Kelly Gonez, Science Teacher and Former Obama Adviser, Wins Close Race for L.A. School Board

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This piece was produced in partnership with LA School Report; see LASR’s complete coverage of the 2017 school board race.

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Science teacher and former Obama administration adviser Kelly Gonez is the projected winner in the LA Unified school board race for the open District 6 seat.

“Based on the results we’re seeing, I feel confident that the voters of BD6 have voted to make me your next member of the Board of Education,” Gonez tweeted late Tuesday night, just after 12:30 a.m. By 1:15 a.m., with 18 of the 19 LA Unified precincts reporting, Gonez continued to lead Imelda Padilla, 51.47 percent to 48.52 percent.

Surrounded by dozens of supporters at a San Fernando restaurant, she was in tears as she accepted her possible victory over Padilla in an intense runoff race for the board seat that will represent more than 93,000 students who attend traditional and public charter schools in the San Fernando Valley. In District 6, 87 percent of the students are Latinos and 86 percent qualify for free or reduced-price lunch.

“I’m moved by the overwhelming support of families, my students, and the community. That’s the whole reason why I’m doing this. I’m hopeful that all of the hard work we have done over the last several months and the community support will hold the results,” Gonez told LA School Report.

Gonez is a seventh-grade science teacher at Crown Preparatory Academy in Los Angeles and worked as an education policy adviser in the Obama Administration. “I think I have a unique perspective as someone who taught at both the district and charter schools,” she said before the election.

Gonez says she saw firsthand disparities in the education system. Her mother, an immigrant from Peru, faced barriers in education and the workforce, not because of her intelligence or skills, but because she looked different and because she was an English language learner, Gonez said. “Fighting for those same opportunities for every child has always been something that’s been important to me,” she said.

At 28, Gonez was the youngest candidate for school board this election. Her mother attended an LA Unified adult school and now works at a hospital in Mission Hills. Gonez’s father works at a small manufacturing business in Van Nuys.

The crowd at Gonez’s election-watching party was mostly made up of mothers wearing “Parents for Kelly” T-shirts who were chanting for Gonez and clearly in a celebratory mood. “I thank God for Kelly. She is the most prepared candidate to take over a position like that in the board. I think she will make wise decisions to benefit all students here,” said Jocelyn Peralta, a mother of two students attending Pacoima Charter school.

Another mother, Elizabeth Santana, said she felt hopeful the official results will confirm Gonez as the replacement of Mónica Ratliff on the LAUSD school board. “I’m proud that a Latina woman will take that position. She seems like she deeply cares for our kids. She’s a teacher, so what could be better than that?” she said.

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