This article was produced in partnership with LA School Report; see LASR’s complete coverage of the 2017 school board race.
Barack Obama’s former education secretary Arne Duncan threw his support Wednesday to two pro-reform candidates in the LA Unified school board race.
Duncan, who was appointed secretary of education by Obama in 2009, endorsed Nick Melvoin, who is running against school board president Steve Zimmer, and is backing Kelly Gonez against Imelda Padilla in a race where there is no incumbent. Both Zimmer and Padilla are supported by labor leaders and the local teachers union, UTLA.
“I support Kelly Gonez and Nick Melvoin because they are both educators who are deeply committed to improving schools, supporting teachers, and empowering parents to find the schools that best meet the needs of their children,” Duncan said in a statement. “We need new blood on the Los Angeles School Board to bring a greater sense of urgency to improving America’s second-largest school district and giving every child, no matter their background, a greater shot at the American Dream.”
Last night, before the endorsement, Zimmer told LA School Report that he didn’t expect any endorsement from Duncan. “We have worked together behind the scenes more than anyone knows, but I don’t expect his endorsement,” Zimmer said. “We have had our differences of opinion.”
With less than seven weeks until the May 16 runoff, Duncan praised Gonez, who worked in the Obama administration, in his statement: “As the only Democrat in the race with professional education experience — from the classroom to President Obama’s administration — Kelly Gonez is by far the best candidate in the race to fight for California kids. Nick Melvoin has shown his commitment to education as a teacher in Watts and a true fighter, even in the courtroom, for kids in this community. The status quo is not good enough for our kids and Nick is fighting for the change they deserve.”
Gonez is running for the District 6 seat, which is being vacated by Monica Ratliff, who waged an unsuccessful campaign for city council. Gonez is a seventh-grade science teacher at a STEM-focused charter middle school in the northeast San Fernando Valley district.
Melvoin is running for District 4, encompassing most of West Los Angeles, Hollywood, and the west San Fernando Valley. He worked as an English teacher at Markham Middle School, an LA Unified campus in Watts. He now works as a director of Camp Harmony, a camp for homeless and underserved children.