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Two of the three finalists vying for student representative on the state school board “just tells you the strength of ABC.”

Times Staff Writer

Chances are good that the next student member of the State Board of Education will hail from the ABC Unified School District.

ABC 11th-graders Paras Mehta of Cerritos High and Margie Toy of Whitney High were recently chosen to be two of the three finalists for the job, which Gov. George Deukmejian is expected to fill within the next few weeks.

State officials say it is a mark of distinction for ABC as well as the students: this is the first time since the student post was created in 1969 that two of the finalists have come from the same school district.

“It just tells you the strength of ABC,” said Cerritos High Principal Barry Tambara. “It really speaks well of all of the schools and is a compliment not only to the parents (of the finalists), but the teachers who work with them. They are examples of what goes on here.”

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Although Mehta is only 15, he has a maturity that belies his age, Tambara said. Mehta serves as the high school’s commissioner of academics, helping students and teachers share ideas about the Cerritos curriculum. He also recently placed second in the county’s academic decathlon.

“Regardless of his achievements, he never flaunts anything and is unassuming,” Tambara said.

Serves on Principal’s Board

Toy is similarly active at Whitney. As chairwoman of that school’s Principal Advisory Board, she meets regularly with Principal Pauline Ferris to discuss ways to improve the school’s image and promote student self-esteem.

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Ferris said members of the student body and the faculty have supported Toy through each phase of the Board of Education selection process, placing placards of congratulations on the school lawn and making announcements on Whitney’s public address system.

“We’re very proud of Margie,” Ferris said. “When she does something, she does it thoroughly, with precision, understands the job and follows through. She is exemplary.”

Ferris said Toy is extremely organized and manages to stay actively involved in student events even with her commitment to five campus groups--from the Key Club to the Ski Club.

Within the next six weeks Mehta, Toy and the third finalist--Marlin Smith, from the Elsinore Unified School District in Riverside County--will be flown to Sacramento for interviews with advisers to the governor.

“I feel good about how far I have come,” said Mehta, a slight, studious-looking youth with glasses.

Toy, with a bright, toothy grin and shoulder-length dark hair, reacted similarly:. “My family and friends are really excited. . . . It’s not just my victory,” she said.

Mehta and Toy, along with nearly 200 other California students, applied for the Board of Education post last fall. Each submitted their academic transcripts as well as reference letters. In December, the field was whittled to a dozen semifinalists. Mehta and Toy received the two best scores.

Whoever wins the appointment will have an important job.

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Although the student representative formerly was prohibited from voting, state lawmakers changed that in 1983. Now, the student representative has the same authority as the other 10 board members. The group decides issues ranging from which textbooks are used in the state’s 1,025 school districts to how much state or federal money various educational programs receive.

“In many cases the student vote could be the swing if there is a deadlock on the board, which is interesting,” said Tom Bogetich, the board’s executive director.

Toy says being a candidate for the post has broadened her knowledge about life and herself, while giving her many new friends.

“I realize I can change a lot of things in the world by just using my ideas and communicating,” said Toy.

Her mother credits teachers for much of Toy’s success in school. But the student also is self-motivated, said Margaret Heng Toy, adding that she and her husband Stanley, an ophthalmologist who works in Norwalk, have never needed to be strict with the teen-ager.

By her own choosing, Margie Toy rarely watches television--except for the news--and her weekends are spent attending classes preparing for college entrance examinations or catching up on lessons she neglected during the week.

Family Is Supportive

Mehta--whose older brother Chet scored a perfect 1,600 on his Scholastic Aptitude Test and now is a premed student at Harvard University--also has a supportive family.

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“They knew their responsibilities from the beginning,” said their mother, Usha Mehta. “I also put their priorities first . . . Somehow they turned out to be really obedient.”

Neither she nor her husband Praful, who is an engineer, had any formal rules on academics for their sons.

If there is a drawback to her youngest son’s active social life, the mother said, it is Mehta’s age.: “He’s only 15 and cannot drive,” so she must chauffeur him to after-school meetings.

Mehta said he likes to spend his Friday nights at a movie or a restaurant with friends. He is a fan of the Beatles, and enjoys the “social significance” of their lyrics.

Mehta said he had a simple reason for applying for the state-appointed position: “I felt I would have a direct effect on the school educational process.”


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