Questionnaire: Leah Hanany, candidate for El Paso ISD Board of Trustees – District 1
I am running because I believe our neighborhoods thrive when our public schools do and because I believe my perspective is important at a time when our schools and our children have lost so much. The last year has introduced an unprecedented disruption to our educational system and exacerbated the equity crisis in our community. I believe we have a lot of work ahead of us to make up for the academic setbacks and social and emotional disruptions that the children in El Paso have experienced. My personal experiences, both as a parent and as an educator, and my knowledge of education policy, will provide a valuable and critical vantage point as a trustee.
2. Please describe your personal and professional background.
I was born and raised in El Paso and grew up in the Lower Valley. I am currently a Career and Technology Education teacher with a graduate degree in educational leadership and professional experience in the healthcare sector and at UTEP in the athletics department. My husband, Mickaël, is an immigrant from France and together we have five daughters, ranging in age from 7 months to 20 years old. We both graduated from UTEP and are raising our family in the Kern area near where we first met.
I am a teacher at Parkland High School in Ysleta ISD. I do plan to continue working if elected.
4. Please describe your education. Where did you get your high school diploma? What higher education degrees and certificates have you earned, and from where?
I graduated from Riverside High School and attended UTEP for my undergraduate degree. I earned my B.A. from UTEP with a minor in Education and earned a Master’s in Educational Leadership from the University of North Texas. I currently hold a principal’s certificate, in addition to four teacher’s certifications ranging from grades PK-12.
5. What experiences in leadership do you have that qualify you for this position?
On the education side, I served on the District Educational Improvement Council in Ysleta ISD and also on the Campus Educational Improvement Council at Parkland High School. In the private sector, I was an interim marketing director in the healthcare field and gleaned a lot of leadership experience developing and implementing strategic campaigns. The most valuable leadership experience I have had, though, is as a parent. I don’t think we should discount the skill set that parents acquire — from delegation, to learning to listen and understand, to crisis management. We can ask any parent if their most demanding and rewarding leadership experiences happened at home or at work this last year. Parents are leaders. We balance, organize and negotiate on a daily basis and I think it fair to include that as a qualification.
6. If elected, what would be your three key priorities while in office? How would you fund these priorities?
My top three priorities are reopening schools safely, hiring a superintendent committed to equity and an open and productive funding structure.
Regarding safe schools, I believe we should be consulting with a diverse set of voices as we progress detailed plans for a safe school environment and to address the challenges we will continue to face in providing a high-quality education during and after this pandemic. These voices include infectious disease specialists, pediatricians, teachers, parents, school nurses, and school leadership. I believe the following mitigators are essential: access to testing, collecting centralized and accurate data on cases in schools and areas for contact tracing, following federal guidance on safe facilities, targeted vaccine deployment, and waivers for teachers who need them. We must also be squarely focused on the scholastic and emotional setbacks our students have experienced in the last year and work to strategically identify how to make up for this loss.
Regarding our next superintendent, the board must retain a superintendent that commits to be a champion of equity and access for the students in our district, and whose educational mission aligns with the community’s needs. This leader should have direct curriculum and instruction experience, and a record of success in strategic planning and community engagement. An understanding of English Language Learner supports is critical. Regarding equity, we must work to contextualize research and data and develop an Equity Action Plan with evidence of implementation indicators that will incorporate equity into the foundational structure of operations, build capacity, and identify and address barriers that perpetuate opportunity and achievement gaps.
We can start by:
● Affirming the voices of our community’s stakeholders by involving teachers, parents and students in the visioning process for collective action.
● Expanding efforts to translate important documents (and providing a translator at important meetings, including board meetings) into Spanish, which is the primary language spoken in many of the homes of our students.
● Expanding access to healthcare and behavioral health services and providing services to support student mental health by aligning human and community resources.
● Providing ongoing training specific to culturally responsive teaching practices, including cultural competence, equity and social justice. To fund these priorities, we must persistently work to guarantee there is a return on our investments as taxpayers by continually auditing budgetary procedures and asking: will this help our students? We must provide a coordinated structure that involves administrators and teachers, who know what works best for the children in their learning communities, and commit to shedding wasteful spending on programs our teachers say don’t work. We must also demand continued accountability to keep capital improvement projects under budget and on schedule, and apply legislative pressure so that our governmental entities provide the relief taxpayers deserve. We should appropriate CRRSA and American Rescue Plan funding swiftly, prioritizing the needs of our most vulnerable students, including undocumented students, students with disabilities, English Language Learners and homeless students.
