In Culver City, Paula Amezola de Herrera is running for one of the two open seats on Culver City Unified School Board of Education.
Where appropriate, add specifics about office sought: i.e., State Senate District 1, State Assembly District 2, Temecula City Council District 1, etc.
Culver City Board of Education
Party affiliation (not needed in non-partisan races, including county, city and school offices)
My husband, William Herrera, has served as an educational leader in Los Angeles public schools from teaching middle school at LAUSD to his role as the Director of Undergraduate Research and Undergraduate Internship Programs at UCLA School of Engineering. My parents are originally from Culver City’s first sister city of Uruapan. They currently live in Playas de Tijuana in Mexico. My husband and I moved to Culver City in 2002. Our children attended the Culver City Unified School District from pre-K to High School and I have two nephews now in the district. My son graduated from CCUSD in 2017 and is currently a senior at Hobart & William Smith College in upstate New York. My daughter is a junior at CCHS.
Does anyone in your family work in politics or government?
B.S. (Genetics) UC Davis
Master in Public Health (Epidemiology) UCLA
Epidemiologist and Public Health Career Advisor
In the 18 years I have worked in the field of public health in research, program evaluation, advocacy and career development, I have focused on access and equity issues, specifically as it relates to underserved communities.
Previous or Current Elected or Appointed Office
I was appointed to the Culver City Parks, Recreation, and Community Services Commission by the City Council and now serve as the Commission Chair
I was appointed as a public member of the Education Committee of the Board of Vocational Nurses and Psychiatric Technicians by Former Governor Jerry Brown
The single most pressing issue facing our (state, district, community, etc.) is _______, and this is what I intend to do about it.
Fighting for equity in the schools is one of my top priorities. CCUSD is one of the most diverse school districts in the country. While it does an excellent job of educating certain groups of students, other groups are left behind. According to the California Dashboard, the students with the greatest challenges in our district are our youth that live in foster homes, children with disabilities, English learners, socioeconomically disadvantaged, and children without stable housing. The district has adopted an equity plan this year. It will be a dynamic document that will evolve with feedback from community stakeholders –teachers, parents, students and staff. As a school board member, I would work towards closing achievement gaps so that our schools support all students to reach their full potential. This will include:
· A budget that distributes resources equitably among our schools.
· Working with administration, teachers, parents and staff to make school discipline more equitable across schools and programs and to expand restorative justice throughout the district.
· Providing support to students who most need it. Some students face additional challenges in school such as limited access to broadband, having to work or fulfill other family responsibilities, not having parents with advanced degrees who can tutor them at home or the means to hire tutors. People of color have been hit the hardest given the coronavirus pandemic and present health disparities. According to an article in JAMA, (June 16, 2020) “the school closure will be very harmful toward the children who are the most vulnerable. Those students with economic barriers to: food, printers, computers, high speed internet.”
· Hiring a more diverse faculty
· Adopting culturally relevant studies. Making ethnic studies a graduation requirement.
We must strengthen our education to prepare every student for life, college, or a career. By removing barriers to success and providing more support, we can create a community of learning for all.
What are the critical differences between you and the other candidates seeking this post?
I am a Bilingual and Bicultural Latina and a first-generation Mexican-American who shuttled back and forth between the US and Mexico attending nine different schools while my parents struggled to make ends meet. There are so many students in our district who share my background, but there has been only one other Latina school board member. My educational success in spite of experiencing many barriers makes me determined to work for equity, diversity, and inclusion in our school district.
If you are a challenger, in what way has the current officeholder failed the community (or district or constituency)
There are two open seats on the school board. Dr. Kelly Kent, who is one of the incumbents running, was the person who first encouraged me to run for School Board and I am so proud to have her endorsement. If elected, I look forward to working with Dr. Kent and other school board members on our priorities — equity, sustainability, and health and wellness.
Describe the other issues that define your campaign platform
Health and Wellness
Now more than ever it is important for schools to consider the health of children (social, emotional and physical wellness).
It is clear that we need to invest in the health of our community and collectively change our behavior to halt the transmission of the virus. Our schools need funding for Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), they need nurses, well ventilated buildings, and they need clean bathrooms with soap. Our schools need a plan grounded in science to reopen safely when it is safe to reopen. That plan must place the health and wellbeing of our students, faculty and staff above all else.
Schools are one of the places — like parks and libraries — where people with mental health needs show up. They can be platforms for accessing much needed mental health services, but this will only succeed if there is education about how therapy can help, messaging to remove the stigma of seeking health and we increase the availability of well-trained therapists
In 2015-2017, an estimated 14% of Culver City students in 9th grade seriously considered attempting suicide
in 2015-2017, an estimated 33% of Culver City 11th graders had depression-related feelings
Making mental health services easily accessible and implementing trauma-informed practices in our schools are important ways to make the school community a safe environment for all.
