Kareem Gongora, 31
Kareem Gongora, 31, is a product of Fontana schools and is now raising three kids of his own in the same district. He’s running to represent his children and his community on the Fontana Unified School District school board in California.
What was the best advice you received before you ran for office?
Say thank you and mean it.
When did you hear the call? When did you decide you wanted to run for office?
I originally heard the call to run for office in 2014. As a product of Fontana schools and parent of three students, I personally felt an obligation to return to the community that raised me and attempt to improve outcomes for children who were just like me. Most recently, I made the decision to run when outside special interests tried to make a backdoor deal to profit on the backs of our students. I cannot allow outsiders to try and control the school board because our children’s education is not for sale.
Many people don’t vote in local elections, because they do not know how these local positions affect them. In your own words, what does a school board member do? And how does your position affect me if I’m not a parent?
School Board members play a role in developing the vision and goals for the school district while setting policies to provide direction in priorities or achieving its goals. Most importantly, School Board members operate as the voice of the community.
I believe the most significant economic development strategy of a community is rooted in the quality of the local education system. Essentially, good schools create great communities. The local education systems is tasked with the education of children in your neighborhood or employing your neighbors. We are all vested into a securing an improved quality of life and that is only possible if our local schools are producing the next generation of productive global citizens.
What are the issues facing Fontana schools that are being neglected or not getting enough attention?
We need to address the socio-emotional gaps on our school campuses and invest in student intervention programs. This includes wraparound services that are student-centered and rooted in doing what is best for our children. This includes strengthening the multi-tiered support systems by providing effective teaching and ensuring support staff has the proper resources to address the needs of our children. From a programming lens, I would like to see more restorative justice programs implemented to work towards reducing school exclusion and involvement in the juvenile system while enhancing the school environment to prevent conflicts and repair relationships.
This past year, we have a had several parents come to the board to talk about the lack of support in special education and I have had extensive conversations with special education staff as well as parents. From those conversations, I have seen the school district choose to litigate instead of providing services, all while there is an extreme lack of intervention for parents requesting testing, speech pathologists, classroom aides and proper training/support to guarantee quality co-teaching for inclusion models. As a parent of a child with special needs, I can speak to the hard-hitting realities of trying to raise a child without the proper assistance. We need to ensure the special education system is not depriving our children from social interaction and placing a premium on transition planning.
The school district just celebrated a strong graduation statistic, but does not have the ability to track nor ensure high-school graduates are career-ready or entering the workforce prepared. We can graduate 100% of our students, but are they prepared for their career goals? We need to develop K-12 Career Pathways that create bridges to important industries, trades, and apprenticeships while guaranteeing they have the life skills to be successful such as financial literacy and emotional intelligence.
As a father of three, how do you think we create programs that involve parents in their children’s schools, specifically working parents?
As a working father, we need consistency in communication systems at each school site and districtwide. I believe that we have done a good job of parental engagement, but now is the time for empowerment, however that cannot be accomplished without information reaching parents or guardians. There have been attempts to make programs accessible after normal work hours, but we must keep in mind that less than 10% of Fontana residents live and work in Fontana, therefore, a vast majority of parents are commuting and relying on a stringent time schedule to meet their family needs. I would like to see more digital resources provided and trainings or meetings recorded as well as provided to inform parents. Lastly, I would like to create a Policy and Budget Oversight Committee to empower parents to take a more active role in the governance of the school district.
What first got you politically engaged and involved?
In 2009, three children lost their lives tragically in a car accident. Their names were Moses Guzman, Dylan Green, and Devon Keeten—Dylan and Devon were brothers. At the time, my eldest son was 11 years old, my wife was pregnant and I was the Supervisor at a nearby middle school in after-school programs for at-risk youth. The accident occurred less than 200 feet from where I was working and I felt compelled to do something to bring the community together while providing support to the families impacted. From that experience, I saw a need in our community for more programs to support working families and hopefully save the lives of our children. Since then, I have helped bring mentorship programs to Fontana, volunteered and worked closely with the district in the past on getting fathers more involved in their children’s schools.
You provided remedial instruction to under-performing at-risk children and have focused your campaign on issues are student social and emotional wellness. How do we create trauma-informed practices in schools and support students with emotional or discipline issues?
We need counselors to get back to counseling. I want to advocate for marriage and family therapists to be available to treat our children who have experienced trauma or undergoing crisis as well as provide support to their families. We did this when I worked as a coordinator at a local middle school and partnered with Cal State University of San Bernardino Educational Counseling Program. It paid dividends because children and their parents got the additional resources or support they needed. We tackled hard issues like suicide, homelessness and identity, which still plague our communities. Through the integration of restorative justice practices and positive behavior interventions, I think we can finally develop positive learning environments that promote student achievement and academic excellence.
How do we encourage more young people to get involved in local politics?
I believe we get young people involved by giving them something worth getting involved for. For far too long, local leaders have shifted blame and responsibility to younger generations, but not empowering them or listening to their needs and concerns. I plan to listen to our youth and engage them through putting together a Student Advisory School Board of Education, with a representative from each high school to speak to their issues in their respective parts of the community. We need to build up our youth and give them the platform to voice their concerns.
What advice would you give to another young Dem considering running for office?
Know the numbers: win number, permanent absentee voters, fundraising goals, and hours of sleep as well as family time you’re willing to give up.
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.