Interviewing the School Board Candidates

Next month, voters in Downey’s northeast quadrant have two important decisions to make as they elect new members to the City Council and school board.


Although the new elected officials will officially represent northeast Downey, they will make decisions that affect all of Downey.


Willie Gutierrez resigned from the school board earlier this year, creating a rare vacancy on the governing body. Two people are seeking the seat: Carlos Avalos, director of facilities for the Lennox School District, and Giggy Perez-Saab, a civic leader.


The Patriot interviewed both candidates via email. Below are their responses, reprinted in their entirety without editing.


Candidates were asked to limit their answers to 250 words per question.

 Campaign photo

Campaign photo


Carlos Avalos


Why are you running for school board?

CA: I’m running for school board because I believe Downey students deserve the best public schools to prepare them for the brightest future possible. As a product of Downey USD, I have a strong history in Downey. As a homeowner, I am fully invested in our neighborhoods. As a school administrator, I have the professional knowledge and experience to lead. As a father of two exceptional daughters that will be attending elementary soon, I will fight for every student’s safety and success.


I have a plan that will focus on improving the safety at our schools, improving our schools facilities to provide every single student with state of the art facilities and remaining fiscally responsible by eliminating unnecessary spending.



What makes you qualified to be on the school board?

CA: There are several reasons why I am highly qualified to be on the school board. I can draw from both my personal and professional experiences.


Professionally, I am the only candidate with over a decade of public school administrative experience. I have the knowledge and unique leadership style to make the right decisions that will positively impact our students, staff, and neighborhoods. I not only know how to read and develop a budget, I can balance them. And balancing budgets is something I’ve been doing throughout my career as a school administrator. I’ve been active in many school district committees involving budgeting, school safety, construction and, negotiating with employee unions. I’m the most experienced candidate with actual school district administration and I know how to build strong relationships between staff, parents, and the community.


Personally, and just as important, I am a parent and uncle to students that attend Downey public schools. I have a vested interest in this district and community.



What would be your priority as a school board member?

CA: My priority is the success of every student. As I mentioned about my plan, I want to improve school safety by creating a single point of entry for all schools, updating emergency procedures, and increasing surveillance. We must improve our school facilities by investing in our classrooms so teachers and students have access to innovative technology, updated libraries, and up-to-date science labs and art classrooms.


I will also work on sustaining a strong balanced budget, reduce unnecessary spending, and spend on our students.



Downey schools perennially receive high marks for their programs and instruction, but there is always room for improvement. In what areas do you think Downey Unified could improve?

CA: There is always room for improvement or innovation. I feel that we can improve in the area of special education. We need to make sure our teachers and staff have the professional development and support to be able to give every student, no matter how unique they are, an opportunity to succeed and have a positive learning experience.


As an expert in construction management and managing bond expenditures, we need to utilize our current bond wisely and plan for future growth and additional programs. I know that school facilities can either help or hurt the learning process. We must be able to adapt and update to ever changing technology and provide our students with 21st Century facilities.



According to P21.org, Downey Unified has a graduation rate of 96%. What can be done to further improve that number?

CA: I definitely want our district to have a 100% graduation rate. I will emphasize to our administration that we must embrace a collective responsibility for academic success. A culture where administrators and teachers look at absences and academic success as a whole school and not just the students they teach. We also need to look at attendance data and work with students and families to help them understand the cost of frequent absences. I will work hard to make sure we capture every single student and provide the resources necessary to improve their chances at graduating.



Would you support later start times at Downey schools?

CA: I followed this issue closely during this legislative cycle. There was a great debate about changing state law to require a later start time for California students. Ultimately, Governor Brown vetoed the bill.


I would ask for feedback from our outstanding students, teachers, administration, staff, and parents. We should hold meetings and provide surveys, to make sure we receive input from every single stakeholder in the district. I have a lot of questions on how and which students can benefit from later start times. The important issue here is student success. I will support and advocate for ideas that will increase our student success.



In Downey Unified’s 2017-18 annual report, it’s suggested that Downey elementary schools could benefit from a Spanish curriculum to be used as part of a dual immersion program. Is this something you would support?

