Lorenza Chavez, 33
Lorenza Chavez for East Side Union High School District
As a former student, teacher, and principal, Lorena Chavez, 33, knows the power educators can have on a child's life trajectory. As a candidate for East Side Union High School District, she's hoping to dismantle the punitive discipline system and create a restorative justice process.
What was the best advice you received for you ran for office?
Make sure you know why you are running and that your family is supportive. Things will get hard and it’s important to be able to go to your why and have a support system in place.
If you could get a beer with any politician, who would it be?
Obama, for sure. I just want to get into his mind and really understand the way he thinks about things. I can't imagine what it was like to be in his shoes as the first African American President of the United States who was able to accomplish a great deal.
In your own words, what are you running for?
I'm running for school board in the East Side Union High School District. The school board sets the direction, structures, and ensures there is accountability for the district so that the district functions and is responsive to the values, beliefs, and priorities of the community.
Why should I care about your race if I don't have kids enrolled in those schools?
The quality of education, the resources and opportunities that our students receive, are all going to determine options and pathways our students have access to. Our students are community members and neighbors. We want neighbors that are going to make good decisions and be the best possible contributors to our communities. To be able to do that, we need to make sure that will set them up for success from the beginning. This starts with a good education. Aside from setting up our community members to be positive citizens of our community, it is our moral duty to make sure that our students have the most qualified adults at the table.
What issues are being neglected in your school district you want to see addressed?
Discipline reform, which include suspensions and expulsions is a key issue. Latinos and African Americans have the highest number of suspensions and expulsions. They’re the highest number when it comes to expulsions, suspensions, but when it comes to having highest test scores, they're not there. They are amongst the lowest performing. So what is that actually saying? The school to prison pipeline is very real, I feel like that's where those numbers start by.
I like to tell us story of an experience in ninth grade that changed my trajectory. I fell asleep in one of my ninth grade classes, and my English teacher sprayed my face with a water bottle. I remember his exact words, “No one falls asleep in my class.”
He asked me to stay after class and we talked about potential trajectories for me. He was the first educator that told me that I was smart, who opened up opportunities by saying, “You can be in honors and AP classes, but do you want to?” He could have easily sent me out of class and given me a referral. That would have probably left a really sour taste in my mouth.
I know for many of our students it is these types of experiences that end up in referral often times disengages them, that lead to suspensions, and sometimes can lead to expulsions. There we have the school to prison pipeline.
What do you suggest instead of a punitive system?
One of the things that I would like to push for is restorative justice and making sure that everyone involved with our education system understands what that means. That should become a practice across the board where we really look at the importance of relationships and how that can move the work forward, not just literally in terms of the academics, but as people and as a community.
What other issues are facing the district?
Retaining great teachers and staff. It is hard. We have a teacher retention problem everywhere. But when you think about the Bay Area, our teachers are leaving because they can’t afford to live here. How do we figure out how to keep them here? But it's not just the money piece. Teachers also really care about growing as educators. They're thinking, “What opportunities am I going to get to grow? What is my environment like at the school? Do I feel at home? Is this family?”
My last one issue is bringing our classrooms to the 21st century and beyond. I think about educating the whole child, not just about the core classes. We get really caught up in these test scores, making sure that our students are proficient in Math, in English. But we also need to make sure that they have opportunities to do extracurriculars like art, music, PE, science, social studies, to learn about their background and about their history.
I also think it's really important to expose them to different careers. College is not for everyone, and that is okay. My platform is making sure our students are college and career ready. I want to make sure that they have exposure to different fields out there, so that they can know what they have access to, and envision themselves in different places. Many people say like, “Oh, we should have more partnerships with Google, so they can give us computers.” But they should also be there job shadowing for a day. That takes their students' education to the next level. I think it's really important that we build partnerships with companies, community-based organizations, and businesses to expose our children.
You’re running for a high school district. How do you intend to collaborate with other districts that feed into yours?
