El Distrito de Montebello da la Bienvenida a la Nueva Junta de Educación

December 17, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

Con un nuevo rostro detrás de la tarima, la Junta de Educación del Distrito Escolar Unificado de Montebello comenzó a prepararse para un nuevo año.

Funcionarios electos, familiares, maestros, padres y estudiantes llenaron la sala de juntas el pasado jueves durante una reunión especial que dio la bienvenida a la recién llegada Joanna Flores—una residente de Commerce y profesora en East Los Angeles College—y reconocieron el trabajo del saliente miembro de la junta David Vela por sus ocho años de servicio.

Read this article in English: Montebello Unified Welcomes New Board, New year

Flores y el titular Edgar Cisneros recibieron el mayor número de votos para ocupar dos asientos que estaban en elección el 3 de noviembre, expulsando a Vela por un asiento que ocupó durante dos mandatos.

“Joanna [Flores] es más que otra mujer para diversificar la junta, ella trae la pasión y la intensidad de ser la primera de sus hermanos en graduarse de la universidad”, dijo la asambleísta Cristina García antes de administrar el juramento del cargo.

Flores dijo que había prometido regresar a la comunidad que había invertido en ella con la esperanza de mejorar el sistema de educación pública.

“Otros son lentos para dar crédito a nuestros estudiantes en las escuelas públicas, pero rápidos para criticar”, dijo.

“Así que ahora comienza el trabajo duro”, agregó.

Tras una ovación de pie de Flores y un canto rápido de “Si Se Pudo” de la multitud, la miembro de la Junta Lani Cupchoy elogió el “momento feminista” de tener otra mujer sirviendo en la junta.

“A medida que un alto porcentaje de la mujer busca la educación superior estamos viendo más jóvenes buscando posiciones de liderazgo”, dijo emocionada la Superintendente de MUSD Susana Contreras-Smith.

“Ella se ganó su asiento”, intervino Cisneros. “Si ella trabaja la mitad de lo duro que trabajó en su campaña los estudiantes se beneficiarán enormemente”, dijo.

(Izq. a der.) Miembros de la Junta del Distrito Unificado de Montebello Edgar Cisneros, Joanna Flores, Ben Cárdenas, Lani Cupchoy y Héctor Chacón tuvieron una reunión especial el 10 de diciembre. (EGP foto por Nancy Martínez)

(Izq. a der.) Miembros de la Junta del Distrito Unificado de Montebello Edgar Cisneros, Joanna Flores, Ben Cárdenas, Lani Cupchoy y Héctor Chacón tuvieron una reunión especial el 10 de diciembre. (EGP foto por Nancy Martínez)

Durante la reunión, el miembro de la Junta Ben Cárdenas fue elegido presidente como parte de la reorganización anual de la junta. Cupchoy fue nombrada vicepresidente y Héctor Chacón como secretario.

En los últimos dos años, el distrito—que cubre Bell Gardens, Commerce, Montebello y partes del este de Los Ángeles, Monterey Park y Pico Rivera—tuvo la tarea de aplicar las normas básicas comunes, reelaborando su presupuesto para abarcar los objetivos de la financiación de la Formula de Control Local y el apoyo a los 10 caminos de carrera en todo el distrito.

“Hemos tenido un año de visión compartida, respeto mutuo y el sacrificio compartido”, reflexionó Cárdenas, antes de pasar a su agenda para el próximo año.

“Mi objetivo como presidente será la solvencia fiscal, tenemos que buscar la eficiencia”.

Cárdenas dijo que iba a prestar atención en particular a la educación especial, dentro de 60 días armará un grupo de trabajo especial para ayudar a identificar cualquier déficit en el programa.

Los $600 millones en mejoras de capital que el distrito necesita es una de las mayores preocupaciones, dijo Cárdenas.

“Tendremos que preguntarnos si tenemos que poner un enlace en la boleta electoral para proporcionar a nuestros hijos con un ambiente de aprendizaje del siglo 21”, enfatizó.

Contreras-Smith hizo eco de los comentarios de Cárdenas; diciendo que entre los desafíos que enfrenta el distrito es su capacidad para llevar la tecnología del siglo 21 a los estudiantes para que estén preparados para la universidad.

“Los resultados impulsados, es la visión joven del distrito que da una perspectiva refrescante”, Contreras-Smith le dijo a EGP, en referencia a la edad colectivamente más joven de la junta.

