The candidates for Glendale Unified School District’s Board of Education discussed curriculum, inclusion, safety and more at a candidate forum co-hosted by Glendale Council PTA and League of Women Voters of Greater Los Angeles on Wednesday.
With two open Board seats up, voters will choose between Jordan Henry, Shant Kevorkian and Telly Tse for Area A and Neda Farid and Aneta Krpekyan for Area E during the March 5 election.
Based on more than 80 suggestions from a community survey, the organizations compiled a list of 11 questions they thought would best help the community to learn more about each candidate. Depending on the question, candidates had one or two minutes to answer.
The Glendale News-Press is highlighting a few questions that were deemed as garnering the most informative discussion.
Through the course of the forum, moderator Mona Field, president of the League of Women Voters of Greater L.A., asked candidates how they would enhance safety when it comes to school site traffic, gun violence prevention and security.
Kevorkian and Tse emphasized maintaining a strong partnership with the Glendale Police Department, community organizations and the city to improve drop-off and pick-up traffic flow. Tse also suggested that student resource officers receive proper de-escalation training to defuse potentially dangerous situations.
In terms of security, Kevorkian said it is vital to ensure security officers are properly trained specifically for school sites, as they differ greatly from other security positions at other facilities. Kevorkian, a 2021 graduate of Crescenta Valley High School, also stressed the importance of students bonding with their school’s student resource officers to better foster a sense of safety and security.
Farid made a similar point about students connecting with student resource officers, who she said should act as mentors to students. As for gun violence, Farid suggested the school partner with community organizations such as the YMCA and YWCA to host workshops on the dangers of gun violence.
As a GUSD parent, Krpekyan acknowledged that drop off and pick up can often feel “dangerous” and that traffic can be excessive. She suggested adding more traffic patrol and security officers to help mitigate the chaos.
Henry suggested security audits be conducted for each school site and also emphasized the need to ensure exits, entrances and all campus gates are securely closed to prevent intruders.
Field asked candidates how they would respond to parents who found aspects of California state curriculum to be against their personal beliefs and what a parent’s role should be in their child’s education.
Henry said that religion is a protected class and that the district must respect parents’ opinions when it comes to the education their children are receiving. He went on to say that currently schools are trying to suppress information about students who identify as nonbinary or transgender and that parents have the right to know these things about their children. While he acknowledged that the district must meet state standards, he said the Board must find a way to do this while still respecting the private beliefs of parents.
Tse suggested that parents who object to certain parts of the curriculum opt their children out of those lessons, as is their right. Identifying safety as his No. 1 priority, Tse maintained the importance of providing education and support for all types of students. “Students need to see themselves reflected in their textbooks and their leaders,” he said.
In response to opting students out of certain curriculum, Krpekyan said this is not always an option and later mentioned that certain socio-emotional classes are required, despite parents’ attempts to opt their children out of them.
Farid said protecting the needs of all students is “non-negotiable” and that there is a lot of misinformation circulating about curriculum within the district. She said the Board needs to redirect this energy into educating parents on what’s really being taught in classrooms and still provide opportunities for them to “show up and weigh in.”
“I think we can do better explaining to parents what the role of a public school is and what those boundaries are,” Farid said. “By the time the curriculum comes to us from the state, it has already been vetted. … We are not choosing [textbooks and materials] arbitrarily and capriciously or on a whim. We’re choosing from what is provided to us by the state.”
In order to foster a space for “productive dialogue,” Kevorkian suggested that the district host parent voice panels — similar to the student voice panels it hosts — to allow for parents to gather and share their thoughts in a controlled, organized environment.
Field also asked whether there is equitable participation on school and district committees from parents.
When it comes to equitable participation, Kevorkian highlighted three things the district needs to be attentive to promote equal access for parents: timing of meetings, multiple language options and physical limitations in terms of offering virtual meetings for those who cannot participate in person.
Similarly, Tse said parent involvement is vital and the district must find creative ways to make sure parent committees are truly representative of the community.
Farid said there are currently more opportunities for parent engagement than willingness of parents to engage, adding that these opportunities have different levels of commitment based on parents’ availability.
Henry and Krpekyan both said that when parents do try to participate, the district ignores them.