Knowing from my own experiences growing up how disruptive housing instability can be for a child in school, I will support tenant protections, affordable housing, and collaborate with the city to bring innovative solutions. In Culver City 1 in 4 renters have school-aged children. Prior to the rent freeze in Culver City, the school district lost 100 families–many forced out of the district by rent increases. We also deal with unhoused students in our district, according to the 2020 survey conducted by CCUSD, there are almost 60 families who are homeless. Every year we also lose great teachers because of long commutes or rent increases.
Tenant protections will help these students, teachers and staff remain in our school district.
Sustainability and the Environment
As we’ve seen from the recent fires that blaze across California for the third year in a row, climate change is already threatening our communities. We must act urgently to protect our planet, our future, and the future of our children.
CCUSD needs a plan for long-term resiliency in the face of the climate crisis. Not to do so would be financially and morally negligent. Other neighboring coastal school districts have created such plans and we can leverage these plans by creating a coastal cities coalition and together begin implementation. The implementation should address climate, education/engagement, energy efficiency and renewables, transportation, food/nutrition/wellness, and green building/operations. As soon as possible, we must switch the entire district over to 100% renewable energy and require net zero for all new construction. There should be continuous efforts to engage, educate, and inform the community about the sustainability efforts at the schools and to integrate sustainability and the environment into our curriculum to prepare our students.
What accomplishments in your past would you cite as evidence you can handle this job?
I have managed large budgets in my career in public health. As a research manager at USC I was responsible for setting, managing and balancing over 5 million dollars in Federal grants. As a governor appointee to the State Board of Vocational Nurses and Psychiatric Technicians, I worked with the board to oversee a yearly budget of about 17.5 million dollars. As the chair for the Culver City Parks, Recreation, and Community service commissioner, I work with my fellow commissioners to review and make recommendations on the PRCS department budget, which this year was approved at 9.5 million, a decrease of 13.7% from the previous year due to the economic downturn.
As a healthcare scientist (aka epidemiologist), I am trained to use data to analyze problems and find solutions. I have experience and training designing research studies and surveys, analyzing and presenting data, writing grants, and designing effective public communication about complex scientific issues.
As the Partnership Program Coordinator for the National Cancer Institute (NCI), I worked closely with non-profits on community asset mapping, coalition building, and grant writing.
I was the lead epidemiologist at the Los Angeles Gay & Lesbian Center (LAGLC), a sentinel surveillance site for the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health. I presented the center’s data at the National HIV Prevention Conference, where the CDC recognized the study on Crystal Meth Use Among HIV Positive Clients and had a press release in major newspapers including the LA Times.
My current work is at the USC Keck School of Medicine. As the founder of the Public Health Career Services, I have planned and implemented every aspect of the program, while working seamlessly with all academic programs. The key to the success of the Public Health Career Services is my willingness to evaluate and revise the program by actively listening to feedback from students, faculty and the leadership during the development and maintenance phases of the program.
If you win this position, what accomplishment would make your term in office as a success?
Implementing Ethnic Studies throughout the district would be my biggest accomplishment for my first term. I am in full support of AB 331, a bill that would add the completion of a one-semester course in ethnic studies to the high school graduation requirements commencing with pupils graduating in the 2029–30 school year. Our district has the foundation to implement this graduation requirement a lot sooner, maybe within my first 4 years of my term. We should collaborate with and learn from other school districts such as the Seattle Public Schools that have done this successfully. Ethnic Studies Education research shows that Ethnic/Cultural studies strengthens underperforming students’ educational outcomes. It helps bridge gaps between different cultures and helps students understand themselves and their own culture in a global context.
Culver City’s El Marino Elementary School with its dual immersion programs in Japanese and Spanish is one of the top ranked elementary schools in the state. The Culver City schools should bring this success more broadly to all our schools.
Our district was selected as the 4th most diverse district in the nation in 2018 (74% diversity: 39.6% Hispanic, 26.1% white, 16.1% African-American, 12.2% Asian, 5.4% multi-racial, 0.4% Pacific Islander and 0.3% Native American). We can follow the success of other districts and give ethnic students the opportunity to learn about their ancestors stories, struggles and heroes in this country.
For example, In San Francisco Ethnic Studies were automatically assigned to students with a GPA below a 2.0. A Stanford study found that the assignment to this course increased ninth-grade student attendance by 21 percentage points, GPA by 1.4 grade points, and credits earned by 23. Education research also shows that Ethnic studies bridge gaps between different cultures and leads to students with more globally accepting perspectives. Making school more relatable, closing the achievement gap, and helping students relate to one another — will be a great accomplishment!!
