Candidates in 3 School Districts Near End of Campaign Trail : Lennox Winners to Face a Variety of Problems

Times Staff Writer

Five candidates seeking three seats on the Lennox School Board in the Nov. 5 election are running in a district characterized by crowded campuses, low test scores and high transiency among students--80% of whom speak Spanish as their first language.

An unincorporated territory between Hawthorne and Inglewood, just east of the Los Angeles International Airport, Lennox covers less than two square miles but generates more than 5,000 students.

The district was the first in California to adopt a year-round school system to accommodate its growing student population. But the imminent closing of Larch Avenue Elementary School--located in the path of the Century Freeway--could cause overcrowding in the district’s four remaining schools despite the year-round system.

The winners in next week’s election will help set policy and oversee the district’s $12-million budget. Each will be paid $240 a month.


In their campaigns, incumbents Hector Carrio, James D. Haley and Edward A. Urrutia are emphasizing their efforts to alleviate overcrowding, while newcomer Noelia Martinez says the district must change its bilingual program.

The position of the fifth candidate, Fernando Alvarado, could not be determined. He did not return repeated phone calls. Alvarado, 21, is studying sociology at El Camino Community College. He is married with no children.

The other candidates offer the following backgrounds and positions:

- Carrio, 61, was appointed a Lennox trustee in 1983 to replace a candidate who moved. He is married with three daughters, two of whom attended Lennox schools.


Carrio has been teaching in Inglewood schools since 1966 and is currently the coordinator of bilingual programs for Inglewood’s secondary schools.

For the past two years, Carrio says, he has been working in Lennox to rid both the schools and the greater community of graffiti, drugs and trash, saying that they “make the children think they live in a forgotten community.”

Carrio is a strong supporter of the board’s decision to purchase the vacant Lennox High School building from the Centinela Valley Union school district and transform it into a school for grades 6 through 8. He supports building another school to replace Larch Avenue but doubts that state money will be available and says the district may need to use more portable classrooms in the short term.

- Haley, 53, was first appointed to the board in 1973. After an unsuccessful election bid the following year, he was elected to the board in 1977 and has remained in office since then.


A contractor with the Pacific Air Systems air-conditioning company, Haley is married and has two children who attended Lennox schools. He also supported the purchase of the Lennox High School building and would like to rid the district of its 44 portable classrooms, which, he says, take up playground space at the four elementary schools. Haley would also like to see the district offer a day-care program, but he concedes that such a program is unlikely because of the space problem.

“We are in dire need of a day-care program . . . but there is not really any room left in facilities around the area,” Haley said.

- Martinez, 19, is the youngest candidate and the only woman. She is married with two children and works as a counselor at the West Coast Medical Group in Inglewood.

Although she has never attended a school board meeting, Martinez said her firsthand experience with some of the district’s problems qualify her for the board. Martinez attended Lennox schools from the sixth grade through the first six months of her senior year in high school, when she married and moved to Paramount. She graduated from Paramount High School in February, 1984. She and her family have moved back to Lennox.


The other candidates, she said, “have been out of schools for years and years. Their point of view is so much different.”

Martinez disagreed with the incumbents in their praise of the bilingual education program, in which students first master their native language and then begin learning English intensively in the third or fourth grade.

“I think they should teach them how to read in English first,” she said. Martinez maintains that the current systems hinders a child’s ability to master English. “They cannot speak it correctly. They learn English with an accent.”

She also said she could represent the large percentage of working mothers in the community who could benefit from a district-wide day-care program.


She said she does not have enough information to comment on how more classroom space could be provided.

- Urrutia, 55, was appointed to the board in 1978 to replace a member who moved, becoming its first Latino member. He was elected to a full term in 1981.

Urrutia, a lather for Los Angeles County, is married with four sons who attended Lennox schools. Like his fellow incumbent board members, he supported the acquisition of Lennox High School and the construction of a replacement for the Larch Avenue school rather than the increased use of portables.

Urrutia said he would like to see the board develop an alternate testing method for the district’s Spanish-speaking students because the state’s standardized tests are designed primarily for English-speaking students.


“It’s not really fair to compare our test scores to schools where children have been speaking English since Day One,” he said. “People look at those scores and think our students are slow. It’s not the children, it’s the tests.”