By Raymond R. Beltrán
For those living in the barrio and who are directly affected by the state of education, the San Diego School Board’s Primary Elections for District D on March 2 are very critical and have been a highlighted topic in not only the battle for getting candidates’ names on the ballot, but also in recognizing a candidate that would begin to focus on student education.
District D, which is populated by 38.8% Latinos, consists of neighborhoods like North Park, Mid City Heights, Golden Hill, Centre City and areas in Southeast San Diego, like Barrio Logan, where educators and coalitions are firmly standing behind barrio resident and School Board candidate Pilar Arballo.
“The reason I support Pilar [Arballo] is because she would voice our concerns and represent the teachers,” says Consuelo Manriquez, former bilingual teacher and current Testing and Technology Coordinator at Memorial Academy Charter School in Barrio Logan. “She lives across our street and has been active in our community, in District D. She’s an educator and one of the few persons that’s had experience being a teacher.”
Arballo, a barrio resident since her childhood at Logan Elementary, has been involved in education since 1988, when she taught English courses at Eurolingua Language School in Madrid, Spain for a year while taking Spanish courses. Since her return over a decade ago, Arballo has earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science and Spanish along with a required BCLAD (Bilingual Cross-cultural Language Academic Development) Credential, in order to teach second language students. She completed her educational path at San Diego State University with a Master’s Degree in Education.
Having been a teacher for sixteen years at schools like Rosa Parks Elementary, César Chavez Continuing Education Center and Memorial Academy, Arballo says that her leadership in the School Board will reflect the concerns of teachers in the classrooms. “This should not be a Walmart district where people at the top get more money,” she said in an interview at Chicano Perk. “I wont’ be a rubber stamp. I’m nobody’s girl, and workers and parents will have more of a voice. There’s no dialogue right now, it’s all monologue.” One of her three main goals will be to “include all stake holders in decision-making.” The other two will be to “reform the Blueprint [for Success] by providing a well rounded curriculum [and to] balance the budget by curtailing $100s of millions spent on the Blueprint.”
In taking a look at the Blueprint for Success, an educational/business-like plan for schools that was introduced by California Superintendent of Schools Alan Bersin, Arballo admits that some common knowledge aspects could be relevant to the students, like smaller classrooms. Although, she says that the way the plan was implemented was very insulting because it had been dictated to teachers, instead of agreed upon without their advice.
Arballo also says that district funds have been frivolously spent by the current administration in seeking out educational advisors from New Zealand, Australia, Boston and New York City. Advisors investigate schools like Logan Elementary and Memorial Academy, and provide their input on how to improve teaching strategies, but the arguments being made are that outside consultants cannot determine what’s best for students here in the barrios of San Diego.
“The school district is being run by people who have nothing to do with education,” Arballo says. “Our schools throughout the country are being run like a business, and that needs to stop because children are not products.”
Other plans such as the Print Rich Classrooms, which demand teachers plaster their rooms with wall-to-wall posters of grammatical formulas, were ridiculous to teachers like Manriquez, who says that millions of dollars are actually being spent on plans that ultimately don’t benefit the students. She also states that the School Board has reprimanded teachers who’ve been reported by investigators for not complying with programs that they, the teachers, see as irrelevant.
“The educational environment, since Bersin, has been like a watchdog, and we haven’t seen results,” says Manriquez. “Our average student reads at a third grade level. When they come here, they’re already two to three years behind their grade level.”
Peer Coaches is another program where counselors advise schoolteachers on how to run classrooms, but Manriquez argues that some of the coaches have only minimal teaching experience. Eliminating expenses for certain programs, like the latter, is something that Arballo has added to her list of goals.
School Board candidates were supposed to have gotten 200 signatures from residents living in District D by January 9, last month, but when Arballo’s campaign members presented the 350 signatures they collected, the number of actual District D residents was shy by twenty-four, leaving only 176 valid signatures. San Diego Superior Court Judge Ronald S. Prager denied her demand to be on the March ballot, but failed to recognize Arballo’s argument about the unfairness in Luis Acle’s name being allowed on the ballot after he collected only 173 valid signatures.
When she appealed the rejection, the San Diego School District contested her, something they hadn’t done to Acle, who was said to have attended court with a Los Angeles-based lawyer as representation. The incident may lead to a possible lawsuit against the district, but Arballo says she is steadily focusing on her campaign.
Having gotten off to a rough start, Arballo quickly picked up the pieces from an almost broken candidacy and collected another 200 signatures needed by February 17, next week, for a “write-in campaign.” Voters are now at liberty to write her name on the voting ballot during the Primary Elections.
Currently, Pilar Arballo is being endorsed by organizations like San Diego Educators Associate, San Diego City Schools Employees, Association of Raza Education and the Raza Rights Coalition (RRC).
“If the person is truly independent and supports the intents of the Mexicano/Latino community, then we’ll support it,” says Ernesto Bustillos, co-founder and member of the RRC. “But rarely do we have a candidate who’s not usually tied into the ruling class.”
The intents that Bustillos mentions are issues such as bilingual education, multicultural studies, democratization of the schools and community involvement in schools’ decision making process, to name a few. He also says that Arballo’s campaign attracted the RRC because of three reasons: 1) she was the only educator on the list 2) she’s from a poor, working class environment and 3) she is not being put forth by the corporate elite of San Diego.