very confident with my abilities of leadership on the school board, so learning this new process of campaigning has been really fun.”

Kathleen Cross

If elected, Cross said she aims to “get the politics out of school” and renew the district’s focus on education. She emphasized that it’s vital to politely listen to what parents and teachers all have to say about education and to “take the current puzzle we have and put it back together in a better way.”
“If you think about our resources and budgeting, I just feel like that sometimes a fresh set of eyes gives you a new perspective and you can tackle an issue with the same tools, but just completely differently,” Cross said. “We have these things in there. It’s just that we’ve gotten in a ‘this is how we do things’ mentality. Yes, maybe that is how we’ve done things, but maybe there is a better way we can do it now.”
Campaigning has helped Cross see the efficacy of having these sorts of conversations, she said, and it has also shown her how necessary it is for the school board to start having them.
“I feel like I always knew it, but it was really affirmed that people really care to be involved, but they just don’t know how. Sometimes it takes a little bit of reaching out or asking some questions,” Cross said. “That’s why my door-to-door campaign has been so huge for us. Everyone has questions and you do face a lot of the same questions. We are not communicating if all these people have the same questions.”
Gharpetian, a dentist and district parent, said she has adopted a grassroots approach to her third campaign. She said she feels prospective voters have been responsive to what she characterizes as positive messaging.
“Every campaign, the dynamic is different. The first one I ran, I was new, but the support was overwhelming,” Gharpetian said. “I obviously did not have that many endorsements, but when they saw what my perspective as a parent was, I think the voters understood where I was coming from.
“I have a good feeling the voters would like me to continue my work on the board,” she added.

Armina Gharpetian

Gharpetian said her involvement in PTAs as a parent has served as a motivation for her on the dais. She said she wants to focus on making sure parents and families comfortably have a seat at the table.
“At the end of the day, the kids are their kids. As a parent myself, no one has a right to take parents’ rights or voices away, so that’s something I’d like to move forward,” Gharpetian said. “I think their perspective sometimes get diluted in all the things that are happening.
“I hope that parent involvement and engagement and student involvement continue on. That’s something that’s near and dear to my heart because I’m a parent,” she added. “One of our main responsibilities is to participate and listen carefully to what the parents’ concerns are and address those issues. That’s something I will be pushing forward in the next four years.”
Moving forward, Gharpetian said it’s important to be a financial steward for GUSD as it expands its programming, such as with transitional kindergarten, and aims to improve the educational experience, such as by reducing classroom sizes. Ultimately, she said she can be trusted to make informed decisions on policy.
“Every decision I’ve made on the dais has been student-focused and has been data-driven,” Gharpetian said. “I don’t make decisions lightly and I spend time reading whatever info is available to us. I take what’s best for the students and make my decisions based on that.”

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