Chardá Fontenot, 32
Chardá Fontenot for La Mesa Spring Valley School Board
A mother, lactation counselor, and small business owner, Chardá, 32, is running to be a Governing Board Member of the La Mesa Spring Valley School Board. She hopes to bring a fresh perspective to the school board and create more pathways for communities to get involved in schools.
What was the best advice you received before you ran for office?
I was fortunate to quickly gain supporters and ended up having an amazing “village” formed around my campaign. I have received a plethora of helpful and encouraging words. As a first time candidate, the most impactful advice I have been given is from my running mate, 2nd time candidate, Jerry Lecko. He said “It’s your campaign, don’t let anyone else direct the narrative. You campaign how you want, when you want and where you want. Remember, outside of this, you’re still a person with a life, a mom and business owner.” I really respect and appreciate that advice to this day.
In your own words, what does a school board do? How does it affect me if I don’t have children or family in the school district?
A school board provides oversight on the district as a whole. The board is responsible for items of business such as adopting the budget, curriculum, calendar, policies and overseeing the bargaining process. One of the biggest and most important jobs is hiring and evaluating the performance of the superintendent. The school board should make sure the vision that is set for the district is all inclusive, and that the goals set for the district are attainable. Overall, the board should strive to make sure ALL children are being nurtured and are receiving top quality education. For the school board student achievement should always be the top priority. I also think it’s important for the board to have good solid relationships with not only the administration, but the teachers and staff as well. We want to make sure there is a mutual respect, so that matters can be discussed openly and freely between all parties.
Even if you don’t have children yourself, you should be aware of how your local school district is doing. You might have some later or maybe you have grandkids, friends or relatives that may send their kids to school in the district. We often talk about parent involvement, but we also need to think about community involvement, and how that could play a huge role in helping our students achieve more. Having community volunteers at our schools could be very beneficial for our students’ success. We have a community read in every year at our school that is put together by our incredible school librarian, MaryEllen Shu. This event is kind of like career day, because people from the community are brought in all at one time and each of them get read to a class of their choice. Then they talk about their career in a very question and answer type of way with the kids. The children are being inspired and they love it! I think we need more of this outreach between our community and our schools.
Our neighborhood public schools are the center of our communities. I personally think we should all care about our public education system. This is where the majority of little minds of the future are being shaped, and productive members of society are being created. As a non-parent in the district, you should be informed on how your taxpayer dollars are being spent when it comes to education. For those who may care more about the fiscal side of things, think about the way the success or failure of a school district can affect your property value. If you participate in the process of electing a good school board, you will be helping our children, families, community and even yourself.
What are the potholes in your district? What are the specific issues facing the La Mesa-Spring Valley school district?
We have a very good school district, and I know it can be an excellent school district! I think two specific issues that we see in our district are funding and enrollment. I think we can find ways to make these issues be of a lesser degree and hopefully one day non-existent. We need to find innovative solutions for these problems. If you need some extra cash in your own budget what do you do? You find odd jobs or even a second job, like driving Uber or Lyft. Our school district needs to think about being in that same mentality. If the state isn’t going to be able to provide us with more money, then we should look into external steady streams of revenue for our district.
While my ideas are not the panacea for these issues, I do have ideas to bring to the table. One concept is to look into opening our school facilities after hours to allow activities and organizations to use them. Things like yoga classes, sports, clubs, etc. and allow them to use our school grounds for a fee on a regular basis. This goes hand in hand with increasing our enrollment. Since our schools are funded off enrollment numbers, we should be looking into ways to encourage more families to come to our schools. If they come to one of our school sites for a yoga class for instance, maybe they will want to come back during school hours and check it out for their kids or a family member’s kids.
Offering choices is another good way to increase enrollment. We have started offering more options in our district by creating 4th-8th grade academy schools, that offer concentrated study options. We have LMAAC (La Mesa Arts Academy), STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and math), and Spring Valley Academy which is an IB (international baccalaureate) learning school. We also have a dual immersion school in Spring Valley called Kempton Literacy Academy. We need to spread the word about these options, not just locally but countywide. We also need to highlight the wonderful things our non-academy schools are doing at each school site. I believe we should function as one unit, one community, in regards to our schools. To tie us together, I believe having an annual free to the public district wide event, would be a great to encourage that notion.
What perspectives do you believe are missing from the current school board?
Our current school board is missing a youthful, involved, open minded perspective and that’s I bring to the table. I offer the unique perspective of being a parent of two young children in this district, who is also a former student of the district myself. If I win a seat, I will be the youngest person ever elected to the board. I didn’t grow up in poverty, but we lived in a part of town that at the time was riddled with gang activity. My parents worked hard, and once their businesses took off we moved from the city of San Diego to suburbs of Spring Valley. My parents purchased their second home, which was in an upscale newly developed community. I have been on both ends of the spectrum, I understand the viewpoint from different socio-economic levels. I can definitely relate when it comes to understanding the struggles of our high needs families.