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7. Have you previously run for office? If so, please list the positions sought and the outcome.
I am a first-time candidate.
8. Have you ever been arrested or charged with a crime? Have you ever had a civil judgment against you? Have you ever been in arrears on local, state or federal taxes? If so, please provide an explanation.
I had a failure to appear charge, which has since been settled.
9. If elected, would you have any potential conflicts of interest that you are aware of that would impair your ability to serve?
Please explain what they are and how you would avoid the conflict. I would not have a conflict of interest.
10. Do you have any family members; children or grandchildren who attend EPISD schools?
I have two children currently attending EPISD schools, one in elementary and one in high school. I also have two younger children that will be attending EPISD schools in the future.
11. What are the qualities of a good public servant? How does your background and experience reflect those qualities?
A good public servant builds trust, is accessible, and communicates both goals and outcomes with their constituency. I believe that communities don’t want policies to happen to them — they want policies to happen for them and with them. There has to be an authentic interest in working with the community and a policy background to tackle the issues that communities say are important. As an educator, a native El Pasoan, and a parent with young children currently in the district, I have both the authentic interest and the background.
12. What are your values when it comes to a citizen’s access to government and transparency? Would you take calls from the media and agree to interview requests?
I believe transparency is at the heart of government function, but is a word that gets tossed around a lot. It is important to provide transparency, but we must go a step further and create an easy-to-understand format for community members, as well as communicate our objectives and results. Our protocols must reflect our willingness to provide information easily and readily. When a community member does an open records request, are they getting access to that information in a timely manner? Also, we can’t just be willing to communicate, but willing to accept what constituents are saying to us. I believe EPISD failed its constituents here regarding school closures in the South Side. The lack of acceptance and advocacy when residents communicated their needs to the district will hurt that area for years. We have to do better. I would take calls and agree to interview requests.
13. How do you think EPISD handled learning during pandemic, in terms of face-to-face vs. remote learning? How do you balance safety and quality education?
As a teacher who taught virtually, and as a parent who had children learning from a computer, I need to first say that I believe most people and institutions were really trying to do their best. I believe we can acknowledge that the health and safety of students and staff will always be the priority — and also that schools provide an essential service. I felt EPISD approached the return to face-to-face learning with both things in mind. We balance safety and a quality education by relying on the best available evidence to provide resources to our schools to keep people inside buildings safe and to give teachers the tools they need to help students learn.
14. How would you rate the district’s response to COVID-19? Has enough been done? What more could be done?
As a parent, where I’m concerned is the absence of communication from the district on what the long-term plan is. We can acknowledge that the situation is fluid, but we are one year in, and parents are anxious. What is the district doing to assuage our concerns about instruction loss? Where is the plan to address the disparate impacts of the pandemic or the impending mental health crisis our child psychologists have warned us about? These are things that directly impact learning outcomes and that I, as a parent, worry about on a daily basis.
15. What lessons were learned from COVID-19 and how can it influence improvements?
I think we have learned some hard lessons on the importance of preemptive planning. Our guiding principles of trying to keep schools open and safe were met with a continuum of risk that was exacerbated by an overwhelming local COVID crisis many other cities did not experience. We must develop high-quality operations plans that consider the specific needs of El Paso/Borderland students, including those who are undocumented or high-risk. Another big lesson we learned is that programs do not replace people. Educational technology works as a supplement and not as a core component of instruction. Our human resources are valuable and we should be aligning these resources to the needs of every student. The former superintendent created a structure where much of the consulting was outsourced. We need to utilize the personnel we have to work in-house to problem solve for our students and staff, so that resources can be allocated where they are really needed.
16. Are there any departments within the district that you believe need to be reformed? If so, what are they?
If elected, it is important to thoroughly review the organizational structure to ensure coherence between the needs of learning communities and district operations. Following this year of disruption, the issues that we started with may not be the ones that need the most attention. We must audit everything from the top down to determine what works, what needs to be rethought, and what needs to be changed.
17. What kind of relationship should a district/the board have with its community, such as parents and advocacy groups?
It is important that there is a regular schedule of assessment and reporting as part of an ongoing effort to promote accountability. By involving parents and advocacy groups, we can create a coalition that provides opportunities to mobilize sectors of our organization to work on issues important to us all. The more voices we seek out and hear, the more successful our change efforts will be. Whether by open forum or open door, an elected official’s responsibility is to bring the needs of the constituency to the fore, committing to policy implementation that works for the community. Children, in particular, are the biggest benefactors of good policy initiatives.
Cristina Carreon may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and @Cris_carreon90 on Twitter.