“When parents have gotten involved, just recently over the summer, we had thousands of parents show up here,” Henry said. “They were ignored, actually ridiculed, and that is an extreme problem that needs to be addressed.”
Identifying smaller class sizes, more counselors and nurses, and increased teacher and staff compensation as “hot topics for parents,” Field asked how candidates would balance parents’ wants with the realities of the district’s budget?
Krpekyan said she too values small class sizes and increasing teachers’ wages. She suggested that by cutting down on “unnecessary administrative overhead” which she said is a result of increases in positions and promotions, the Board could save money and raise wages.
“We see that administrative directors and executives have their pay go up,” Krpekyan said. “Meanwhile, we are seeing teachers who are working hard every single day facing the challenges of having students who have fallen academically behind, having a surplus of English second language learners … and I do believe they are not being equally compensated.
“There is not enough balance between what is being spent at the administrative level and what is being allocated into our classrooms.”
Echoing concerns about teacher compensation, Tse said it’s not about the Board’s ability to raise wages, but it’s their willingness.
“GUSD can explore creative ways to mitigate the costs of health and welfare benefits,” Tse said. “They can look at different places in which money is stored and where it can be reallocated for salaries. The reduction of relying on consultants is another way the district can allocate money to their priorities.”
Similarly, Kevorkian emphasized the need to pay teachers more fairly to create higher retention rates, which will increase the quality of education in schools because teachers will stay long enough to hone their craft and connect with the community. He suggested the Board look at the budget holistically and talk to students about which programs they are utilizing the most to determine where cuts can be made.
To mimic the desired effects of smaller class sizes, Farid suggested the district encourage parent volunteers or classroom aids to assist teachers in their classrooms. Having another adult in the room to help monitor students will allow students to get more one on one time with their teacher, Farid said.
While he acknowledged that mental health is still important, Henry suggested the district cut back on its mental health related spending and instead use funds to further promote academic excellence.
Candidates were asked how they would advocate for mental health and what specific strategies they believe would support and enhance students’ well-being and success.
Kevorkian stressed that access to mental health care for students is vital. Without “a sense of belonging and peace of mind,” he said it is very difficult for students to succeed academically. He also suggested the district increase community partnerships with organizations who can educate students on mental health issues. Additionally, he brought up the importance of nurturing faculty’s mental health too, saying a student cannot successfully learn if their instructor’s well-being is at a low.
Farid underscored the point that students cannot learn successfully if their mental health is not a priority, adding that it is necessary to take a holistic approach to education with an emphasis on well-being.
While Krpekyan supports the district having mental health resources for the students who need it, she does not agree with placing every student in socio-emotional classes. She believes it is a parent’s job to decide what mental health care their child needs.
Henry made similar points, adding that students require a “specified and individualized approach” and that not every student needs a psychologist. He said children have “impressionable minds” and the district should be cautious with what they are exposing children to.
Tse is proud of the work the district has done in opening a number of wellness centers across school campuses and will continue to prioritize mental health if elected.
DIVISIVE BOARD MEETINGS
“Given the recent environment of conflict and divisiveness surrounding school board meetings, both across the country and here in Glendale,” Field asked candidates if they would “work to promote civility and unity with your fellow board members and the community.” If candidates answered no to this question she asked, “what role such conflict plays in effective policymaking in our school district?”
Farid held that divisiveness is bad for students and the Board has an obligation to work together peacefully and find ways to bring people together.
Krpekyan said that if the district does not want conflict to ensue at Board meetings, it should leave politics at the door and out of classrooms.
Making similar arguments as Krpekyan, Henry added that the community has a right to dissent, but that he condemns violence.
Kevorkian said it has been “heartbreaking” to see the division within his own school district.
“Division is not the way we get to progress. We need to find a way to bring the parents, the students, the teachers and the administration together,” Kevorkian said. “Civility and unity is the only way that we are going to create change in this school district — change in this world. When we come together no matter how young, no matter how old, we can really create an impact that is best suited to create a successful environment for our kids.”
Tse referenced the June 6 Board meeting in which Pride Month protests and counterprotests turned violent, calling the incident “a sight that was a shameful part of our district’s history.” He said that respect goes both ways and Board must weigh the balance of many different views while always promoting civility.
First published in the February 10 print issue of the Glendale News-Press.