Glendale Unified candidates discuss local, national issues at PTA forum

During a forum hosted Wednesday night by the Glendale Council PTA, school board candidates answered questions that touched on local and national issues in a two-hour televised event moderated by Glendale Council PTA President Neda Farhoumand.

Not all of the candidates were present, however. Newcomer Vardan Stepanyan, who is running against incumbent Greg Krikorian for a District B seat in Northwest Glendale, could not participate in the forum because of a family emergency, Farhoumand said.

While Krikorian has operated his campaign on "stability," Stepanyan has said parents told him they are ready for a change on the school board.

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But in his opening remarks, Krikorian seized on Stepanyan's absence to remind voters of his own 16 years on the board.

"Now's the time we need stability," Krikorian said. "We need proven leadership that's going to represent our kids. Now's not the time to take a chance for a new direction."

Meanwhile, incumbent Armina Gharpetian is running for a District C seat without opposition.

Two other newcomers, Shant Sahakian and Joal Ryan, are competing for a District D seat.

Reading a question submitted by a resident, Farhoumand asked all candidates about the perception that schools in north Glendale, such as Clark Magnet and Crescenta Valley High School, are focused on preparing students for college, while the schools in the south, including Hoover and Glendale highs, are focused on vocational or career-ready jobs.

"Although this is not entirely true," Farhoumand read the audience member's question from the card, "How will GUSD help change this perception?"

Gharpetian said she's addressed the the perception issue before, saying she's asked school officials why Glendale High does not offer a medical academy like the one at Crescenta Valley High.

She said vocational courses are offered at each of the high schools as part of a more balanced approach.

"It's a little bit of perception from the past, but now we're addressing those issues," Gharpetian said. "Now, we are kind of balancing the programs throughout our district. We are working towards that to make that equitable."

Krikorian said perceptions, in general, can often trump reality, adding later: "I don't want to pit different schools against each other."

Ryan said she believes a Glendale student can succeed no matter which high school they attend, but acknowledged: "There is a perception problem."

She said school officials need to communicate and tout schools' course offerings. One way to change perceptions, she suggested, is to get parents to visit the schools.

"The district needs to encourage the perception change, and we need to get families into the school to see for themselves," Ryan said.

Sahakian said board members "have to do a better job of advocating for all of our schools in a more equal manner, in how we represent our schools. We do need to fix equity issues. We also need to be advocates for all of our schools."

In the past, he said Roosevelt Middle School has experienced "reputation issues," adding that Roosevelt "is a phenomenal school. There are amazing programs at Roosevelt, and it is truly a gem in our district. More people need to know about that. More parents need to know about that."

Farhoumand also asked what each candidate would do to take Glendale Unified "from good to great."

Krikorian called for more adequate funding while Gharpetian said she would offer free summer school for all students who wanted to enroll.

Ryan said she would strengthen parent engagement that could help boost enrollment.

Sahakian said he would focus on students' exposure to tech education to keep up with the 21st century, an area he believes Glendale Unified has "fallen out of alignment with."

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Kelly Corrigan, kelly.corrigan@latimes.com

Twitter: @kellymcorrigan

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