Why should voters trust you?
I believe that, taken together, my lived experience, my professional background, my leadership record (see questions above) and my endorsements will help establish trust with voters who do not yet know me.
My personal story, the barriers to success that I faced, has shaped my commitment to diversity and equity in our schools and in public health. I am a first generation Latina, who grew up as a migrant student. I lived in poverty most of my young life and lacked educated role models. While growing up in the Central Valley, my siblings and I were tracked into the Migrant Education Program because my parents moved every year for work. Because we did not speak the English language “perfectly”, we were placed in English as a Second Language (ESL) classes, which were beneath our abilities.
This system was designed to limit my success. My high school counselor discouraged me from taking STEM honors classes or applying to the UC system. I was constantly reminded that “college was too expensive for me.”I was “tracked” into the migrant student classes from elementary school until high school, when my parents had to demand access to college preparatory classes. Mr Sanchez, who directed the Immigrant program at my high school, was a notable exception. This wonderful teacher recognized my ability and challenged me to realize my potential. Mr. Sanchez encouraged me to apply to the University of California, helped me get college application fee waivers, and reviewed my college personal statements. Without his support, I would not have made it to UC Davis and later, UCLA.
I am very aware of how easily I could have been one of those many students whose potential was never seen or nurtured because of who I was. The many obstacles that I faced and the experience of how just a few educators who saw my potential and supported me could make such a big difference have left me determined to fight to make sure this kind of support is available to all students in our Culver City Unified School District.
I know that I often rely on elected officials I know and trust in selecting trustworthy candidates in races where I do not have personal experience with that candidate. I am proud to have the endorsements of Congress member Karen Bass, Culver City Vice Mayor Alex Fisch, Culver City Council member and former Mayor Meghan Sahli-Wells, Culver City Council Member Daniel Lee, Culver City School Board Members Drs. Kelly Kent and Tashon McKeithan as well as the Sierra Club and the Culver City Democratic Club!
What are your views on fiscal policy, government spending and the use of taxpayer dollars in the office you are seeking?
School Board members must review our district’s spending. I will focus on equitable spending and take a critical look through this lens at how we are spending our money. Are we spending to elevate the students who have the greatest need? What other needs are NOT currently being funded? I will make sure to advocate for us to align our spending and to ensure it reflects our Culver City values – of preparing ALL students for life, college, and fulfilling careers.
I would like to highlight a budget decision during this pandemic. When we reviewed the PRCS department budget, I noticed that mental health services funding had been completely eliminated. As a public health professional, I alerted our city council of the Covid-19 study, which showed that depression symptoms had increased by about 12% “nationally” among adults in April of 2020. Through my advocacy and collaboration with council members and community coalitions, we were able to restore these services and our cities investment tripled from $50K to 150K. This is the type of advocacy and collaborative work I plan to continue to bring to the CCUSD school board.
Investing early in education for vulnerable children can make a huge difference. It strengthens the future workforce, grows the economy, reduces later social spending. We must be prepared to do the right thing — even through budget cuts.
Is there any reason you would not serve your full term of office, other than those of health or family?
The best advice ever shared with me was …
The best advice ever shared with me was when my mother pushed me to “go to school” and to understand how education can lift people out of poverty.
Although she had only gotten as far as the 3rd grade, my mother made sure all four of her daughters understood the importance of a good education. My mother lived in a rural farming town in Michoacan, Mexico, where the local school had no windows, doors, electricity or sewage. As with most of the other kids in her town, my mother was pulled out of school to work on the farm as soon as she was old and strong enough to help out. All four of us girls listened to our mother who now proudly tells people, “Paula is a public health professional, Maricela is an immigration lawyer, Valeria is a nurse practitioner and Eva is an academic counselor, they are all professional women and hard working just like me.”
What else would you like voters to know about yourself and your positions?
I would like to end with a quote from Congresswoman Karen Bass, “I am endorsing Paula Amezola de Herrera because of her strong track record of public service and local activism.” said Bass. “Paula’s experience in public health and her unwavering commitment to removing barriers to learning for all students will make her a great addition to Culver City’s School Board.” Bass notes, “Students have no choice but to rely on adults for advice and guidance as we work to reopen our schools safely over the coming year. We can count on her to base her decisions on sound science and be attuned to equity issues as the students return to the classroom. As someone who has worked on public health research, she understands how to use available data. Paula is uniquely suited to guide the district through the challenges of reopening our schools.”
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