I would also like to see more diversity on our school board. It doesn’t seem sensible to have a board that speaks on behalf of the people, if the entire community is not being represented. We need school board members that are supportive of ALL kids and their families. No matter their ethnicity, socio-economic status, gender or sexuality. We need school board members that are transparent and willing to listen and respond to the public, teachers, and students in a timely manner.
When did you hear the call? When did you decide you wanted to run for office?
Towards the end of the 2017-18 school year, I started hearing from parents, community members and employees of schools, that they were very unhappy with the current board and our district as a whole. I looked into some of the issues they were referring to and realized their concerns were mine too. Additionally, the actions and comments that have been made by some members of our current board have been outrageous, and I knew I didn’t want to see more of the same behaviour. I respect children, their feelings and opinions, we are missing that respect from some of our current board members and it’s disheartening. I was encouraged to run by teachers and staff members of our school district, who know me through my school, district and community volunteer work. I only had a short period of time to make the decision to run, but I think it was a good one.
You’ve been actively involved in local schools as a district volunteer, PTA board member, and District Advisory Council. Why did you first decide to get involved? How do we create pathways for more parents to get involved in their classrooms?
Yes, I’m pretty active in our schools at both the site and district levels. I also serve in the community, I am a board member for the La Mesa Spring Valley Educational Foundation. My schedule is very flexible, so I’m fortunate to have the ability to volunteer almost daily at the school. My children are ages 5 & 10, so I’ll be in the district for the long haul! When my oldest started 1st grade, I was invited by his teacher to a PTA meeting. The same teacher then nominated me to be on the ballot for School Site Council and I won. I was then asked by the principal if I’d be interested in being the District Advisory Council representative. I choose to be involved because I think parent involvement is essential to the success of our children and their achievements both in and out of school.
However, it’s important to provide options to those who want to volunteer but can’t do so during school hours. We should talk more with teachers about options on what they would like help with, and how a parent can help outside of the classroom. You can also join PTA, you don’t have to be present for events. You can help with event planning on your own time, if your PTA does things like uses Google docs or other document sharing programs that helps. My husband is an IT Systems Engineer, and he is also a parent volunteer from time to time. He is on the PTA board and attends district meetings with me as well. He is also on our CDO Paw Patrol, which a parent organized school safety group, which I started with approval from our principal. One of the ways he found he can volunteer is by sharing his expertise in his field of technology with the kids. His company has been supportive about allowing him to get off work a bit early once a week a few weeks out of the school year, to run a free coding club at after school for the kids.
We should also be starting a dialogue with employers on how parent involvement and engagement benefit our kids nationwide. This is so they can begin to understand why an employee would want to leave a bit early or take an extended lunch to help out in the classroom, go on a field trip or help with a school event. Parents who cannot be physically present but want to contribute something tangible or financially, that is helping too. Allowing options and more flexibility is the key to increasing real parent involvement.
You’re running on a slate with Jerry Lecko and Rebecca McRae. Why did you decide to run together? What values do you have in common?
Originally, I thought I would be running in a slate against incumbents. However, as the deadline approached it was discovered that the incumbents would not be running. We are running against four other candidates, three of them have been endorsed by the incumbents which is not a good sign of change in my opinion. I didn’t know any of my running mates before starting this process, but we have had many great opportunities to get to know one another! We met through the Teachers’ Association endorsement process. We get along great, and are able to communicate our differences respectfully. Our qualifications and skills complement each other well, and our vision for moving the district forward is very similar. Most importantly, we are all passionate about the well being and prosperity of these children, no political gain for us.
Jerry is an architect, former PTA president and former school board member. He and his wonderful Wife, Lisa, have two successful young adult children that attended LMSV schools. When they were kids he was a devoted, dedicated and deeply involved parent volunteer. He was very much like me as an engaged and active parent, so that’s what we have in common. His knowledge on the history of the district has been very helpful for me and Becky. Jerry also brings his skills as an architect, that help us to understand in depth issues that we may face involving the physical structures of the school sites themselves.
Rebecca McRae is an outstanding experienced teacher in San Diego Unified. She and her husband Jamal have two girls who attend schools in our LMSV district. Rebecca holds a master’s in education with an emphasis on curriculum and instruction. She would be an asset when it comes to discussing curriculum standards for the district. Another thing she is passionate about besides public education is school safety. I believe that’s a topic where Becky and I really connect. We see the need to improve our school safety without arming teachers. We are ready to find innovative ways to keep our schools safe, while maintaining a comfortable learning environment for all.
As a business owner, I’m able to understand the importance of fiscal responsibility. As a lactation counselor, I’m accustomed to working closely with families of all backgrounds from single parents to LGBTQ+ parents. I will always make sure we are being inclusive as a district. As an involved parent, I will be a voice for parents, children and our community.
What advice would you give to another young person considering running for office?
Well, the race is not over yet! So, I can’t give any advice on the entire process. However, what I can I can tell the young people thinking about running for office is: You’re never too young to change the world. “Be the change you wish to see in the world” --Gandhi
The views expressed in this interview are those of the candidate, and do not reflect the beliefs and views of Ballot Breakers or its staff.