Cisneros, el saliente presidente de la junta, fue reconocido por sus esfuerzos para dar más atención a la parte sur del distrito.

“Desde hace algún tiempo, Bell Gardens se sentía como el hijastro del distrito pero eso cambió”, dijo la alcaldesa de Bell Gardens Jennifer Rodríguez.

La reunión también incluyó un saludo al miembro saliente de la junta Vela, quien fue honrado con varias proclamas, premios y reconocimientos.

“David ha sido un modelo para otros líderes, sobre todo jóvenes latinos”, dijo el asesor del Condado de Los Ángeles Jeffrey Prang.

Orador tras orador destacó el trabajo de Vela contra el bullying, el cabildeo para los fondos del distrito y su papel implementando en el distrito el modelo de escuela vía el currículo.

“Sé que puso su corazón y alma en estos niños”, dijo José Martínez, en nombre de la supervisora del Condado de Los Ángeles Hilda Solís.

“El próximo funcionario para asumir ese papel tiene unos zapatos muy grandes que llenar”.

Desde los alcaldes a los presidentes de la PTA, todos reconocieron que esta no fue la última vez que esperan ver a Vela en los cargos públicos, y agregaron que esperan el siguiente paso en su carrera.

“Una vez que se es un líder, siempre será un líder”, dijo Chacón, el miembro con más tiempo en la Junta Escolar. “El distrito de Montebello siempre será su casa”.

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Twitter @nancyreporting

nmartinez@egpnews.com

Montebello Unified Welcomes New Board, New Year

December 17, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

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.”

Election Shakes Up Local Boards

November 5, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

Incumbents on the Montebello City Council and the Montebello Unified School District were ousted from their seats Tuesday, according to semi-official elections results from the Los Angeles County Registrar-Recorder/Election Division.

In the city of Montebello, Mayor Jack Hadjinian received the most votes – 1,695 – in the city council race that had two seats on the five-member council up for grabs.

Jack Hadjinian

Jack Hadjinian

Challenger Vanessa Delgado – a developer – received the second highest number of votes at 1,469, unseating incumbent Councilwoman Christina Cortez who received 1,122 votes.

Vanessa Delgado

Vanessa Delgado

Two out of five seats were also up for election in the MUSD school board, which represents schools in Bell Gardens, Commerce, Montebello and, parts of Monterey Park, East Los Angeles and Pico Rivera. Board President Edgar Cisneros will be returning to the dais, receiving 3,396 votes. Challenger Joanna Flores – a professor at East Los Angeles College – garnered 3,119 votes, enough to win her the second seat on the board.

Edgar Cisneros

Edgar Cisneros

Joanna Flores

Joanna Flores

Longtime board member David Vela was a distant third, receiving only 2,668 votes.

Montebello voters also had the opportunity to elect a new city treasurer and city clerk. None of the incumbents chose to seek office, leaving challengers to face off against each other.

In the race for City Treasurer, Charles Pell, a criminal prosecutor for the U.S. Department of Justice, passed the 50 percent mark with 2,061 of votes casts, beating out former councilwoman Rosie Vasquez. Pell is the son of MUSD’s Chief Financial Officer and former superintendent, Cleve Pell.

The city-clerk elect Irma Barajas received 1,614 votes, enough to beat out Christina Gonzales. Barajas is married to city councilman Art Barajas.

MUSD Candidates Take on Student Performance

September 3, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

Montebello Unified students have returned to school and candidates running for two seats on the Board of Education say they want to make sure students are on track for college admission or a career beyond graduation.

Over the years, the predominately Latino school district has made great strides in improving its graduation rate, which according to the California Department of Education currently stands at 94 percent.

“It’s the highest it’s been in years,” boasts Boardmember David Vela, who is up for reelection.

Vela and Board President Edgar Cisneros will face off against each other and outside challengers Joanna Flores of Commerce and Nancy Hernandez of Montebello in the Nov. 3 Election. The MUSD board oversees seventeen elementary, six intermediate and five high schools as well as two continuation or day schools in Bell Gardens, Commerce, East Los Angeles, Montebello, Monterey Park and Pico Rivera.

The District ties its graduation numbers to its low 1.4% drop out rate: Both the county and state have drop out rates of over 3%, while nearly three times as many students drop out of MUSD’s neighbor to the west, L.A. Unified.

But Flores says graduation rates don’t tell the whole story. She says academic measurements show too many students are still falling behind.

“When we compare the District to others across the state we fall short,” the school board challenger said.