CA: The ability to communicate is critical to anyone’s success. When I started kindergarten at Alameda Elementary, Spanish was the only language I knew. Of course, as a child I learned English quickly. The data shows that kids have the ability to learn another language faster than adults, let’s use that strength and give our students the option to learn another language.


Being bilingual myself, I know the benefits of speaking two or more languages. I also know that learning two or three languages is normal in many countries. A dual immersion program can help students see the world through a different lense and I would fully support offering that option to our students. And why not think about including other languages? Over one billion people in the world speak Chinese, maybe our students want to learn Chinese?



Campus safety is an important topic in our country. Is there anything you think can be done to further protect students on campus?

CA: Yes. Let’s begin by increasing the collaboration between Downey USD and the City of Downey. We should be talking about safe crosswalks near schools, crossing guards, and lighting. What about connecting with the State to provide training to all staff and students in the areas of safety.


I would also look into making a single point of entry for all visitors at the school sites. Some of our campuses have generally been known as “open campuses.” Anyone can drive into the school site and not have to check in. I believe this puts us in a vulnerable position by not knowing who’s on our campuses. We must invest in student safety by improving our surveillance, security staff, and adding energy efficient lighting at all campuses.



Would you like to make a closing statement to voters?

CA: I want all students to achieve academic success and become model citizens who give back to the community. I was raised here in Downey and I’m a proud graduate of Downey public schools. This is my opportunity to give back to the very schools that made me a success. I want to inspire our next generation of leaders and see our students achieve greatness. I want to build with our great staff members, dynamic parents and community to make Downey Unified School District the best schools in the state.

My plan will focus on improving our school safety, improving our school facilities and remaining fiscally responsible by reducing unnecessary spending.

This November 6, I humbly ask that you vote for the most experienced candidate and a homegrown leader, Carlos A. Avalos.



 Campaign photo

Campaign photo

Giggy Perez-Saab


Why are you running for school board?

GS: I am running for Downey School Board because I am dedicated to the future of not only my three school aged-children, but to those of our entire community.


My record of service in Downey demonstrates that I have been working hard for many years to ensure that our children have the right role models and the necessary resources to succeed. Our community is only as strong as the next generation and I feel a sense of duty and responsibility to do my part in making sure that Downey schools are the best they can be.


We have a great school district, but we have to always strive to do better. A 96% high school graduation is remarkable and something we should all be proud of but I also want to focus on those 4% that have fallen short and which may need that extra bit of assistance. The emotional, social and physical developments of young children have a direct impact on their overall academic growth and future prospects as an adult. We need to provide a strong foundation for our children when they begin school to help build future academic success.


What makes you qualified to be on the school board?

GS: My extensive record of serving Downey and the children of our community speaks for itself. I did not just decide to run one day and then become involved like others have. For years, I have been involved in the Assistance League of Downey, the Downey YMCA, Downey Soroptimist, Downey PTA, School Site Council, and Operation School Bell among others.


I have a proven record of serving our community with a focus on children because having two young children attending Downey Unified School District Schools, I know and appreciate how important it is to be involved and to be part of the solution for a better community. I grew up in Public Schools and understand the importance of providing opportunities for all children.


My strong ties to the community are also evident with the broad support I have received. I have been endorsed by all members of the Downey School Board, the Downey Teachers Association, the Downey City Council and many wonderful parents and members of the community.


What would be your priority as a school board member?

GS: My priorities will always be to do what is best for the children of Downey. Doing what is best for our children includes being a strong advocate for them, especially for those that have challenges and need additional assistance to make sure they do not fall through the cracks.


Another priority will be to make sure that our incredible teachers have the resources they need to do their job properly. We have the best teachers in the State but we have to continue to push for more funding because the magic of education happens in the classroom and our teachers are on the frontline.


We must provide programs and training for those students who may not necessarily have a path or desire to attend college, but can enter the workforce with greater skills to be competitive in today’s global economy. That is why programs such as MADE are so important because they provide real life exposure and training to students so that they may have the skills to enter the workforce upon graduation.


