Vote at 16- San Gabriel Valley hosted the The Alhambra Unified School District (AUSD) Board of Education Round Table on Sept. 19. The students of Vote at 16 conducted a questions and answers session to voice student, parent, and teacher concerns while giving school board candidates the opportunity to vocalize their views and future plans for the district. Candidates Joanne Russell-Chavez and Robert Gin, current president and vice president of AUSD school board respectively, attended the Round Table.
Gin and Chavez are running unopposed this election, which Gin has done since 2002. In contrast, this is Chavez’s first time running since she was appointed to the board in 2014. Both said that other than being the only people running, they are qualified for their positions because they care about students.
“I do not know if caring makes us qualified, but I know that I’m engaged,” Chavez said. “I love to listen, I love to talk, and I know that I appreciate what I do.”
During the roundtable, Gin provided clarity on decisions made at the school board meeting on Sept. 18 regarding money issued from Measure HS and Measure AE bonds.
“We just passed Measure HS, which was a $149 million bond,” Gin said. “In the past 20 years we have [accumulated] $489 million in bonds for our schools.”
Gin said the bonds are being used for new buildings and infrastructure for schools. On the topic of new additions to school sites, students brought up the need for public address (PA) systems.
“Some of our school sites have already updated their alarm system and PA system,” Gin said. “We just passed a resolution to sell $25 million in bonds to help us get our project started.”
Chavez, an advocate of collaboration and communication, voiced what she hopes to accomplish by emphasizing these values.
“I believe that collaboration is, by far, the best way you are going to learn,” Chavez said. “Collaboration with your peers, with your coworkers, family, and neighbors is one of the things that’s going to propel you in learning.”
In addition, Chavez gave insight as to what goals she would like to achieve by the end of her term. She said that she would like to challenge employees to participate in extra professional development classes, support science, technology, engineering and mathematics, support special education students, and increase enrollment.
“As a board member, our role is to make sure everything is successfully implemented,” Chavez said. “Students come first to us. We make sure that student progress is first and foremost.”
Gin and Chavez addressed a question regarding the academic gap that has lasted for 20 years between Asians and Latinos and the board’s plan to close it. Gin said that “the board is looking into the equity of education for all children and all students.” Gin currently serves on the equity advisers group with the California School Boards Association.
“I do not like to put it in forms of Asian [or] Hispanic,” Chavez said. “I do not care what nationality you are. If you need help, we are here to help you.”
The last question addressed to both candidates was whether or not they supported the Vote at 16 campaign and its mission of lowering the voting age for school board elections from 18 to 16. Gin said that he does not have a stance yet but is currently doing more research on Berkeley’s Vote at 16 campaign that was passed in late 2016.
“I know the president of the Board of Education from the Berkeley Unified School District,” Gin said. “I had a discussion with him about two weeks ago, but I haven’t received any information about what they did and how they did it.”
Chavez said that while she thinks Vote at 16 is great for getting involved, Chavez said students should not have the ability to vote. She said that she does not want students to take on the pressures of the political arena and would rather students cherish their youth and childhood because “you are only kids for a short time.”
“I want you to worry about who you are going to prom with, who you are going to homecoming with, who is playing on the football team, [and] how the debate team [is] doing,” Chavez said.
Chavez said that she would not want students to give up their youth for something they are going to do for the rest of their lives once they turn 18.
Following the Round Table, Vote at 16 planned to conduct mock elections at San Gabriel High School, Mark Keppel High School, and Alhambra High School, but they ran into complications with administration at all three schools.