In less than a week, Los Angeles voter ballots will be counted in the first major local primary election since the COVID-19 pandemic began. Voters will elect a new mayor, an almost entirely new city council, and seats representing three districts within the 13-member LAUSD Board of Education.
Eastside families are among those who will be choosing someone new to represent district two, which encompasses primarily downtown LA, Boyle Heights, Lincoln Heights and East LA. District two went through a redistricting process in 2020 that brought all of unincorporated El Sereno and East LA into its reach.
For 15 years, incumbent Mónica García has served the district, but term limits are forcing her to step down. Four candidates are vying to take her place: María Brenes, Rocío Rívas, Miguel Ángel-Segura, and Erica Vilardi-Espinosa.
The incoming Board of Education members must address a litany of pressing issues, including a steep drop in enrollment, a teacher shortage, the growth of charter schools, and the immense responsibility to catch kids up after two years behind screens.
The board currently doesn’t include anyone who is a parent to a child attending an LAUSD school — a fact each of the district 2 candidates brought up.
Rocío Rívas has emerged as a well-liked candidate, endorsed by the teacher’s union, a major parent activist group, and current district 5 board member Jackie Goldberg. Rívas currently serves as Goldberg’s research and policy deputy.
Rívas is an LAUSD mom and activist whose platform is primarily based in addressing school funding, mental health, and returning to a post-COVID normal environment for children.
“COVID has created a new trauma, because of the isolation,” Rívas said. “That’s one thing we need to elevate for each school — providing mental health resources, programs, funding, staffing. That’s going to require a lot of work.”
Rívas hopes to address a predicted drop in LAUSD enrollment to some 300,000 students by making schools more welcoming with personalized experiences. She’d like to implement smaller class sizes and universal pre-K, which were passed by Gov. Gavin Newsom in 2021.
“When the families of our students are well, their students are going to come to school healthy and ready to learn,” Rívas said. “I think we need to address these communities in a more direct manner.”
Miguel Ángel Segura, an LAUSD graduate, was born and raised in East LA and currently teaches in LAUSD. He sees his personal history and experience with LAUSD as a key component of his identity.
“I’ve always been in district 2,” Segura said. “I went to all LAUSD schools, so I saw what we needed as students, and that’s why I’ve always been passionate and focused on what the disadvantages were and what we didn’t get.”
Segura believes his background as an educator gives him a fuller understanding of the immediate issues that are important to parents and students. He is the only current LAUSD teacher running for the seat. Like Rívas, his platform hinges primarily on mental health and helping students return to a changed world.
“Our kids haven’t been to school in two years; the social-emotional hits are a lot,” Segura said. “Kids don’t know how to use their words anymore. They need to be socialized again.”
Segura is an alumnus of Teach for America, a program that places recent college graduates in understaffed schools. He has also worked as a staffer for several state and presidential campaigns and as a substitute teacher. He wants to bring more diversity into the teaching profession so that students have teachers who reflect their own backgrounds.
“As a Latino, I never had a teacher of color,” Segura said. “I want to make sure that kids that look like me feel comfortable and empowered.”
Segura wants to prioritize low-income communities and schools that may not receive the same resources as those in wealthier parts of LA.
“I grew up in a very low-income community, and the inequities that I saw as a student have opened my eyes to that,” Segura said. “I want to make sure that other kids are imparted and that they take education seriously.”
Erica Vilardi-Espinosa, the third candidate, is an LAUSD parent and a member of the Los Feliz neighborhood council.
Vilardi-Espinosa’s priorities also lie primarily in mental health, specifically hiring more school counselors and including mental health resources in students’ daily curriculum.
“My thought was to bring some sort of physical self-care into health and PE time,” she said. “Having something that teaches the entire group of students together different techniques.”
Also critical to Vilardi-Espinosa is bringing new teachers and students into LAUSD, and to retain those already there.
“To me, it’s a great opportunity for the district to re-organize, maybe drop class sizes,” she said. “So many of these things need to happen before we go into the next school year… it’s not that I can really have an immediate effect on these problems, but these are things that need to happen right now.”
As students come back to school and catch up on an enormous amount of learning lost during the pandemic, Vilardi-Espinosa doesn’t want to forget extracurriculars and supplemental activities.
“I would like to get to a point where there’s a minimum requirement for extracurriculars that it makes learning fun for students, so they enjoy being part of the school,” she said.
María Brenes is the executive director of InnerCity Struggle, a Boyle Heights-based advocacy group for Eastside families. She was involved in passing the Student Equity Need Index, which allocated $700 million to high-needs LAUSD schools. Brenes has also worked to prioritize college preparation for high school students.
“Our district serves a majority of students of color living in poverty so our budget decisions must value equity first and foremost,” Brenes said. “I believe our public education system needs to focus on the whole needs of a child, including the need for stability in housing, food, health and wellness.”
Brenes’ priorities include equity-based funding, academic, and climate policies to uplift marginalized communities that often bear the brunt of systemic racism.
“I consider myself an instrument of the people of the Eastside of Los Angeles,” Brenes said. “I know when we unleash the power of our people, anything –including re-imaginging our school system– is possible.”
The primary election is on June 7. To learn more about the LAUSD Board of Education, you can visit laschoolboard.org.