On Education: Time to be a little less polite

Glendale Unified school board candidates are a very polite bunch.

I am convinced, in fact, that our local education race might be the last bastion of civilized discourse in American politics. Two months of campaigning has seen a string of cordial forums during which candidates carefully adhered to time limits and largely avoided voicing criticism.

Tension over the prized Glendale Teachers Assn. endorsement — this year it belongs to second-time candidate Jennifer Freemon, but in the past had been touted by incumbents Christine Walters and others — has remained mostly muted.

Incumbent Greg Krikorian has even been heard making conciliatory remarks about the teachers union, a group he has verbally tussled with in the past.

With the April 2 vote days away, just about the only surprise in the school board race has been the fundraising prowess of first-time candidate Armina Gharpetian, who has raised $20,000, more than any of the other six candidates, according to the most recent campaign filings.

You need only travel a few blocks from Glendale Unified headquarters to Glendale City Hall to find a bit of campaign-season fury. City council candidate Zareh Sinanyan has raised more than $70,000 despite yet-to-be-refuted allegations that he posted vulgar, vitriolic comments on YouTube and other websites.

In neighboring Burbank, the school board race is generating a bit of buzz, not the least because a super PAC founded by national education reformer Michelle Rhee has injected more than $26,000 into the race. Add to it a 24-year-old candidate and a yard sign heist caught on videotape, and Burbank has itself an election worth tracking.

Even La Cañada Flintridge, a standard-bearer for polite politics and elite public education, has produced a little school board election heat. In November 2011, then-20-year-old Princeton University student Andrew Blumenfeld upset an incumbent and community matriarch to become that district’s youngest-ever office-holder.

All of this makes the Glendale Unified school board race look awfully sleepy.

Perhaps it is something to be thankful for. Watching PTA parents and former educators spitting across a table at each other during a candidates forum might make for an entertaining Tuesday night at the La Crescenta Library, but probably wouldn’t do much to improve the quality of Glendale schools.

And maybe the lack of fireworks reflects a certain level of satisfaction with current leadership. I know enough Glendale parents to feel confident they would parade into district headquarters beating pots and pans if they felt it necessary to do so.

Still, with the education of 26,000 children at stake, I would have welcomed some verve in the school board race.

After three years of reporting on Glendale Unified, I am still waiting for someone to articulate a vision for the increasingly popular dual-language immersion classes, and what role that program can play in branding the district as a top-flight school system.

Sitting board members often express consternation about a lack of funding from the state, and rightly so. Perhaps if they had exerted more pressure on our officials in Sacramento, we wouldn’t have seen California school districts brought to their knees in the wake of the economic recession in 2008.

And why didn’t candidates express anger about the performance gap between the district’s schools in North Glendale and La Crescenta and those in Central and South Glendale? Or about the fact that Glendale’s Latino students consistently score lower on state standardized tests than their white and Asian peers?

Glendale Unified is an effective school district, but it could be much better, and that might just require everyone to be a little less polite.


MEGAN O'NEIL is a former education reporter for Times Community News and current graduate student at USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. She may be reached at megan.oneil.06@gmail.com.

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