ELECTION '89 : Contrasts Are Sharp in Centinela District Race : Schools: Incumbents and would-be board members clash over the quality of education, dropout rates, gangs and the performance of adminstrators.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The dropout rate, growing gang influence and communications between administrators and teachers are the major issues raised by three incumbents and three challengers who are vying for seats on the Centinela Valley Union High School District board of trustees.

In the Nov. 7 race, incumbent Ann Birdsall, a part-time clerk at El Camino College, and Pam Sturgeon, president of the Lawndale Chamber of Commerce and chairwoman of the Lawndale Planning Commission, will face each other for the Area 1 seat.

For the Area 2 seat, incumbent Herbert D. Bartelt, a retired dairy industry consultant, faces a challenge by Amparo Font, a bilingual teacher at St. Joseph's School, a private elementary school in Hawthorne.

Incumbent Aleta Collins, an elementary school teacher in the Los Angeles Unified School District, is being challenged for the Area 5 seat by Jacqueline Carrera, an accountant who has lived in Lennox for 20 years.

Area 1 consists of Lawndale, Area 2 includes Hawthorne east of Hawthorne Boulevard and Area 5 includes Lennox.

Board members must live in the areas they represent, but they are elected at-large by the district's voters. The district serves graduates from the Hawthorne, Lawndale, Lennox and Wiseburn elementary systems.

The district of about 6,000 students includes Hawthorne and Leuzinger high schools, a continuation school and an adult school. It has a budget of about $26 million and employs 240 teachers.

Among some of the challenges facing the district is a 28% dropout rate. The high schools serve mostly working-class families in an area identified by sheriff's deputies as home turf to several black and Latino street gangs.

Scores on the California Assessment Program (CAP) test, which was given to 223,912 seniors statewide last year, rank Centinela in the bottom third of all districts in Los Angeles County.

All three incumbents said the district has improved the quality of education in the schools, while the three challengers criticized the current board members, saying they have failed to improve communications between administrators, teachers and parents.

In recent months the district has been plagued with several incidents of racial tension, which administrators attribute to a handful of white teachers who are having difficulty accepting some minority administrators.

All six candidates said they regret that racial relations have become a problem in the district and said they intend to keep racial issues out their campaigns.

In the race to raise funds, Birdsall estimates that she has $3,100. Sturgeon said she has raised $3,000. Carrera estimates her war chest at $2,000. Collins and Bartelt have each raised $1,100, and Font said she has raised $500.

The 200-member teacher's union has endorsed Sturgeon and Carrera and gave each a $500 donation. Nancy Nuesseler, president of the Centinela Valley Secondary Teachers Assn., said the union supports Sturgeon and Carrera because it feels that they are the candidates who would be the most willing to address the teachers' concerns. Among those concerns, Nuesseler cited the dropout rate, growing gang influence, and communications between administrators and teachers.

Sturgeon, 43, who graduated from Hawthorne in 1964, is an account analyst at TRW. She has one son attending Leuzinger and another who graduated last year.

She said the district has tried to deal with too many social problems and said that if elected she would like to help restore an emphasis on the basics of education.

Sturgeon also said the board has failed to question the recommendations made by district Supt. McKinley Nash, who she said does not handle himself professionally.

"I personally don't like the man," she said. "I personally don't think he's a good superintendent."

Still, Sturgeon said that if elected she would seek to increase the board's control over Nash rather than remove him from his position.

Sturgeon said she believes she has the skills to improve communications between administrators, teachers and parents. She said, however, that she has no specific criticism of her opponent.

Birdsall, 49, who is defending her seat against Sturgeon, has lived in Lawndale for 30 years and has a son who graduated from Hawthorne in 1978 and a daughter who graduated from Leuzinger in 1983.

She was elected in 1983 to complete half of a four-year term left vacant when a board member resigned because of illness. She was unopposed when she ran for reelection in 1985.

Birdsall said the district has worked hard to increase the educational standards of the schools and cited a list of special programs the district has implemented in recent years.

"We can't save the world, but we can do the best we can," she said.

She said that if reelected her goal will be to review and update the district's curriculum to make sure it is current with districts around the state.

Birdsall defended the board, saying it regularly studies the recommendations made by Nash, who she said "has done a good job."

Font, 48, who has a master's degree in multicultural education, said she has attended a few school board meetings and has noticed what she called a lack of communication.

She said that if elected her main goal would be to improve communication among teachers, parents and the administration.

Font said she would like the district to increase the number of bilingual classes for Latino parents to assist them in helping their children succeed in school.

"I have the desire and I want to do a lot for the children because they deserve it," she said.

Bartelt, 75, who is being challenged by Font, was appointed to the Lennox Elementary School District board in 1950 and then won three consecutive four-year terms. He was then appointed to fill a vacancy on the Centinela Valley board of trustees in 1965 and again won three consecutive elections.

He praised the district for providing special college preparatory programs and programs that provide vocational training for students who want to enter the job market immediately after graduation.

Bartelt said that if reelected he will seek greater participation in the educational process by parents of students who are at risk of dropping out.

He said he is disturbed by the recent racial tension and predicted that it would "go away in a while."

Carrera, 24, who hopes to unseat Collins, graduated from Lennox High School a year before it was closed in 1984 and then went on to receive a bachelor's degree in accounting from Loyola Marymount University.

She said the district needs to raise the students' CAP scores by placing more emphasis on basic education. She said that if elected she would like the district to evaluate many of its special education and job-training programs to see if they are cost-effective.

She said she is concerned about the dropout rate and would like the district to study ways to reduce it. Carrera said she would like to be elected because "there has to be a change. I mean, the district is falling apart."

Carrera called Nash a "very dominant man" and said she sometimes wonders "who is the employer? Is it Nash or the board?"

Carrera, who is of Cuban descent, said she believes her cultural background and ability to speak Spanish will help her improve communication between the district and Latino parents.

"Believe me, I'm willing to listen to everyone," she said.

Collins, 53, who has taught fifth grade for 12 years at Woodcrest Elementary School in the Athens area, was elected in 1982 to complete three years of a four-year term left vacant after a board member resigned because of illness. She was unopposed when she ran for the board in 1985.

Collins defended the board, saying its members are always willing to listen to the concerns of parents and teachers. "My number is in the phone book, and I go places to talk to people," she said.

She said the district is fighting the dropout rate by supporting a truancy abatement program and by implementing special vocational and job-training programs.

"But I don't think we will ever completely solve (the dropout) problem," she said.

She also defended Nash as a "very competent superintendent" but agreed that his assertive personality can put some people off.

"I would hope that he is aggressive," she said. "I don't need a superintendent that's a pantywaist."

Candidates will discuss the issues Nov. 2 at a 7 p.m. forum in the auditorium at Lennox Middle School.

THE CANDIDATES:

Ann Birdsall Area 1 incumbent Age: 49 Occupation: clerk

Pam Sturgeon Area 1 challenger Age: 43 Occupation: account analyst

Herbert D. Bartelt Area 2 incumbent Age: 75 Occupation: retired dairy industry consultant

Amparo Font Area 2 challenger Age: 48 Occupation: bilingual teacher

Aleta Collins Area 5 incumbent Age: 53 Occupation: elementary school teacher

Jacqueline Carrera Area 5 challenger Age: 24 Occupation: accountant

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