This is the next in a series of profiles on candidates running in the March 3 primary for the LA Unified school board. Today’s focus is Refugio Rodriguez, a candidate for the District 5 seat.
What do you say to a man who founded a chain of charter schools but insists he doesn’t want to be known as “the charter guy?”
“I know, it’s funny right?” Ref Rodriguez says, not really laughing and not waiting for any particular answer to the proposition. He is one of three candidates running for District 5 school board seat in the March election, and he is the supposed charter guy in question.
Frankly, it’ll be an uphill battle for Rodriguez, 43, to fight the perception of him as a pro-charter challenger, facing the staunchly anti-charter incumbent, Bennett Kayser. The third candidate is Andrew Thomas, a professor of education at the online Walden University and operator of a research company that consults with school districts, including LA Unified.
Rodriguez launched a network of 15 unaffiliated charter schools in northeast Los Angeles, where he grew up, and in northeast San Fernando Valley. He was a young man at the time, only 27, and after working at a private Catholic school, he said, “I was frustrated by the incremental growth in LAUSD schools that was leaving so many kids — kids like me — behind.”
Over the years, the schools, called Partnerships to Uplift Communities (PUC), have grown to serve about 5,000 students. All got their seed money from the biggest players in education reform — either the Walton Family Foundation or the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. He says all but a handful of PUC schools out-perform the surrounding public schools.