Imelda Padilla, who found inspiration in LAUSD schools after personal struggles, enters board race
Mike Szymanski | September 7, 2016
Children called her “crooked legs” when she attended school in the east San Fernando Valley. She overcame her crippling rickets after six months in a cast while being homeschooled by LA Unified teachers. When she returned to school, it was one of those teachers who inspired her to smile more and shed the anger she carried.
Today, at 29, Imelda Padilla joins the race for District 6, becoming the youngest person in recent memory to run for Los Angeles Unified School Board. She is seeking the seat being vacated by Monica Ratliff, who is running for Los Angeles City Council. Joanne Baltierrez-Fernandez and Araz Parseghian have also announced their intention to run for the seat.
“I am a true product of this community,” Padilla said. “I have walked every street in the district, I know every school, and I have teachers, principals and students urging me to run.”
One of those encouraging her is Ratliff herself, who is not yet fully endorsing anyone in the race but was impressed with Padilla and suggested in November that she run for the office. “I have watched some of the community organizing she has done, and heard her speak, and she is a very impressive young woman,” Ratliff said. “I think she would add an amazing voice to the school board.”
Ratliff said she may ask candidates to fill out a personal questionnaire for her before she endorses any candidate. The primary election is March 7.
A self-identified “Chicana,” Padilla said she is a first-generation politicized Mexican-American. She grew up in Sun Valley, where she still lives today. Her mother worked at an airplane factory, and her father was a gardener. She has two older sisters who have master’s degrees and a younger brother who has attended college but not yet finished. Her older brother, who protected her from being bullied when she had rickets, is now incarcerated because “he had very bad friends, but he was a big influence,” she said.
She attended Roscoe Elementary, then went to Byrd Middle School Magnet and Francis Polytechnic Senior High before it was a pilot school. Her sister now teaches there. Padilla graduated from UC Berkeley with a bachelor’s degree in political science and a minor in philosophy and Chicano studies.
For the past year and a half, Padilla worked for the Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy, or LAANE, an advocacy organization. Padilla worked on the Raise the Wage campaign that led to the historic vote that will raise the minimum wage to $15 by 2020 in Los Angeles County.
She left what she calls “a lucrative job” to run for the school board. She doesn’t think it’s right to keep her job because LAANE is launching an educational campaign and it could be considered a conflict.
“I observed that there are teachers who would be perfect, and understood the policy and politics of the school board, but were not willing to leave the classroom,” Padilla said. “When people gave me the suggestion, I slept on it and thought that I would have a lot to contribute.”
Some assessments of LA Unified she refuses to believe: “One is that LAUSD schools are failures, period; and another is the conversation of neighborhood schools versus charter schools.” She doesn’t believe there has to be a battle.
She met with members of charter organizations and as well as unions, and she attended the Promising Practices forum over the summer where charter teachers and traditional school teachers shared best practices.
“This us-versus-them attitude I find personally offensive,” Padilla said. “Specifically, in my community, I find that parents have utilized both systems, where they like charters for middle school, but then prefer district high schools for the big sports facilities and other opportunities, like additional counselors and more federal money going to the schools.”
She has heard of many local successful charters and also ones that are noted for simply handing out worksheets without showing much educational improvement. She has also been told by some of her constituents that some charter schools have cherry-picked higher-performing students, and she wants to help figure out which schools may be giving charters a bad name.
She prefers to remain grassroots, like Ratliff did during her campaign even when facing big money being funneled to her competitors.
“I also plan to reach voters that don’t have kids in the schools, but they may live near the schools, and bad schools are bad neighbors,” Padilla said.
She has yet to meet Superintendent Michelle King but appreciates that King is also a product of LA Unified and understands the district. That’s comforting to Padilla, who has 12 nieces and nephews attending district schools.
Although Padilla could be working with school board members who are more than twice her age, she pointed out that she has worked with a diversity of people throughout her organizing career.
“I don’t think I’m too young; it’s about knowing what the job of a school board member does,” Padilla explained. Another school board candidate, in District 4, Nick Melvoin, is 30.
She added, “I’m good at dealing with complicated and controversial issues, like co-location of school sites.” She worked on labor issues for SEIU, environmental concerns for Pacoima Beautiful and community issues for the City of Los Angeles.
She is boning up on budget issues and said there are ideas in the findings of the Independent Financial Review Panel that should be implemented immediately. “I am shocked that we are losing so much money because teachers don’t want direct deposit,” Padilla said. “Get with the program, the technology is there. That may sound a little oppressive, but that sounds like something that can be addressed easily.”
She wants to take a realistic approach to technology and wants to reassess the one-to-one push for computers for every student.
“It is low-key kind of insulting and unrealistic, and we need to do a real assessment to (see) what the need is,” Padilla said. “Bottom line is families do have at least one computer, and they have phones, but they can’t always pay for the wireless connection every month. Maybe we should think of schools as wi-fi hubs.”
Padilla said she knows it could be a tough campaign, but she’s tough, as a P.E. teacher told her years ago.
“He told me he understood where my toughness came from,” Padilla said, but that “I could smile more. That stuck with me to this day.”
School board candidate facts
Name: Imelda Padilla
Job: Community organizer for Pacoima Beautiful, then with the Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy, and started her own non-profit called Together We Do More, which aims to help middle and high school students start to think about higher education and professional development at a young age.
Children in LAUSD: none
Did candidate attend LAUSD: Roscoe Elementary, Byrd Middle School and Polytechnic High School
Lives: In childhood home in Sun Valley
Platform – key items: Fair funding for schools, improved academy performance and increased parental and community involvement.
Campaign money raised:
Key endorsements: UTLA, SEIU Local 99, Los Angeles County Democratic Party, Los Angeles School Police Association, International Brotherhood of Teamsters
Campaign website: imeldaforschoolboard.com