Meet the Candidates – Part 3: GUSD

By Mary O’KEEFE, Brandon HENSLEY and Jason KUROSU

On April 5 voters who live within the Glendale Unified School District area will be asked to choose two candidates out of the eight vying for a seat on the district’s school board. The school or governing board members are elected by voters to establish the educational policies of the district. In addition to guiding policy decisions they are also charged with hiring the superintendent of the district. School board members are elected to a four-year term and receive minimal compensation.

The education system in the state of California was a beacon of success, however in the past several years the ranking of state schools has declined to one of the lowest in the nation. Board members are faced with declining enrollment and a budget that is ever changing. While some nearby districts have been experiencing severe layoffs and deep cuts in the classroom, the Glendale district has weathered the budgetary storms a little better than most. But the days of cuts not touching the classroom may be in the past and board members are likely to face some difficult decisions in the future.

Two incumbents – Mary Boger and Nayiri Nahabedian – are being challenged by Vahik Satoorian, Todd Hunt, Daniel Cabrera, Ingrid Gunnell, Jennifer Freemon and Ami Fox for the two board seats.

Mary Boger is a familiar face to many in Crescenta Valley. She has been a strong supporter of local organizations like Prom Plus and the Mary Pinola Endowment Fund. During the Station Fire Boger could be found volunteering with the American Red Cross at the shelter set up at Crescenta Valley High School.

“I have been in the area most of my life. I attended Toll and graduated from Hoover. My children all graduated from Glendale High School. I have a grandson attending Fremont and a granddaughter and a grandnephew attending Rosemont,” Boger said.

She is running for her third term on the board and despite the challenges she knows the district will be facing she feels her experience can be of value to the Glendale education system.

“I am running for re-election to the GUSD Board of Education to continue the work I have been doing over the last two terms. I believe that my experience and my vision bring stability to our board during a time of unprecedented fiscal uncertainty. This is a time for prudent, responsible and student oriented leadership. I believe that I can provide that leadership,” she said.

Boger is a strong proponent of Measure S and remembers walking the neighborhoods to get support for Measure K, the remodeling and construction proposal that was approved by voters. Through that measure the schools in Crescenta Valley and Glendale benefited through construction of new facilities. Crescenta Valley High School saw one of the largest improvements with a $41 million facelift.

Incumbent GUSD board member Nayiri Nahabedian said her priorities are to stop bullying, keep class sizes low and make sure Measure S gets passed.

Nahabedian voted last year to keep class sizes from going from 20 students per teacher to 30 in kindergarten to third grade.

“I knew that we did not have to go there,” she said. Nahabedian was also proud of the work the board did in rescinding pink slips to teachers last year.

“We laid-off no one; we kept our class … at 23 or 24 [students] to one. And that’s based on my leadership, and it’s based on my continued advocacy for standing up for smaller classrooms,” she said.

She is also in favor of Measure S because it will “exponentially improve our students’ abilities to be competitive and our schools’ ability to engage students and use technology in the way that we are expected to use it today in both education and in the workforce.”

Challenger Vahik Satoorian has been involved in the Glendale school district as a parent and as the president of a non-profit after school program.

“I have had a close working relationship with the board,” Satoorian said.

Through the non-profit organization Davidian-Mariamian Educational Foundation Satoorian has worked side by side with district administrators over budgetary issues.

“The [main] issue that the school district is facing now is financial,” he said.

As a Certified Public Account for 25 years, Satoorian said his experience working through this economy would help him if elected.

“I have something to offer to help the school and the district,” he added.

Satoorian has two grown daughters that attended Rosemont Middle School and Crescenta Valley High School.

“One of my daughters is now a teacher at Rosemont,” he added.

Todd Hunt has been a resident of Glendale for 45 years and is a product of the district schools. He graduated from Hoover High School, two of his children are graduates from Crescenta Valley High School and two other children presently attend CVHS.

Hunt is an active member in the Crescenta Valley community. He is on the board of Prom Plus and can seen at numerous fundraisers and events benefiting the community.

“I’m seeking a seat on the school board because I believe we need new leadership that is better capable of handling the challenges the district faces. I believe we need new voices and new perspectives on the board to find both short-term and long-term solutions to the district’s problems. In our current situation, good enough is not good enough.  Our children deserve much better,” he said.

He has participated in every aspect of the Glendale district from being a student to being a parent of GUSD students. He has been witness to many changes in the district.

“The board needs leaders who not only have children in our schools but have gone through the entire system, from Kindergarten to high school graduation. The board needs leaders who have the vision for what the current and future generations of GUSD students will need to compete in the 21st Century global economy,” Hunt said.

Daniel Cabrera is also hoping to bring his experience working with the district to the board.

He children have gone through the GUSD system from RD White to Glendale High School and one at Glendale Community College.  He now has grandsons at Wilson Middle School and Clark Magnet High School.

“I have been involved with PTA. I sold hot dogs at the football games and have brought food for teachers’ luncheons. Several years ago when my youngest son was in school I was president of Glendale PTA,” he said.

Mike Livingston, former CVHS co-principal, was principal at Glendale High when Cabrera’s kids were there. Cabrera said Livingston encouraged him to take classes at Cal State and get his credentials as a teacher. At the time he was a businessman.

He did and taught English for over eight years. Cabrera said his experience in business, as a teacher and parent will all help if elected to the board.

Ingrid Gunnell is a teacher vying for a seat on the board as well. She is a teacher in the Los Angeles Unified School District. She is a Glendale resident who attended district schools and her young son is presently attending Edison Elementary.

Gunnell volunteers in her son’s classrooms on her furlough days and feels parent involvement in the school is a priority.

“I understand how hard it is for working parents to find time to be involved and to come to meetings,” she said.

She hopes to make it easier for working parents to meet with teachers and be involved in the classroom.

Gunnell added she has seen parent involvement change schools. The program she works with at the LAUSD school is unique.

“Once a week for ten weeks we have parent education classes,” she said.

She has seen when parents get involved in their child’s school at an early age that involvement continues.

“One of my student’s father was a site council president and the PTA president was a mother of one of my students,” she said.

Like all candidates running for a board seat Gunnell is concerned about the education budget.

“It is a huge challenge,” she said.

Jennifer Freemon is another challenger in the race, and said, “It’s time to have some younger and newer voices on the board,” and added communication needs to be better between the board and teachers.

Freemon’s husband Allen is a teacher at CV High School, and she herself taught at Toll Elementary and Hoover High School.

Freemon cited the state’s $25 billion shortfall, and said economics plays a role in Measure S, a bond she does not support at the moment.

“That ties our hands, and it doesn’t give us a place to go,” she said of the bond. “If we just simply wait until November, until we know what happens in June, we keep our options open. We may want to pass a bond; we may want to look at a parcel tax. We can make a more informed decision if we wait and see what happens in June,”

Freemon is on the same page as Nahabedian on class sizes.

“I would like to see our board be completely committed to maintaining small class sizes in our district, which is going to be a difficult thing to do.”

Several attempts were made to contact Ami Fox concerning her bid for a GUSD governing board. We were unable to connect. Her profile will be included in next weeks Crescenta Valley Weekly newspaper.