According to state data, only two of MUSD’s 17 elementary schools have reached the state goal of 800 on the API Academic Performance Index: Montebello Gardens and Portrero Heights. Macy Intermediate is the only middle school to reach the goal but no high school has achieved the 800 score on the assessment aimed at measuring the academic performance and progress of public schools.

While school board candidates may pull out past test results to bolster their positions, Deputy Superintendent Art Revueltas told EGP API scores are a thing of the past. Last year students were introduced to Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) tests. The news exams differ from the pencil and paper tests in years past, now students are taking a computer-based exam that includes long answer sections without a time limit; students are even allowed to retake the test.

“It’s imperative we don’t compare these results to anything else,” he said. “We’re going from oranges to apples.”

SBAC results have not yet been released but Revueltas said he expects students will perform better because SBAC will “test what teachers teach in the classroom.”

It’s hard to get away from using test data when evaluating performance, however.

For example, of the 2,114 students who graduated last year, only 583 were enrolled in A-G courses required for Cal State and University of California admissions.

Vela says board members are aware of the disparity and have adopted innovative initiatives to improve the situation, such as the 10 curriculum pathways offered across the District.

Through the pathways, students take rigorous A-G approved courses aimed at preparing them for college and a career, such as engineering, culinary arts, computer graphics or health.

It’s not yet clear how many pathway students go on to some type of college after graduation.

Flores, a professor at East Los Angeles College, believes parent engagement is key to student success. She wants the school district to become more engaged with parents and to give them a leadership role in getting MUSD students college-ready.

“As a first generation college graduate, I know how difficult it is trying to navigate through the college process,” Flores said.

Vela agrees and says the District has initiated programs to help students get into college. He points to MUSD’s collaboration with the non-profit College Bound Today, which is offered at all high schools and matches a select number of students to mentors to guide them through the college application process. Last year, 100 percent of the students in the program enrolled in college, Vela said.

According to Revueltas 80 percent of MUSD graduates end up at either a 2-year or 4-year college. An additional 2 percent enlist in the military.

The data show that even those on the college track struggle. During the 2013-2014 academic year, just over 1,500 of over 10,000 MUSD high students took Advanced Placement exams. For most colleges a score of 3 is required to receive college course credit but many universities only accept scores of 4 and 5.

That year, only 363 students tested received a score of 4 and a mere 158 received a score of 5. The problem, however, is not unique to MUSD: About 15 percent of LAUSD’s 9-12 high school students enrolled in AP courses only to obtain a score of 3 or below, according to the Department of Education.

The disconnect can be found in the socio-economic demographics of the student body, according to Flores. Of the 29,000 students enrolled in the District, nearly 96 percent are Latino and nearly 87 percent qualify for free or reduced meals due to low family incomes.

For Cisneros, technology can be a great equalizer. He said MUSD is making students more competitive and marketable by improving their access to technology and modernizing infrastructure.

“I want them to have access to technology they are going to be using in the real world,” he said. “I want to see computer, robotics and technology clubs at every campus,” he said enthusiastically.

Costs, however, can often be a deterrent to the speed and quality of implementing such programs.

Ensuring schools are meeting common core standards, requiring districts to be technology ready has been a challenge even for MUSD’s neighbors to the west, Vela points out.

The latest Local Control Accountability Plan (LCAP), which distributes additional funding to schools with large number of low-income students, English Learners, EL, and foster children will be vital in implementing technology in the classrooms, said Vela. The revised funding formula is aimed at reducing the achievement gap at poorer performing schools.

About one third of MUSD students are English learners, a number higher than in LAUSD.

In the Montebello school district, nearly 98 percent of English learners speak Spanish. Other languages include Cantonese, Armenian, Vietnamese, Mandarin and a dozen more. Last year, 9 percent of English learners were reclassified as Fluent English Proficient, most of them by third grade, said Revueltas.

Revueltas points out however that the number of English learners is decreasing because fewer immigrants are moving into the District.

Keeping LCAP funding will depend on attendance, something that improved last year but remains a challenge for L.A. County’s third largest school district, acknowledged Cisneros.

Revueltas said the availability of LCAP funds allow for smaller class sizes at elementary schools, full day kindergarten and improve access to technology district-wide.

“Every year the challenge is something different but the priority is always student achievement,” Revueltas said.

With the school board election just two months away, incumbents and challengers should start to detail their plans to achieve that goal.

Nancy Hernandez did not respond to EGP’s request for comment.

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