Last year two members of the Fontana Unified School District Board of Education were recalled in a bitter battle that divided the Board and even made its way to City Hall. Now, 15 months later there are three seats up for election. Two incumbents are facing six challengers for those three sears.
Kareem Gongora is one of those challengers. He agreed to answer a few questions about his campaign
Q: Tell us a bit about your background and why you want to be on the school board.
A: I am a parent of three; two of my children attend Fontana Unified schools. I have grown up in Fontana for the past 24 years. Following high-school graduation at AB Miller, I have worked as a K-12 Supplemental Instructor for several districts, Fontana After-School Site Supervisor, and Fontana Mayor’s Youth Council Advisor. I attended UC Riverside to earn my BA English and currently attend University of Redlands to receive my MA Management in 2015.
Currently, I work in Riverside County for an anti-poverty agency managing a countywide self-sufficiency program that brings in over $5 million dollars in economic growth through tax credit outreach, volunteer management, developing and establishing partnerships with government as well as local community agencies.
Becoming a school board member conceptualized throughout my upbringing in Fontana as a former student, employee, community volunteer, and now as a parent. I have seen the missed opportunities to successfully engage students as well as parents. Within education, we have created many windows of opportunity for students to fail that need to be closed.
We need to look at ensuring our students are successful from their cradle to their career, empower our parents, uplift our teachers, and meet the demands of the emerging workforce. I am a byproduct of Fontana; I want to show students that anything is possible and help them recognize their limitless potential.
Q: What do you consider to be the biggest issue(s) facing the district at this time and what do you propose to correct it?
A: The biggest issue facing our district is communicating change. The arrival of Common Core, LCAP, LCFF, and a brand new administration is upon us. The state is pushing new initiatives and the district is looking to be compliant, but that has had a huge trickle down effect when it comes down to administrators, faculty, and the students.
We must make a concentrated effort to outreach to district and school personnel, addressing their concerns, provide training, and maintaining the humanization of the organization. We cannot afford to lose staff; they are valued and have been through enough, we must train, empower, and then promote.
Transitioning into a cradle to career educational framework, through partnering with local businesses, faith based communities, and community colleges to offer opportunities for parents to pursue higher education, gain employment or certifications. In my research with socioeconomic status, studies find that students perform better when a parent has had higher education and is successfully employed. Thus, we will need to look to creating new career pathways and higher education opportunities because it is essential to this framework. Ultimately, we will have to be creative and progressive in keeping students engaged as well as interested into pursuing their education.
Addressing the instabilities with our GATE, special needs, and ELL populations. GATE student’s need the magnet program returned that was disseminated several years ago. Special needs students are having issues with having safe environments and properly trained bus personnel. Teachers need to be trained and certified to support students and parents, which includes PECS. We need to offer progressive mainstreaming from highly structured environments to normal classes based on each students level in learning (technology evolvement will be our biggest resource). Speech and occupational therapy that is positive and encourages optimism as well as parent strategies.
We need to work with our ELL families to ensure we are not over classifying because of language barriers. There is an inconsistency in providing necessary aides to our ELL students and we need to address that!
Looking at our new budget and making sure we are being fiscally responsible as well as transparent. We can no longer take dollars away from the classroom or schools when our front line staff is struggling to provide necessary resources to deliver lessons.
Parent involvement is a huge issue as schools have become inaccessible. We need to meet parents at their areas of communication albeit social media, webinars, conference calls, or weekend classes.
Q: California schools are near the bottom on standardized testing. Do you consider that something important to address. If so, how?
A: Standardized testing is one of the ways we can use to measure students skills, but not the most effective way to measure aptitude. The reason I say this is because I found myself not being a high performer on standardized tests, but I have been able to earn my BA English from UC Riverside and will receive my MA Management from University of Redlands in 2015. If we continue teaching students to tests, then we are going to omit the much-needed characteristics to create ethical, productive, and successful professionals.
We need to become more practical and logical with our educational standards by looking at the direct impact with their eventual career and transitional career skills necessary to support students after high school. Typically, we look at graduating students, but in measuring outcomes, we have to look at the regional and global impact our students will create to continue meeting the emerging needs of a growing workforce. However, this is a policy issue we must address at the state level.
Q: What are your thoughts on Common Core?
A: I was a GATE and AP Student throughout primary and secondary, in which, this was the type of pedagogy I grew up with. However, as a parent, my eldest son struggled with the implementation last year. With Common Core, at an organizational level, we are experiencing an overall paradigm shift, in which we have to shift the culture to meet the strategy. We are training teachers and then teaching students, which is flawed.
We are going to need to embrace Common Core, but be much more effective in educating parents on common core as well as strategies to ensure its success. We cannot just give parents a list of resources, we need to show them how to access and use resources to support their children. This includes supporting the launch of the parent university, but making sure it is successful through partnering with local organizations and faith based communities to get the word out.
We also will need GATE teachers to share their experiences and strategies within their schools. Parent involvement is vital to Common Core’s success.
In addition, we must look at the true impact the emphasis on informational text will have on students because there needs to be a defined balance in the type of reading students engage in. It is vital to maintain a student’s creativity and desire to read to keep them engaged.
Q: There have been issues in the recent past with factions on the board, which resulted in a successful recall last year. Are you able to play well with others to work towards solutions even if you disagree? How do you approach such situations?
A: It is imperative that when it comes to student’s success that we work together and continue to create healthy, positive, and progressive discussions. I have a history of cultivating and sustaining partnerships, being solution oriented while ensuring results. We cannot allow this disconnection to occur again, our students and our community deserve better. I will make sure we focus on our students and what will benefit them to increasing their quality of life.
For more information about Kareem Gongora, visit his website VoteKareem.com. Of you can find him on Facebook at VoteKareem. The election will be held on Nov. 4.