On October 16th a candidate’s forum was organized by Resilience OC at Latino Health Access for Santa Ana residents to hear from school board candidates hoping to be elected in the November 5th Special Election. All four candidates were invited, however Gisela Contreras and Cecilia Aguinaga failed to show up, one was ill and the other had a prior commitment. This left Carolyn Torres and David Benavides to speak about their perspectives with the public. The forum was moderated by Norberto Santana, Jr. from the Voice of OC.
The forum began cordially, but as it continued, the best choice for the school board became clearer and clearer. When the candidates were asked to define educational terms such as restorative justice and socio-emotional learning (SEL), David’s descriptions were vague, but Carolyn Torres articulated a much clearer explanation of each subject and was able to produce examples of how she utilizes them with her students in the classroom. As the candidates gave their responses it became abundantly clear that Carolyn was the most knowledgeable on education. David repeatedly referred to his non-profit Directorship at Kidsworks and his city council experience to qualify himself, but he has never taught in a class of forty students day in and day out. When it came to the issue of class size, Carolyn gave clearer numbers of Santa Ana classrooms, where she stated that many classes are pushing 40 students or more. David stated that some classes hold 20-30 students, while other hold 30-40. Carolyn emphasized the importance of lower class sizes to make it more manageable for teachers and so that students can get the attention that they deserve.
The forum got heated over the subject of the Townsend Gang Injunction. Carolyn and David were on opposite sides of this issue. Carolyn is a restorative justice educator who challenged the injunction and David supported the gang injunction, fundamentally stripping many Santa Ana youth of their constitutional rights, including youth that he admitted that he personally mentored. During this time David became aggressive and accused Carolyn of using the community to uplift her own image and called her an “outsider.” After this statement was made, Carolyn calmly explained that she lived across from Townsend Street the year before the gang injunction was instituted, where she also worked at Loren Griset Academy and Kidworks. Additionally, her family lived in Townsend during the 1990’s. The irony here is that Carolyn’s family has called Santa Ana home since the late 1920’s. David Benavides is an East Los Angeles transplant who has made a career of local politics since he arrived in Santa Ana.
After being proven wrong about Carolyn’s history in Townsend, Benavides allowed his emotions to take over for a brief moment and tried to continue pushing the “outsider” narrative, but he came to his senses when he realized he broke decorum and the moderator had to bring him back to the discussion. David never returned to the issue after that. Torres demonstrated a teacher’s patience and passion throughout the exchange, and during the rest of the forum both candidates agreed on many issues, including the need to add green space to schools, increased mental health services, working to test SAUSD schools for lead contaminants, and decriminalizing students with individual education programs (IEP’s). Towards the end of event Benavides also admitted that the gang injunction he supported was ineffective in decreasing gang violence.
On another note, he also stated that he would gladly accept funds from developers and anyone else who would give him money, while Carolyn emphatically stated that she would not accept funds from said developers. Since research has shown that charter schools appear when economic development and gentrification grows, we wanted to hear more about this. Too many Santa Ana families and students are being affected by rising rent prices and lack of affordable housing. Although both candidates agreed that they would halt charter school expansion, we really wanted to hear why Benavides supported the expansion of Vista Heritage Charter School last year while he was a councilman on the city planning commission. Even he stated during the forum that charters take monies away from local public schools and students, but he never mentioned his Vista Heritage vote.
As public school parents and teachers, we tip our hats to Carolyn. She is not a career politician. She demonstrated immense maturity, remained respectful, and never lost her composure. This is the self-control and guidance we need in a school board member. Santa Ana students and families would greatly benefit from Carolyn’s presence and insight on the board. Her credentials come from classroom experience and being involved in the Santa Ana community, and she would be a valuable asset with fresh perspectives to ensure student success. Vote Carolyn Torres for Santa Ana School Board.
Carah Reed is an SAUSD teacher, parent, and community advocate. Margarita Gonzalez is a SAUSD Parent, volunteer and advocate for students with special needs in Santa Ana. Mike Rodriguez is an SAUSD teacher, FUSD parent, and community advocate.
Opinions expressed in editorials belong to the authors and not Voice of OC.
Voice of OC is interested in hearing different perspectives and voices. If you want to weigh in on this issue or others please contact Voice of OC Involvement Editor Theresa Sears at TSears@voiceofoc.org