Students and Parents Discuss Vision for Improving School Climate and Culture at Candidates’ Forum

With less than two weeks until local school board elections, roughly 200 students and parents throughout the Long Beach Unified School District gathered at a townhall and candidates’ forum on Saturday to discuss the need for further action and solutions for creating a positive school culture and climate.

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Students and parents pose for a picture with California State Board of Education Dr. Feliza Ortiz-Lincon who delivered the keynote address.

“Suspension rates are declining throughout the state as more school districts are listening to the growing body of evidence showing that punitive discipline leads to students more likely going to prison rather than college — especially if they are students of color. But reducing overall suspension rates are not enough,” says Jerlene Tatum of Success in Challenges and co-emcee of the event. “In places like Long Beach we still have persistent racial disparities – where African Americans are 6 times more likely to be suspended. We also know that reducing suspensions is only the first step. It’s one symptom of a larger problem that we need to address.

The event titled “Voices and Visions” featured an interactive townhall style discussion with student and parent testimonials about their experiences with school discipline and supportive relationships between parents, teachers, and students. An opening keynote addressing the need for positive school climates was delivered by Dr. Feliza I. Ortiz-Licon, a State Board of Education Member and resident of Long Beach.

“As much as we are proud to live and go to schools in Long Beach, students also see and recognize changes that we’d like to see happen,” said Sarai McKenzie, a Senior at Jordan High School and co-emcee of the event. “Our communities have had visions of positive school climate and engagement for a long time. We want to focus on how all of us–students, parents, teachers, and school board members–can work together to make that vision a reality.”

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School board candidates participate in the candidate’s forum and answer questions on school climate and culture

Shifting towards the upcoming local election on April 12th, the latter part of the event included a candidates forum with all four candidates running for election to the Board of Education for Long Beach Unified. Candidates answered questions from students and parents in the audience regarding community engagement, supporting student success, expanding health and wellness services, and ending racial disparities in school suspensions.

Attendees in the audience were encouraged to add their support to a community vision for building a positive school culture and climate. The four demands outlined in the vision included the need to invest in high need students, close the discipline gap, increase health and wellness services, and value student and parent voice.


Roosevelt parents win school buses after two-year campaign

Roosevelt 13(español abajo) “Being persistent has been important, and we’ve been empowered through the lessons we have learned from our involvement and our experiences,” says Maria Elena Cristobal as she reflects on the recent victory to get school buses for Roosevelt Elementary students. On January 13, parents like Maria Elena and others who have children attending the Central Long Beach school got the opportunity to walk their child to a bus stop for a safe trip to their school’s temporary location. For the first time in two years, parents and children will not walk through unsafe neighborhoods, cross dangerous streets like Pacific Coast Highway, or ride an overcrowded city bus.

In the fall of 2012, Roosevelt Elementary relocated to a temporary location behind the Pacific Coast Campus of Long Beach City College while their original campus across from Poly High School was to be completely rebuilt. Although the location of the school changed, neighborhood boundaries did not, posing a difficult challenge for low-income parents who worked full-time and did not have access to reliable transportation. In response to the school district’s lack of funds for transportation and with concerns for the health and safety of their children, a group of moms began to organize.

After many attempts to raise money for buses through community fundraisers, Zumba-thons, and marches, moms continued to get push back from school officials. Continuing to cite the lack of funds for a school bus, school officials offered solutions like a “walking school bus” and subsidized Long Beach Transit passes. As parents participated in these programs, many expressed that the school district’s temporary solutions did not fully address their concerns.

While solutions looked grim and parents experienced discouragement from others who didn’t believe anything would change, a new alternative came in the form of Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF) funds meant to go toward assistance for high-needs students. LCFF funds gave the Roosevelt School Site Council the opportunity to distribute new funds to what the elected parents, teachers, and staff decided they need most. Although organizing and advocating at the School Site Council represented new challenges for these moms, the support they received from the community and from the relationships they built with teachers and staff began to pay off.

Finally, in January 2015, the majority of School Site Council members voted to allocate LCFF funds for a daily school bus. “I’m happy that after years of fighting, we’ve finally accomplished our purpose of the children’s happiness,” commented Angelica Murillo, one of the moms involved in the campaign. “This is a huge win for the parents,” added Joanna Diaz, organizer with the Greater Long Beach Interfaith Community Organization (ICO). “In the end, it’s about perseverance and gaining that respect from the school district.”

