Nury Martinez: L.A. Unified District 6 candidate

District 6 of the Los Angeles Unified School District covers the eastern San Fernando Valley. The candidates to replace retiring incumbent Julie Korenstein are San Fernando City Councilwoman Nury Martinez and college instructor Louis Pugliese.

Nury Martinez

Age: 35

Personal: Her first child, a girl, was born Feb. 17. Her husband, Gerardo Guzman, also works in government, as district director for Assemblyman Felipe Fuentes (D-Sylmar).

Bio details: Born to a dishwasher father and a mother who sewed drapes. Attended local schools. In 1989, as a San Fernando High student, led rally in support of striking teachers. Worked in a succession of campaigns and field offices for elected officials. Won election in 2003 to the San Fernando City Council. Since 2007, executive director of local nonprofit Pacoima Beautiful, whose grant-funded efforts include an environmental education program for high school students, an outreach program aimed at getting local polluting industries to operate more safely and cleanly, and a lead-paint awareness campaign.

L.A. Times: Your campaign materials talk about ensuring safe and healthy schools. Are schools unsafe and unhealthy?

Nury Martinez: The schools I attended were low-performing, historically struggling, in tough areas. There was a 14-year-old shot [recently] not far from Maclay Middle School.

Does that mean Maclay is unsafe? Is that the fault of Maclay?

The kid that got shot went to Maclay. He got into some fight off-campus. There is that whole element that surrounds that school that sometimes doesn’t make it safe for kids, not that I’m blaming the school.

There is no coordination in terms of law enforcement or programs in our area. This is not a setting in which school police or the [Los Angeles Police Department] coordinate to figure out who is causing trouble or who needs what resources to make things right.

Isn’t it the job of the city to keep the streets safe?

I’ve talked to [Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s] office, and they’ve reached out to nonprofits. There is a sense of relief that there is someone trying to paying attention. The problem is going to be to get the school district to also want to. The mayor’s office is very active. There’s still an element at the district that doesn’t necessarily want to cooperate.

How do you feel about charter schools?

They are just another alternative for parents. Some are doing well, have a proven record. Others are struggling, and they need to be held accountable like any regular school.

We need to be making sure people have access to a charter school in terms of recruitment. They get criticized for cherry-picking kids.

Do you believe that’s true?

From what I’ve been able to tell, if you’re interested in sending your child, there is a process, and nine times out of 10 the kid gets in.

The teachers union, which endorsed you, has concerns about charters.

I’m not interested in their fights but in creating more options for parents. The charter school movement is going to be here for a long time. Fighting them isn’t working. Parents simply want an option for their kids. And sometimes the option is about finding a safe school.

What would you change regarding charter schools?

I think the district could do a better job in streamlining the renewal process. Some charter schools don’t feel as if it’s a fair process.

How do you feel about the issue of unionizing charter schools, most of which are nonunion?

Unions are about organizing workers. They should have a right to do so. The union has to get to work and do their job and organize.

How well are the charter schools doing in your district?

I don’t think they’re doing that bad.

What can traditional schools and the district learn from them?

The fact that they’re smaller. At least most of them have a very active parent advisory committee that plays a role in deciding how to make budget and hiring decisions. All that stuff. Some of that decision-making power given to parents is very powerful.

There’s been controversy recently over periodic assessments, standardized tests that are given several times a year to assess student progress. The teachers union has asked its members to boycott these tests. Do you have an opinion on this issue?

Not really, as long as the assessments are working as a tool to evaluate student performance. Other than that, they’re taking time out from instruction.

Your platform speaks of cutting the bureaucracy. What would you cut specifically?

The mini-districts, [the regional administrative offices]. I don’t know what they do.

What exactly are they supposed to bring to the table? I would like to sit down with Supt [Ray] Cortines and figure out what is their budget. Do we need 20 people in the office? Who evaluates them and who holds them accountable?

Regarding ineffective teachers, the union notes that the school district has trouble following due process and in helping teachers master their craft. The district notes that it can take years to remove an unsuccessful teacher. If the district got its act together and managed teachers properly, how long should it take before an ineffective teacher who fails to improve significantly can be removed?

One to two years, as long as they had the proper mentoring and support.

What’s your view of how things are going at the 10 schools where improvement efforts are managed by the nonprofit overseen by Mayor Villaraigosa?

I haven’t heard anything negative about it. I welcome getting him to look at the [San Fernando] Valley and look at a cluster of school in the Valley.