Montebello Unified Welcomes New Board, New Year

Elected officials recognize unseated board member.

By Nancy Martinez, EGP Staff Writer

With a new face behind the dais, the Montebello Unified School District Board of Education began preparing for a new year.
Elected officials, family, teachers, parents and students filled the boardroom last Thursday during a special meeting that welcomed newcomer Joanna Flores – a Commerce resident and professor at East Los Angeles College – and recognized outgoing board member David Vela for his eight years of service.
Flores and incumbent Edgar Cisneros received the highest number of votes to fill two seats that were up for election on Nov. 3, ousting Vela from the seat he held for two terms.
“Joanna [Flores] is more than just another woman to diversify the board, she brings the passion and intensity of being the first of her siblings to graduate from college,” said Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia before administrating her the oath of office.
Flores said she had vowed to return to the community that had invested in her in hope of improving the public school system.
“Others are slow to give credit to our students in public schools but quick to criticize,” she said.
“So now the hard work begins,” she added.
Following a standing ovation for Flores and a quick chant of “Si Se Pudo” from the crowd, Board Member Lani Cupchoy gushed about the “feminist moment” and having another lady serve on the board.
“As a high percentage of woman are seeking higher education we are looking at more woman seeking leadership positions,” said MUSD Superintendent Susana Contreras-Smith excitedly.
“She earned her seat,” chimed in Cisneros. “If she works half as hard as she did on her campaign the students will benefit greatly,” he said.
During the meeting, Board Member Ben Cardenas was elected president as part of the body’s annual reorganization. Cupchoy was appointed vice president and Hector Chacon board clerk.
In the last two years, the district – which covers Bell Gardens, Commerce, Montebello and portions of East Los Angeles, Monterey Park and Pico Rivera – was tasked with implementing common core standards, reworking its budget to encompass the goals of the Local Control Funding Formula and supporting the 10 career pathways across the district.
“We had a year of shared vision, shared respect and shared sacrifice,” reflected Cardenas, before going on to outline his agenda for the year ahead.
“My focus as president will be fiscal solvency, we need to look for efficiency.”

Edgar Cisneros and Joanna Flores, who were both elected to serve the Montebello Unified School Board right, took the oath of office during a special meeting on Dec. 10. (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez )

Edgar Cisneros and Joanna Flores, who were both elected to serve the Montebello Unified School Board right, took the oath of office during a special meeting on Dec. 10. (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez )

Cardenas said he would pay particular attention to special education, within 60 days putting together a special task force to assist in identifying any shortfalls in the program.
The district’s $600 million in capital improvement needs is one of his biggest concerns, Cardenas said.
“We will have to ask ourselves if we need to put a bond on the ballot to provide our children with a 21st century learning environment,” he remarked.
Contreras-Smith echoed Cardenas’ comments; saying among the challenges facing the district is its ability to bring 21st century technology to students so they are college ready.
“The results-driven, young vision of the district is a refreshing perspective,” Contreras-Smith told EGP, referring to the collective younger age of the board.
Cisneros, the board’s out going president, was acknowledged for his efforts to give more attention to the southern part of the district.
“For some time, Bell Gardens felt like the district’s stepchild but you changed that,” said Bell Gardens Mayor Jennifer Rodriguez.
The meeting also included a salute to outgoing board member Vela, who was honored with several proclamations, awards and recognitions.
“David has been a model for other leaders, particularly young Latinos,” said Los Angeles County Assessor Jeffrey Prang.
Speaker after speaker highlighted Vela’s work with anti-bullying, lobbying for district funds and his role implementing the pathway school model and curriculum district wide.
“I know you poured your heart and soul into these kids,” said Joseph Martinez on behalf of Los Angeles County Supervisor Hilda Solis.
“The next official to take on that role has some really big shoes to fill.”
From mayors to PTA presidents, all acknowledged their belief that this was not the last time they expect to see Vela in public office, adding they look forward to the next step in his career.
“Once a leader, always a leader,” said Chacon, the school board’s longest sitting member. “Montebello Unified will always be your home.”

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December 17, 2015  Copyright © 2012 Eastern Group Publications, Inc.

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