I promise to listen to students, teachers, and parents and always be open to new ideas and programs. We must never become stale and should always push forward to make DUSD even better than it is.


Downey schools perennially receive high marks for their programs and instruction, but there is always room for improvement. In what areas do you think Downey Unified could improve?

GS: There is an opportunity to expand the Science and Math curriculum (STEAM). We know that Americans have fallen behind in recent years to other countries in this area which is why DUSD has been aggressive in motivating young kids to the sciences. I will focus on introducing young minds to the sciences so that they too can be the next scientist, astronaut, engineers, teacher and whatever else they put their minds to.


We need to inspire our youth early on. Downey has a rich space history and thanks to many intuitive minds right here in Downey, we were able to put a man on the moon and inspire an entire country. As a school board member, I promise to do my part to lay the framework to be that beacon of imagination for the leaders of tomorrow.


I would like to see more programs and training being offered at the Downey Adult School so that our students can continue to be competitive in the workforce. We are fortunate in Downey to have our own School District, which allows us to make the necessary changes which not only meets the demands of our City, but also to respond quickly to the workforce needs. There are many types of skills which our Downey Adult School can offer to give greater opportunity to those wanting to learn a trade.


According to P21.org, Downey Unified has a graduation rate of 96%. What can be done to further improve that number?

GS: While this number is incredibly impressive, we must focus more attention to the early formative years to ensure that those students who are struggling receive the necessary resources early on. Our teachers do an incredible job, which is evident by the 96% graduation rate.


As a school board member, my hope is to be able to work closely with our teachers, parents, and administration to identify those who have a greater need and to make sure they are identified early so that we can provide them with the tools they need to succeed.


Would you support later start times at Downey schools?

GS: First, I do not think Sacramento politicians should be mandating what times Downey schools should start. Those are decisions that should be made by each individual district. Each school district should decide what is best for its students, in conjunction with parents and teachers of Downey.


I do not think we need to change our start time. It is a complex issue that does not always have a successful effect on student achievement.


In Downey Unified’s 2017-18 annual report, it’s suggested that Downey elementary schools could benefit from a Spanish curriculum to be used as part of a dual immersion program. Is this something you would support?


GS: Language Immersion Programs are an emerging trend in top school districts nationwide. We need to ensure that our kids master the English language and that any program we consider does not compromise our students’ ability to excel in the language.


However, like everything else, the more information we have as a School Board, the better informed we will be to make a decision in the best interests of our children’s future economic and social prosperity. There is a well-established positive relationship between basic thinking skills and being fully proficient. There are many challenges that include qualified staffing, curriculum, and balancing student’s educational priorities.


Campus safety is an important topic in our country. Is there anything you think can be done to further protect students on campus?

GS: There are always additional things we can do to protect students both on campus and through cyber-bullying. Students must absolutely always feel safe at schools and parents must feel confident that their child is in a safe environment to learn and not be distracted with insecurities. This is why I support the Districts plan of having a single point of entry for all schools and installing smart locks on all classrooms and offices.


We must continue to work closely with our Downey Police Department, Gangs out of Downey, the anti-bully education program and also continue the Character Counts program to teach our children that if they see something, they must say something. We must also work closely with our teachers and administrators to have the input necessarily to be vigilant with a viable plan.


There are many available options which require funding however, as a School Board member, I plan on reviewing these options and fight hard to secure the best and more up to date technology to protect our students.


Would you like to make a closing statement to voters?

GS: I want to thank the voters for the opportunity to serve and be heard. I ask that the citizens of Downey please look at the record of all candidates. I am the only candidate that actually has a record of service in Downey and am the only candidate that has actually attended Board meetings.


Together with my husband, Alex, we have three small children, two of which are in elementary school in Downey Unified schools. I have real life experience and will advocate for the students and parents ethically and with the best interest of our children first. I am proud to have had the opportunity to serve Downey and our children throughout the years in different capacities. Our family is one of service to our City, and I hope to be able to serve on the Downey Unified School Board and continue my dedication to our community.