• Nayari Vasquez

New Faces to the Bellflower Unified School Board: Meet the Candidates for this Upcoming Election

Updated: Oct 27, 2020

The Bellflower Unified School District school board currently has two seats that are free for the taking after former members Jerry Cleveland and Debbie Cuadros stepped down from running for re-election. With these two spots waiting to be filled there are three candidates running: Dr. Sue S. Elhessen, Brad Crihfield, and Mayra Garza. They’re battling between each other for a spot on the board and hold debates over zoom in the hopes to secure more votes.

Dr. Sue Elhessen is the current California Commissioner on Disability Access and has held a seat on the board before. She aims to focus her time on the board to the academic gap caused by the lack of attention on special needs children. She strives to meet the safety guidelines for each school in the district and is concerned with engaging the community with the school board. When asked about the rising racial tensions around the country and how to make each person of color feel supported by the district Dr. Elhessen responded by saying she wants to empower youth voices (keeping in mind that the question was asked by a high school student journalist). She also discusses the possibility of focus groups starting from early elementary school ages: “I think it’s important it [focus groups] starts there. Understanding and communicating the different cultural issues that arise from racial tensions and being able to address those in a positive manner.” The Bellflower Unified School District has always had a hard time with open communication amongst the board members and the community, but Elhessen counters these claims by expressing that when she was on the board she was very open to talking with the community; she emphasized, “I've always been an open board member… people in the community know that… I was the board member that they often sought to help resolve issues because I quickly jumped on it in regards to addressing it with the superintendent or appropriate staff.” She goes on to say that the issue of communication can be helped by focus groups and more community participation.

Brad Crihfield is the chairman of the Lakewood Chamber of Commerce and is also a district parent. He is very open about his life and ideas on his podcast which can be found on his website. Crihfield, a dad to two girls, proclaims that his start in public service was a result of wanting to create a better life for his daughters. He is big on the idea of open communication with the public suggesting that the board meetings be accessible through live stream, and be friendly to the diverse makeup of Bellflower Unified schools by translating the board meetings. He goes on to explain further by saying, “all of our websites need to be updated regularly not only from just a community engagement standpoint but from a compliance standpoint. That's the taxpayers money.” Crihfield addresses that the community is distrustful of the school board and seeks to change that as he deals with these types of issues constantly. He wants the board to have self-assessments to ensure that their jobs are being done correctly and efficiently. He is aware that he does not have all the solutions to every problem the board faces but he is willing to work with those who do. Being an effective school board member, in his words, means “being humble enough to take feedback and learn from others.” For example, on the issue of supporting students of color he claims he does not have all the answers but will work with teachers and classified staff, as these problems cannot be fixed by one person.

Mayra Garza, an educator for 16 years in the Bellflower Unified School District, has teamed up with Brad Crihfield to run for the two vacant spots on the board. She was an integral part of the inclusion of the Dual Immersion Program at the Intensive Learning Center (ILC) and dedicated six years of her working life to teaching and advocating for the program. Garza is also very family oriented, being the mother of three boys and the wife of the Bellflower Mayor Juan Garza. She believes that the three most critical issues facing the school board are a lack of community, insufficient amounts of transparency, and inefficient leadership. Leadership “sets the tone for the way that we educate our children,” Garza explains. She intends to create a user-friendly website and due to the delay in announcements about the new school year during COVID-19, she understands the need to get important announcements out to the public in a timely manner. Leadership is important to Garza especially during these difficult times. When asked about how to hold the superintendent accountable she explains that as a teacher she has had observations that have been very reflective and effective. Garza goes on to say, “having been a part of those types of observations, I feel that we also need to make sure that accountability is built into our expectations for the superintendent.” She feels that positive leadership will get us through this struggle and build a bridge to better communication. In order to expand the communication between the school board and the parents of Bellflower Unified, Garza proposed a parent poll which would help the board to better address the problems that the poll suggests.

With each of the three candidates showing promise for the two available seats on the school board, it will be interesting to watch the outcome of this race. For more information on these candidates and their platforms go to the BUSD Families Group Page on Facebook.

Dr. Sue Elhessen

Mr. Crihfield on his podcast

Mayra Garza

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