Eastside is a very big high school district that covers seven elementary, middle school districts. We have seven feeder districts and I think there are great opportunities there for more collaboration, more streamlining. There are some initiatives that have started, but it's just not enough.
If we were more proactive versus reactive, we'd be in a different place. We can be proactive working with the elementary school districts by really honing in on early education, making sure we're partnering with the feeder district to support them in whichever way we can so that they can support our future children. If students have a strong early education their academic trajectory is going to be a lot more seamless.
Another big opportunity is a transition between eighth and ninth grade, making sure that the teachers have the opportunity to align with each other and to be in each other's spaces so that when the eighth graders go to ninth grade, it's more of a smooth transition. The students know what language teachers speaking both literally and figuratively, regardless of the subject, and vice versa.
Who have been your greatest mentors?
So many people, and that's the reason why I'm still in education. I never envisioned myself going into education. I used to say that’s the one thing I will never do because I don't have patience. But the moment I stepped into my classroom I fell in love with my kids, because I found myself in them. They are my mentors.
In my personal life, my mom. She is an amazing human being. There’s five of us and she worked many jobs, to get us through. This woman came from Mexico with a second-grade education and now she's like a real estate goddess. She owns a lot of properties and smart investments, by learning the system and doing it herself.
But since she was young, she always said, “I'm not going to work for anyone else, I'm going to be the one who is my own boss.” Since she was a teenager, she had her own little liquor store in Mexico. So she's always been a very independent risk taker and has been successful in life because of it, even though there were cultural and language barriers.
Professionally, I would have to say the principal that I worked for. I became a principal largely because of her. I had been in teaching leadership roles but she truly believed in me. She took me under her wing. She has really done the work with me. I think that has really shaped the way that I view leadership in growing people doing a lot of the work alongside them and supporting them so that they can be successful. So ultimately, everyone else can be too.
What was the moment you realized you should run for office?
There wasn’t a single moment. It took me a while to understand that I was part of the achievement gap, that that was an experience I had in. That led me to really want to stay in education and love teaching. I became a principal because I wanted to have more of an impact at a macro level. Then as a principal, I thought, “This is still not enough.”
Eastside is my home. I grew up here, I have two little ones who are going through our public schools. Yet, there's still a lot of systems in place that are not set up to allow our students to succeed. I'm not the type of person that complains and doesn't do anything. I like to pull up my sleeves and just get to work.
What do you think of the major doubts people have about you? What do you say to people who might say you're too young to run?
I have a lot of experience. Let’s come to the table and talk about education and the issues of life, then, then I'd like to hear if I'm still too young.
I feel very confident that I bring a lot to the table because I have the lens of somebody who has grown up in the East Side, who got very lucky to have made it out and had options. None of my brothers made it to college. I made it out but I truly feel that it was because of luck at that moment in time. Living that experience really instilled in me the conviction that education should not be left to luck. So I bring that set of eyes and that experience to the table representing a population that is the majority in the district that continues to be left behind.
Aside from that, I've been a teacher, I’ve been a principal, I’m still in education. I work with a lot of charters and districts across the Bay area. So I bring a lens that is very unique.
I think I would have doubters because I'm very much an independent. The charter district debate is very real. And for me, it's not about whether we should bring about more charters. It's about making sure that our education system is the best for our children and our families, period, whatever that means. Any good teacher will tell you, I differentiate from my students, no two students going the same. We’ve got to think about that when we're thinking about our communities as a whole. Our traditional education system has failed a lot of our families. So let's get to the root of the problem. Let's find solutions there so that we're not worrying about trying to be reactive, or get super political. I'm a human being that just wants the best education for my neighbor, for my child, for my sister.
What advice would you give to someone else who's considering running for office?
This is my second time running. I ran in 2016 and I came very close, it down to 2 percent. It is going to get hard as hell and they're going to be many times where you feel lonely. But don't forget about your why. Stay focused. Keep your eyes on the prize and remember it's about the children.
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.