Kelly Gonez, 32, first in her family to attend college, is new L.A. school board president
Kelly Gonez, the daughter of an immigrant mother and the first in her family to attend college, was selected Tuesday as the new school board president for the Los Angeles Unified School District, representing a generational shift in the nation’s second-largest school system and potentially a shift toward more influence for backers of charter schools.
Gonez, 32, was elected in 2017 to the Board of Education, representing a district that covers most of the east San Fernando Valley.
She pledged to center her attention “on our students and families above all else, especially during this dire and extremely difficult time for so many in our school community.” She especially emphasized racial and social justice issues as areas where the school system needs to do better.
“The Black and brown students we serve cannot thrive in a system built to undermine their promise,” Gonez said. “As a board we must lead with equity in mind and confront the racist vestiges in our public schools, from discipline practices ... to resource allocation to staff development selection and placement. That means in every board decision prioritizing our most historically underserved students,” including Latino students, students experiencing homelessness, foster youth, English learners and students with disabilities.
Just before the board vote, Gonez rebutted speakers who phoned in during public comment to claim that vaccines are dangerous and that the threat posed by the coronavirus pandemic has been exaggerated.
“We are an educational institution so I think it’s important that we stand up for correct information, particularly because of the communities we serve,” she said in a later interview. She acknowledged that “communities of color have been impacted by issues of medical malpractice in history,” but “for anti-vaxxers to spread misinformation when this virus is hitting our communities the hardest — that’s just something I can’t stomach.”
Gonez’s mother works in a hospital as a medical clerk.
The board president is typically selected for one year based on the votes of the seven-member body, of which Gonez is a part.
At one level the position is symbolic — the board president has one vote, just like other board members. But the president runs the meetings and has an expanded role in setting the meeting agenda, representing the district in public and interacting with schools Supt. Austin Beutner, who manages L.A. Unified on a daily basis.
The selection of the president also serves as a political barometer — and this occasion is no different because board elections have been financed primarily by two opposing factions: charter-school advocates and the teachers union.
Once the elections were concluded in November, there was one newcomer — Tanya Ortiz Franklin — who was elected with millions of dollars in financial support from allies of charter schools. She replaces outgoing board President Richard Vladovic, who, in his final term, was generally more allied with the teachers union, although not on all issues.
Vladovic, 75, could not run again because of term limits.
Franklin’s win made it likely that the new president would come from the faction supported by charter advocates, and that is what happened. All the same, Gonez has tried to position herself as a centrist who can work with both factions. She demonstrated that last week when she sided with the teachers union in its push to provide permanent employment status for adult-school teachers.
Gonez — like other members of the charter-backed bloc — has insisted she supports all students. Charters are privately operated but must be authorized periodically by L.A. Unified, typically once every five years. Most charters are nonunion.
Gonez sided with charter advocates in casting a deciding vote Tuesday for the board’s other top leadership position, chair of the Committee of the Whole, which examines policy issues in depth. She voted for Nick Melvoin, who prevailed in a 4-3 vote over union favorite Jackie Goldberg.
The union-charter divide has moved into the background during the pandemic, as all schools grapple with the unprecedented crisis.
For the three returning board members, the oath of office was formally administered by state Supt. of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond, who, like everyone else, participated in the meeting via Zoom. For Franklin, that service was performed via pre-recorded video by Caleb Ebo, a first-grader at President Avenue Elementary School in Harbor City.
The daughter of an immigrant mother from Peru, Gonez attended local Catholic schools and went on to UC Berkeley, becoming the first in her family to graduate from college. She returned to L.A. as a teacher, earning a master’s degree in urban education from Loyola Marymount University.
She completed her student teaching at Dorsey High School before teaching sixth- and seventh-grade science at two local charter schools.
Gonez also worked in the Obama administration, specializing in education policy and advocacy.
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