January 26, 2007

Focus on Communty

By Patty Chavez

Bejarano tapped to fill vacant school board seat

After some bad acting and lightly veiled attempt to make it seem like David Bejarano was not the candidate of choice, the Chula Vista Elementary School District Board unanimously appointed Bejarano to finish a term left vacant by Cheryl Cox who won her bid for Chula Vista Mayor in November. There is a lot of chisme surrounding this appointment, but quite frankly, it doesn’t matter to me which candidate is married to whom, friendships within the board, or their home address. Education and our children is the focus, and I hope the chismosos that run a muck in this region allow the board to be able to get on with the business of the school and Mr. Bajarano does not have to suffer through accusations of being “handpicked.”

There was an impressive pool of candidates that came before the board. I attended the public interviews and I listened intently to their background, views and ideas that would help to improve student achievement and education for our children. After all, elementary education is the first step. If kids do not have a strong foundation, education becomes a roller coaster ride from there on out.

Sympathetic to the accusations circulating about his “favoritism” status, I approached Bejarano last week to get a feel for him and his vision. Why would a former police chief be interested in serving on an elementary school board?

Bejarano shared that he had seen enough kids taking wrong paths and that many wrong decisions could have been avoided if education had more of a presence in their lives. Our short conversation left me with confidence that a former police chief was a good candidate and also a Latino that understands the needs of our struggling neighborhoods and families.

I should note that there were other candidates who were certainly well qualified. As a current mother of four elementary school children, Myssie McCann has a vested interest in the school district. She understands the importance of tailored educational programs as only a concerned mother can. As wife of Chula Vista City Councilman John McCann, she also understands the politics and pressures associated with being a public servant.

Gonzalo Rojas focused on closing the achievement gap. As a former student, parent of students, and grandparent of future students, he offered an understanding for those families struggling financially yet believing in education. He spoke eloquently about creating a level playing field and creating opportunities for underprivileged students. Rojas seemed well prepared to battle the common misunderstanding that the economically challenged do not value education for their children.

Out of all the candidates, Kevin O’Neil was the only one who correlated economic development and the schools. Investing in education generates real, proven results for workers, businesses, and society. This is an important concept that I hope does not escape the School Board’s agenda.

National leaders constantly demand that schools, communities, and families make a major effort to retain students. In Sacramento there is a movement to bring together businesses and education. By creating partnership with schools and employers they can dramatically improve education and training, reforming schools and exposing students to future careers. An essential path for academic, social and future success.

Learning suffers when students do not have proper health care. A child with asthma, who cannot get preventative care, will miss more class time and struggle to keep up. Learning suffers when our children cannot get the proper nutrition or exercise they need, which leads to obesity and health problems.

Learning suffers when neighborhoods are seized by crime or blight. Children can’t go out and play. The walk home from school is dangerous and filled with an exhaustive amount of peer pressure ills.

Learning suffers when there is strife at home and exposure to family violence.

Learning suffers when our parents are driving home for hours from the job commute or even working various jobs to survive. The stress can have a drowning effect on education. They spend less time at home. Children spend more time by themselves. School work becomes a cumbersome chore.

Learning suffers when the now of surviving is more pertinent than investing in tomorrow.

Certainly there were many qualified candidates for this position, but maybe Bejarano with his experience in law enforcement and understanding of our struggling communities, will be able to help open up the horizons and find a way to partner our schools, communities, business, health and City Hall.

It’s a tall order for sure, but maybe the deeper reason Bejarano seemed like the School Boards favorite was because he has exactly what they lack: A worldly experience and an understanding of symbiotic relationships needed to help make the School District less close minded and willing to work with other agencies who can come together to work toward a common goal. Scratch the surface of any school and you’ll find no lack of challenges. I hope, with Bejarano’s guidance, the Chula Vista Elementary School District will place more emphasis on the big picture by focusing on building relationships and common goals with local business entities, health organizations and City Hall.

Email Patricia Chavez at Patty.Chavez@covad.net

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