Rachel Johnson using experience to boost District 1 chances
Yana Gracile | April 22, 2014
Beginning today, LA School Report is taking a longer look at each of the seven candidates running for LA Unified’s vacant South LA, District 1 board seat. The series starts today with Rachel Johnson and will continue over the weeks ahead.
After three decades as a LAUSD elementary school teacher and nine years as a member of the Gardena City Council, Rachel Johnson is hoping her extensive teaching and fiscal policy-making background will help her secure a seat on the LA Unified school board.
As one of three teachers among the seven candidates running for the District 1 board seat, left open by the passing of the board’s only African American member, Marguerite LaMotte, Johnson, 54, believes she has the practical and administrative expertise to make a difference.
“Since I put in the time in LAUSD, and I saw how policy that school board members implement and how it directly affects my practice, I said ‘you know, I think I can do better, I think I can contribute, I think I have a voice that would be valuable,’ ” she said in an interview with LA School Report.
Johnson, who teaches kindergarten at Purche Avenue Elementary school, wants to empower educators by raising awareness on several issues impacting District 1, such as why there are so many charter schools in the district.
Johnson believes low-performing traditional schools would greatly benefit if they were allowed to invest in a similar teaching model used by charter schools, giving administrators the flexibility to craft an innovative curriculum that she says would invigorate learning and motivate students to achieve.
“Let’s give those schools more independence, more time and investment and let’s see if these kinds of innovative programs will turn the tide,” she said. “We need to demand excellence from our schools, but in order to get that, we need to give them all the tools that they need.”
Another hot-button issue is seniority-based layoffs. Johnson, who benefitted from the policy, says a more comprehensive structure is needed that facilitates the replacement of ineffective teachers and supports the mentoring of young teachers.
“There is value in experience, but let that just be one variable in how a teacher is evaluated and laid off,” she said, echoing a central theme of the recently-argued Vergara case. “I would challenge UTLA as a board member to come to the table and to have that kind of discourse.”
Even though Johnson has been endorsed by UTLA, she says she will stand her ground and do what she feels is right when it comes to voting on policy issues.
“What’s good for the children is good for me,” she said. “You have to have a more comprehensive view when you’re making policy, but if our children are going to achieve, our teachers have to be supported.”
But, she says, what is best for students may not always complement initiatives that impact learning. Johnson said some of Superintendent John Deasy’s ideas are disconnected from the actual practice and implementation at the ground level because “he doesn’t hear or value teacher input,” she said.
If elected, Johnson says her policy-making decisions would be fair and transparent and would involve all parties concerned. She plans on visiting school sites and talking to instructors who will be directly impacted by the policy.
She believes in standing behind every decision she makes through “transparency, accountability, integrity and being consistent with every decision.”
But while her vision is clear, she says the road to getting elected has been a bumpy one.
So far, Johnson is running a grass-roots campaign, relying on volunteers, family and friends going door to door. Campaign funding has been a major challenge and donations have fallen short of expectations. Many of her past supporters have decided to support another candidate. She raised no money through the first reporting period, leaving her more than $100,000 behind the leader, Alex Johnson, who is no relation.
Despite having no political support, she remains focused and determined to reach as many voters as possible and hopes her background and experience will help her stand out from the rest.