Dr. Esther Castillo knows what it feels like to be shunned by the board of the Anaheim City School District (ACSD). She quietly lent her signature last year to a last-ditch petition effort to keep Principal Roberto Baeza at Juarez Elementary instead of getting booted. The effort proved to be real-life lessons in the sociology professor's education classes at Chapman University and Fullerton College. Soon, her students and Anaheim parents suggested she run for one of three school board seats up for grabs this November. On the last day to file, Castillo declared her candidacy.
Even with her credentials, Castillo is running as a parent above all with one of her children enrolled in Juarez's dual language immersion program. Her platform is straightforward: involve parents, don't ignore them. Informed on education policy, she seeks to increase transparency in board affairs and wants to evenly spread resources and programs across ACSD schools. Without partisan support, Castillo is waging a grassroots effort, framing her run as a parent for parents in the interest of all children.
The Weekly spoke with Dr. Castillo recently about her campaign run:
Why did you decide to run for a seat on the Anaheim City School District board?
Castillo: I felt the need to be a neutral voice. I don't have a spouse, a sibling, a relative or even a friend that's going to benefit from me being on the board. But I do have children who are in Anaheim schools. I understand policy. I've worked at the local government level. I understand contracts, employee relations and employment laws. That's what a board member does anyway. I volunteer as it is. Being a board member is a volunteer position. All that together continues to fuel me as I see so many special interests being given a platform on the school board.
Beyond the personalities involved, what was the real lesson to be taken away from the Juarez ordeal?
Parent signatures and parent involvement is discouraged. I didn't see one board member come out publicly in support of parents. I instructed my students that parents are usually the issue at hand, especially in growing immigrant communities where you want parent involvement, and when parent involvement was shunned it really added to the discussion on what school districts need from parents. If they do have a voice that gets shut out, it dismisses them. It removes them from the equation that every education resource and research project has found; that parents are key. What we learned is that this district and every board member is completely disconnected.
Anaheim City School District students are primarily Latino with English learners in the mix. How do you feel dual language immersion programs factor in terms of instruction?
As a parent and from an educator's perspective, what can I see benefiting our school district is to include parents in the conversation. Parents aren't trying to dismantle unions or create charters. They just want to be involved in the decision making process. Dual immersion is an academic program that requires parent involvement. We don't have support for parents within the district for this program. There's discussion on whether it should be cultural or not, but the academic program itself doesn't have resources. We don't have a librarian we can go to. We don't have books in the library that we can go to. If parents and teachers were supportive of bringing in dual language immersion–and this is where we could have the unions come into the discussion–and working with the district so that we could educate ourselves first before implementing additional and supporting current programs, I can definitely see that as part of the equation. But how it is today? I can't.
How would you address inequalities at ACSD in terms of resources and programs offered at different schools?
If there are any programs that district can afford to give to specific schools, then maybe what we should do is house them within the district so that various students from other schools could attend. I see an unequal access and distribution to programs. The district is using flagship schools as a reason why. Let's invest and spread our money out so that we aren't providing well-performing schools over and over again but are providing enrichment to all children in everything from art, music, science, math to reading groups so that we can enhance every child's learning.
The district contracted out tens of millions of dollars to rehab and rebuild some its schools. Do you feel the effect is primarily a cosmetic one and is it me or are some schools looking more and more like prisons?
Although it is nice to have an aesthetically pleasing and structurally sound locations, I think a lot of the investment needs to be made within the classroom. How the schools look isn't important as what's inside of them. We need to make sure all classrooms have the same capabilities as the next. If we're upgrading the outside of a school site, we should be first focusing on the inside out. We should make sure teachers and students have access to all the same accessories and technology that they need. The remodeled schools, yes, tend to resemble prisons. The larger the school site gets, the more and more it seems to look like a detention center.
District elections for Anaheim city council are going before the ballot in November. Anaheim Union High School District races are already carved into electoral "areas." Would district elections at ACSD help on issues of equal resources?
I don't know that it would help or hurt. I know that the board should be a representation of the various stakeholders. We should be concerned on whether we have educators, community members and parents so that we can have all those perspectives. I could see district elections working in both directions. Could it be something we consider later? Maybe. But I think right now we need to have, again, a variety of stakeholders on the school board so that we can better address the issues. It would be in the interest of the children to keep politics as far away as we can from the school board. Our kids education is key and the number one special interest we should be considering.
Follow Gabriel San Román on Twitter @gsanroman2