Putting the ‘Unified’ Back into LA Unified School District

Although I am the fourth of five children, I am named after my father— mi papá. My name translates as “place of refuge.” Each day I wake up and say to myself, I hope that today I will live up to my name. My parents are immigrants from Jalisco, Mexico. They came to this country not for themselves, but for a better life for their kids. They worked very hard, including taking second jobs as janitors so that my siblings and I could get a good education and have a chance. My parents instinctively knew education was everything. Because of their many sacrifices, advice, scolding and a few threats to get me to do what I needed to, here I am, an elected official, a member of the Board of Education in Los Angeles. I am proud to represent the communities within the 5th board district and to serve the young people of the Los Angeles Unified School District. When I think about what I want to accomplish in this new role, I think about the U in LAUSD. Unified means we must be inclusive. Whether you’re a teacher, a union representative, a parent, an administrator, a staff member, a playground assistant, a janitor, a groundskeeper, a librarian, a nurse, a principal—we are unified in one thing. We’re here to educate all kids. They come first. And teachers come right behind them, because without our incredible, hard-working and dedicated teachers, we don’t have a school, a district or a chance. Our greatest challenge will be to remain unified in spite of philosophical differences, resource constraints and political will. When we have conflicts about rules, about money, about how we will ensure every student reaches her potential and we compromise to reach an agreement—that is an act of love. We must be unified in our drive to make our schools more humane. Too often we hear outrageous, maddening stories about a district that can’t hear or doesn’t listen. A district that cannot bend to meet the needs of its teachers and students, cannot move with the times. Instead, it becomes an iron bureaucracy forcing its will on schools rather than serving them. We must be unified in a desire to create a district as warm and embracing as a mother’s arms, a district that can hold every child: the immigrant, the LA native, the successful and the poor, the gay and transgender students, the students of color, the students with special needs, the gifted. What does a humane, excellent school district look like? Can the second-biggest district in the US—with 660,000 students—achieve excellence? Yes. Some of the most loving, supportive families are large families. And there’s one thing I know for sure; all parents love their children and we all want excellent schools for our communities. But right now, too many of our campuses are disconnected from the very communities they are bound to serve. They are walled off and locked behind wire and steel bars. Let’s unify, in order to open them, both metaphorically and physically. Let’s unlock the basketball courts so kids can play on the weekends. Let’s open the auditoriums and halls so parents can meet and talk and articulate ways they can support their children and each other. Let’s open the doors, so parents always feel welcome. The schools, after all, belong to all of us.
Ref Rodriguez is the first LGBT and charter school co-founder on the Los Angeles Unified School District school board.

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