Roosevelt 14In the fall of 2015, construction at the original Roosevelt school will end and buses will no longer be necessary for the neighborhood families. What will continue is the sense of community and empowerment moms like Maria Elena have built within themselves. Now, parents have been elected to their School Site Council and are playing active leadership roles in shaping their child’s educational environment. “Most important was our enthusiasm to help support each other,” explained Maria Elena. “People are always intimidated to speak out but are encouraged with support.”

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“Ser persistente ha sido importante, y hemos ganado facultad a través de las lecciones que hemos aprendido de nuestro compromiso y experiencias,” dijo Maria Elena Cristobal mientras reflexionaba sobre la reciente victoria por autobuses escolares para estudiantes de la escuela primaria Roosevelt. El 13 de enero, padres como Maria Elena y otros que tienen hijos  que asisten a escuelas  del centro de Long Beach tendrán la oportunidad de llevar a sus hijos a una parada de autobús para un viaje  seguro a la ubicación temporal de su escuela. Por primera vez en dos años, padres e hijos no caminaran a traves de barrios inseguros, cruzaran calles peligrosas como Pacific Coast Highway, o viajaran en autobuses de la ciudad súper llenos.

En el otoño del 2012, la escuela primaria Roosevelt se trasladó a una ubicación temporal detrás del campus Pacific Coast del colegio de Long Beach mientras que su campus original enfrente de la preparatoria Poly debía reconstruirse completamente. Aunque la ubicación de la escuela cambio, los límites del vecindario no, planteando un reto difícil para los padres de bajos ingresos quienes trabajan tiempo complete y no tenían acceso a  transporte confiable. En respuesta a la falta de fondos para transportación del distrito escolar y con preocupaciones por la salud y seguridad de sus hijos, un grupo de madres se comenzó a organizar.

Después de muchos intentos para recaudar fondos para los autobuses a traves de recaudación de fondos en la comunidad, maratones de Zumba, y marchas, madres continuaron empujando a funcionarios escolares. Siguiendo mencionando la falta de fondos para el autobús escolar, funcionarios escolares ofrecieron soluciones como “autobús escolar andante” y pases de transporte subvencionado por Long Beach Transit. Mientras los padres participaron en estos programas, muchos expresaron que las soluciones temporales del distrito escolar no abordaban plenamente sus inquietudes.

Roosevelt 12Mientras las soluciones parecían sombrías y los padres experimentaron desaliento de parte de otros quienes no  creían que algo podría cambiar, un nueva alternativa llego de parte de  la asociación Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF), los fondos tienen la intención de asistir a estudiantes de necesidades grandes. Los fondos de LCFF le dieron al consejo escolar de Roosevelt la oportunidad de distribuir los fondos nuevos a lo que padres electos, maestros, y personal decidiera que era lo más necesitaban.  Aunque organizar y abogar en el consejo escolar represento nuevos retos para estas madres, el apoyo que recibieron de la comunidad y de las relaciones que construyeron con maestros y personal comenzó a dar frutos.

Finalmente, en enero 2015, la mayoría de los miembros del consejo escolar voto a favor de asignar los fondos de LCFF para un autobús escolar diario. “Estoy feliz de que después de tantos años de lucha, finalmente conseguimos nuestro propósito de la felicidad de los niños”, comentó Angelica Murillo, una de las madres involucradas en la campaña “Esta es una gran Victoria para los padres”, añadió Joanna Diaz, organizadora de Interfaith Community Organization Long Beach (ICO). “Al final, se trata de perseverancia y de ganar el respeto del distrito escolar.”

Para el otoño del 2015, la construcción en la escuela original Roosevelt terminara y los autobuses ya no serán necesarios para las familias del vecindario. Lo que continuara es el sentido de comunidad y poder de madres, como Maria Elena, que han construido entre sí.  Ahora, padres han sido elegidos para formar parte del concejo escolar y juegan roles de liderazgo active en la formación del ambiente educacional de sus hijos. “Lo más importante fue nuestro entusiasmo para apoyarnos uno a otro”, explico Maria Elena. “La gente siempre esta intimidada para hablar pero se le se le alienta con apoyo.”






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