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LAUSD School Board Candidates Anderson and Zimmer Face-off in Venice

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By Paul Chavez, Venice Dispatch

The last question at a packed Los Angeles school board candidate forum Thursday night at the Boys & Girls Club of Venice came from a student at Venice High School who asked challenger Kate Anderson and incumbent Steve Zimmer what they would do to help students at her school.

The student’s question was greeted by a few chuckles and prompted moderator Kaci Patterson, of the Los Angeles-based nonprofit Families in Schools, to remark: “All politics really is local.”

The candidates’ responses before the standing-room-only crowd of about 200 people illustrated their perspectives as they compete in the March 5 primary election for a seat on the LAUSD’s Board of Education District 4 that represents schools in much of the Westside, including Venice, and also stretches into the San Fernando Valley toward Tarzana (map).

Anderson, a member of the Mar Vista Community Council and mother of twin third-grade girls at Mar Vista Elementary School, answered the student’s question first. The former attorney at Munger, Tolles & Olson said the most important thing would be to implement aforementioned reforms, make sure the student has a terrific teacher in front of her and instill local control so her principal can build community support.

Zimmer said that he spent that afternoon at Venice and tries to visit it several times a month.

“Venice is a tipping point high school. We have major successes at Venice, but we need to make sure those successes are true for all students at Venice,” Zimmer said.

Their answers reflected a general theme that portrayed Zimmer, a teacher for 17 years at Marshall High School before joining the school board in 2009, as the candidate with experience, and Anderson as the reform-minded challenger with the fresh, outside perspective of a parent.

The two are vying for a four-year term on the school board governing the nation’s second-largest school district and will face each other in a citywide March 5 primary election that also will feature contests for a new mayor, city attorney, city controller, eight of the 15 seats on the City Council and two other school board positions. The two-hour candidate forum was hosted by the United Way of Greater Los Angeles and kept to its allotted time.

Anderson during her opening remarks relayed a story about her daughters’ “off-the-charts first-grade teacher” at Mar Vista Elementary who due to budget cuts was laid off because of his junior status.

“To this day I still can’t quite explain to Darby and Emeline how a system that is designed to educate kids could let a man like that go,” Anderson said.

The candidates agreed on several issues, including their support for Superintendent John Deasy, more funding for early childhood education and ensuring the district receives its share of federal funding.

Their main point of disagreement concerned the evaluation of teachers and came up when Patterson asked the candidates for their views on the teacher evaluation agreement ratified Jan. 19 by the United Teachers Los Angeles labor union. The labor agreement with the LAUSD does not allow for individual standardized test scores to be the primary factor for teacher evaluations, but considered as part of a multi-pronged assessment that includes: observation, attendance rates, suspension rates, Advance Placement passage rates and graduation and dropout rates.

Anderson, who runs the Los Angeles office of the nonprofit child advocacy group Children Now, said she decided to join the school board race, in part, after Zimmer voted to exclude student test scores from the teacher evaluation process.

“I think that the measures of student outcomes are frankly too mushy to be effective,” Anderson said. “For instance, one of them is just raw (California Standardized Test) scores. That’s not an effective way to figure out whether that teacher in that classroom is being effective.”

During the discussion, Zimmer said that he was only meaningfully evaluated twice in 17 years as a teacher and described the evaluation agreement as nation-leading because it put student achievement first without using just standardized tests results as a measurement.

“Teaching is a team sport. We get better by working with our colleagues and collaborating with our colleagues,” Zimmer said, noting that individual rankings would pit teacher against teacher.

Anderson was a student body president at UCLA, where an internship with Rep. Henry Waxman quickly turned into a full-time job. After graduating, she earned a law degree from the University of Chicago and worked with Waxman again as counsel for the House of Representatives’ Government Reform and Oversight Committee. She spearheaded the effort that made her Los Angeles law firm the first west of the Mississippi to sponsor a child care center and also unsuccessfully ran in 2010 for the state Assembly.

Zimmer started his career in education in 1992 when he joined the nonprofit Teach for America. He taught English as a second language at Marshall, where he implemented a public service program for students. He is a graduate of Goucher College in Baltimore.

Anderson has raised significantly more in campaign contributions than Zimmer with contributions of $129,600 reported through Jan. 19, compared to $30,873 for Zimmer, according to data from the Los Angeles City Ethics Commission. Anderson, who loaned her campaign $25,000, reported cash on hand of $18,183 at the end of the reporting period, while Zimmer reported $14,278, according to the city data.

Anderson has been endorsed by Los Angeles City Councilman Bill Rosendahl and the Coalition for School Reform. Zimmer has been endorsed by United Teachers Los Angeles, Los Angeles City Councilman Paul Koretz, the Los Angeles County Democratic Party and the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor.

The candidate forum also was sponsored, in part, by the the L.A. Chamber of Commerce, the L.A. Urban League, Educate our State, the National Council of La Raza and the Venice Neighborhood Council Education Committee.

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