By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
In a close call, we opt for Canter over Fields. Canter is smart and driven, and combines maturity, energy and independence with a sound background in both education and business. With her then-husband, Lee Canter, she built a start-up into a multimillion-dollar company that specialized in teacher training — one of the school district’s most pressing needs.
The 52-year-old Canter, a former special-education teacher, is known for promulgating “assertive discipline” techniques, a useful class-management tool for beginning teachers. While assertive discipline is not by any means the linchpin of school reform, her expertise in teacher training should prove helpful in a school system that is held back by a staggering number of inexperienced teachers.
Canter’s work provided her with an instructive window into public education, as well as regular and still-continuing contact with effective school-district administrators. Her past clients include current school-board president Genethia Hayes, who hired Canter to provide staff training at a nonprofit parent-support program Hayes oversaw before joining the school board. Hayes says Canter did excellent work.
Hayes, however, is sticking by fellow board member Valerie Fields, and a case can certainly be made for this one-term incumbent. Fields is a veteran of L.A. liberal politics, having served many years in Tom Bradley’s administration — as his education adviser, no less. Today, she strongly supports Superintendent Roy Romer and his education program.
For nearly four years, Fields maintained the support of both Mayor Riordan and the teachers union — the two forces whose mutual antagonism has defined this election. Critics suggest that she opportunistically tacked left and right to keep both political heavyweights in her corner.
We have different issues with Fields. We feel that she often was too detached from specific problems at school sites, and that her thinking on some matters, including potential solutions to the severe classroom shortage, has been too rigid and uncreative. We also can’t fathom her lack of knowledge of Playa Vista — one of the nation’s largest proposed housing developments, which sits in her district and could profoundly affect her area’s schools.
Riordan broke with Fields in January, over her support of the teachers’ contract. (According to the mayor’s calculations, a 10 percent raise was affordable; an 11 percent raise was not.) Though Fields sided with the union, she contends she’ll be an independent agent in her next term, because at age 74, she says this election will be her last. She was never anyone’s lackey anyway. She was, for example, the only member of the pre-Riordan board to oppose the contract extension of former Superintendent Ruben Zacarias.
And what about 32-year-old, strip-mall builder Matthew Rodman, the mayor’s guy? Rodman has one year of service under his belt on the new West Area Planning Commission and also has headed the Brentwood Homeowners Association. We find him to be a quick study on education issues, but he reminds us too much of the smart kid cramming at the last moment for his final exam. His understanding wasn’t formed in the trenches — or by any long and dedicated study. With this thin record — and a candidacy entirely propped up by the mayor — we have to wonder about his moxie quotient the first time that Riordan or some other influential force presses him hard. On merit, the contest here is between Canter and Fields, and on merit, the choice goes to Canter, whose expertise and energy would be a welcome addition to the board.
DISTRICT NO. 6 —
For much of the 14-year period that incumbent Julie Korenstein has represented this eastern San Fernando Valley district on the school board, her critics have underestimated her, and we know why. At board meetings, she is too often “shocked and dismayed,” to use one of her favorite phrases. She asks the same questions over and over again. Her cautiousness leads her to duck some votes that she ought to take sides on. She falls too easily into “woe are we” speeches, rather than just fixing things without resorting to excuse. And last but not least, she is almost invariably a conveyor belt of the teachers-union position into the school board’s deliberations.
But there’s another side to this. Sometimes her shock and dismay are utterly appropriate. Sometimes her incessant questioning regards proposals she intuitively — and often correctly — mistrusts or opposes. She asked a lot of questions, for instance, when a majority of board members wanted to ramrod through the Belmont Learning Complex project, which Korenstein opposed from the start. Neither did she approve of ditching phonics for the hot idea of whole-language instruction, and she supported phonics’ return when it became politically desirable.
Incumbency, even in a struggling school district, is not an automatic evil. Korenstein’s institutional memory is formidable, an asset not sufficiently utilized by fellow board members.
Also, Korenstein devotes serious attention to constituent services (a part of the board member’s job that the mayor’s circle pooh-poohs). She listened, for instance, when parents complained about pesticides being sprayed outside open classroom windows while classes were in session — and even though the administrators’ reflexive response was to dismiss the matter, Korenstein prevailed upon them to alter the practice. Such school-site issues may be far from the biggest item on the L.A. Unified agenda, but they nonetheless still need to be addressed, and Korenstein’s one of the few board members to do just that.