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DOWNEY – Bertha Valenzuela admits her campaign mantra might not be original — but the 60-year-old retired bilingual educator says its sincere nonetheless.
“I just want to make a difference,” she said. “I don’t want to argue or fight — I don’t want to say I’m better. It’s just time for change and new ideas…and I have new ideas.”
Despite her openness to work with her opponents in the future, Valenzuela must compete with them this November in a four-way race for an open seat on the Downey Unified School District board of education.
According to the Los Angeles County Registrar-Recorder’s office, 20-year incumbent Barbara Samperi will face off against Downey Library Commissioner Betty Monroy, Bellflower bank teller Leslie Valencia, and Valenzuela, who filed in early August.
Samperi, who has been on the board since 1993, represents Area 7, which extends from Imperial Highway beyond the I-105 Freeway over to the intersection of Woodruff and Rosecrans avenues.
Valenzuela, who retired as a bilingual educator with the LA County Office of Education sixteen years ago, believes it’s time for a fresh perspective on the board.
“I want to make a difference for school and teachers,” Valenzuela said.
A longtime resident of Bellflower, Valenzuela was an early supporter of by-area school board elections and hopes to champion improved special education services if elected.
After having to send her granddaughter with autism to a school in Orange County for education, Valenzuela says she hopes to reform services in Downey to better meet the needs of children with special needs.
With both children and grandchildren who attended DUSD schools, Valenzuela also hopes to phase in common core standards, lower class sizes, and provide computer tablets for students in order to better prepare them for state exams and future careers.
“I didn’t know how important the SAT tests were when I was in school. I was a latchkey kid that would’ve been out on the streets if it weren’t for the parks and recreation programs,” she said. “They make a difference and open up doors. We have $8,000 for statues — why can’t we put that money into our children?”
Valenzuela, who attended Cerritos College and Cal State LA, is perhaps most passionate about reopening Pace Elementary School.
“We should be opening up schools, not closing them down and transporting kids to other places,” she said. “Why? If there’s a school right there in their neighborhood.”
Before working for the LA County Office of Education, Valenzuela worked as a teacher’s aide at the Los Padrinos Juvenile Hall and served as a bilingual counselor on the streets of South LA and Watts where she helped establish neighborhood watch groups.
“I wanted to do something to keep kids out of jail,” Valenzuela said. “I have a lot of friends that passed away from drugs and violence — I want to do something for my grandkids and other kids to keep them off the streets.”
She continued: “Instead of talking — let’s do something about it. They say there are no gangs in Downey, but they’re all around.”
Valenzuela, who has been married for 43 years and attends St. Dominic Savio Church, hopes DUSD residents give her a chance to speak for the community of Bellflower.
“I’m here for the children, I’m here for the teachers…I’m open for ideas and I want to put them all together,” she said. “Let’s start a new environment together.”
The DUSD school board election, which takes place on Nov. 5, is the first since board trustees chose last August to forego at-large elections in favor of a seven-district, by-area voting system.
Published: Oct. 3, 2013 – Volume 12 – Issue 25