By Mary O’KEEFE
At the Oct. 8 Glendale Unified School District special board meeting, Sandy Russell was named as the interim school board member to fill the seat left vacant by Mary Boger.
“What a great opportunity this is to learn something firsthand that can help me advocate for kids later on,” Russell said of her appointment.
Russell has advocated for children through her involvement with the PTA beginning at Mountain Avenue Elementary and currently as president of Rosemont Middle School PTA. She decided to add her name to the list of applicants for the vacated seat after talking to former school board member Joylene Wagner who encouraged her. Both the backgrounds of Wagner and Boger were firmly rooted in the PTA prior to their serving on the GUSD school board.
Russell’s first involvement with PTA was while her son, now a Rosemont eighth grader, was in kindergarten.
“That was a big eye opener when [my son] was in kindergarten at Mountain Avenue,” she said.
PTA members deal with the educational system on several levels; perhaps their best-known involvement is with the day-to-day running of the school in supporting teachers, students and funding programs like assemblies. But the organization does much more than that.
“I discovered that [the PTA] learned about the district [and state] budgets and realized PTA members were a huge advocate on this level,” she said. She attended budget discussions and traveled to Sacramento to speak to local lawmakers about the state education system.
Five years ago when she began working with the PTA, and especially on the budget, all of the information that was available on how schools and districts work was a little overwhelming. Russell knew that many people, both officials and parents, were paying attention but for some the amount of information was confusing.
“I don’t blame some parents for just checking out,” she said.
What she hopes to do with her time on the board, which will last through the April 2015 election, is to learn as much as she can about how the board works. This, she said, will help her when she returns to her post-board life and continues to advocate for children.
Russell has said she will not run for the seat in April. Instead, she wants to bring the information she has learned back to parents in a way that busy parents have time to understand.
In addition to learning how the board works, Russell is also excited to be one of the few Crescenta Valley representatives to ever sit on the board of education. In recent years, since the retirement of Chakib “Chuck” Sambar, most of the members on the board have connections with schools outside of Crescenta Valley. Russell said she knows the board represents the entire district and said she has experience serving all of the GUSD community through her work with the Glendale Council PTA.
“In Council [PTA], we don’t feel separate,” she said of the PTA’s efforts on behalf of the entire district. “I do see the district as a whole.”
Many parents and community members have voiced their disappointment in the past that the Crescenta Valley area has not had representation on the board.
“[Some CV parents] feel under-represented,” Russell said, echoing many in the area. She is looking forward to presenting to the board personal insights of the experiences of her child, and others, in CV area schools.
One of the biggest issues facing the board while Russell is serving is the Sagebrush transfer. Sagebrush is the far west area of La Cañada Flintridge whose students attend GUSD schools. A committee of residents from La Cañada began a movement to transfer the students living in the Sagebrush area to La Cañada schools. Discussions that began quietly at first on the subject have escalated to several heated debates at meetings of the GUSD school board and CV Town Council as well as privately among residents.
Russell said she made a public statement as a private citizen at the beginning of the transfer debate. The statement was in favor of the transfer; however, as a board member, she said she must look at the entire picture.
“It’s a tricky subject,” she said of the Sagebrush transfer option. “I truly have not made up my mind.”
She said when she made her original statement she was looking at the transfer as a good thing to avoid a lawsuit that would pit the districts against each other at a cost paid with taxpayer dollars.
“As a board member you have to look at it completely differently [than as a private citizen]. You have to do what is best for the Glendale Unified District.”
She is presently studying the issue more intensely and has already made appointments to meet with Mountain Avenue parents as well as with La Cañada proponents.
Russell knows that both CV and LC have excellent schools, and although some test scores may be lower in CV schools, students excel in other areas.
At the end of her term she wants this experience to strengthen her knowledge of the educational system.
“And that will help me be a better advocate for kids,” she said.
Boger stepped down from the position of GUSD school board member in August due to health issues. She had first won the seat in 2002. The board asked for applications at the end of Boger’s term. Sixteen were received and are listed below; five candidates (noted with an asterisk) were chosen by board President Greg Krikorian and Vice President Christine Walters. From those Russell was chosen.
The 16 applicants were Vrej Agajanian, Susan Arnall, Dan Cabrera, Andrew Carbajal, *Kevin Cordova-Brookey, David Gevorkyan, *Todd Hunt, Victor King, *Elizabeth Manasserian, Christine Martin, *Jason Nyhan, Joseph Oliver III, *Sandra Russell, Shant Sahakian, Vahik Satoorian and Lee Yamashiro.