Oscar de la Torre.

Name: Oscar de la Torre

Age: 47

Occupation: Founder/CEO of Pico Youth & Family Center

Neighborhood of residence: Pico Neighborhood

Own/Rent: Own

Marital status: Married

Kids: Oscar Jr. (John Adams Middle School) and Fidel (Edison Language Academy)

Political affiliation: Democrat

Schooling (High School / College): Santa Monica High/CSU, Chico (BA); UT Austin (MPA)

Highest degree attained: Masters Degree

Website: www.vote4oscar.com

SURVEY (UP TO 50 WORDS PER QUESTION)

With the district moving toward more autonomy for Malibu and possibly eventual separation, how does a two-city system benefit all students currently in the district?

The Board is committed to supporting an arrangement that benefits all students. Dr. Noguera’s analysis is that our school district’s promising initiatives were thwarted by what he termed “distractions.” Local control will decrease distractions and a smaller bureaucracy will lead to greater innovation and focus.

What role, if any, does the Board have in securing work-force housing for teachers in the district?

The high cost of living in our district has made it increasingly difficult to attract and retain highly qualified teachers and staff. As a former Board member of Community Corporation of Santa Monica I understand the challenges in making affordable housing accessible. The school board should assess meet these needs as long as it does not displace long term residents or eliminates rent control units. 

You’re in a kayak on the ocean when you see a Viking Longship approaching clearly on a raiding mission. At the same time, you see a shark fin in the water. What do you do?

Signal to my fellow Vikings that I need the harpoon. Get the fish and invite everyone over for dinner. Samohi Vikings for life!

 What is being done at all school sites to address traffic caused by parent drop-off and provide necessary parking for students/faculty?

Every school site has implemented a plan for the safe drop off and pick up of students. Each site has allocated trained staff to assist with the traffic. More needs to be done at certain sites and we plan to upgrade our infrastructure and coordinate with the Santa Monica Police Department to strengthen safety across our campuses. 

Which three movies best represent the high school experience?

Stand and Deliver as it shows that all students can achieve when inspired by quality instruction. Stand by Me because it shows that unwavering and loving leadership matters in making schools work for all and The Breakfast Club shows that our youth each has a story that needs to be understood. 

What kind of discipline should be used within the district and is the district doing enough to protect students on campus?

Since 2002, we slowly departed from an over-dependence on suspensions and are now employing a Restorative Justice (RJ) model to address student discipline. Currently we have a policy of zero tolerance for drug dealing, weapons and sexual harassment. We need to strengthen our approach by focusing on prevention, intervention and enforcement.

Are you satisfied with the results of recent construction work on SMMUSD campuses and what are the most pressing needs for the rest of the district?

I am most satisfied with our work in removing hazardous toxins from our buildings and sports fields but there is a lot of room for improvement in terms of transparency and accountability. The most pressing needs are: campus security, upgrading our cafeterias, classroom comfort (AC & Air Filters) and labs for training in high tech fields. 

What item of clothing from high school do you still wear today?

While a student at Santa Monica High I was co-captain of the football team and I still proudly wear my spring training workout shirt that has “Samohi Muscle” on it. My high school experience has made me a strong supporter of athletics and team sports for students.

What role should parent and volunteer groups play in determining curriculum or policy within the district?

The State-mandated LCAP and LCFF process requires parent engagement and input in school governance. We recently hired a Parent Engagement Coordinator and have implemented a Parent Engagement Framework that will build on our current parent engagement protocols. I support authentic parent and community engagement in our schools.

¿Como está respondiendo el distrito escolar a las necesidades de los alumnos que están aprendiendo inglés?

El distrito escolar esta mejorando los programas y servicios que sirven a los alumnos que estan aprendiendo ingles. Hay mas que hacer y el enfoque tiene que incluir un incremento en recursos para apoyar a los estudiantes en el salon y despues de la escuela. Tenemos que seguir apoyando a los ELAC’s y apoyar a padres que se estan organizando en grupos come LATINO PEMA en SAMOHI. 

ESSAY QUESTIONS: CANDIDATES HAVE UP TO 800 WORDS TO SPLIT BETWEEN THE TWO QUESTIONS AT THEIR DISCRETION.

SMMUSD is a rich district but there’s yet another school bond on the ballot. Voters have already approved several school funding measures in recent years and the District gets a cash infusion from City Hall. Why can’t SMMUSD live within its means?

While I agree that inefficiencies exist in our school district, it is incorrect to equate general operating funds with those committed to capital improvements. Future bond funding will support an overhaul of our food program by equipping our cafeterias to provide fresh and nutritious meals. Providing our students, especially those who participate in our free and reduced lunch program, with nutritious food will also make a difference in closing the achievement gap.

We have been asking Candidates about the achievement gap for 10 years. Why has this remained a known problem for so long and what measurable progress is being made?

The achievement gap is a national problem rooted in years of poverty, racial segregation in public schools, lack of political representation and institutionalized racism and a lack of equitable public school funding to name a few. In the 1970’s California was a leader in public education funding and now we occupy #46 nationally in per pupil spending. From 1970 to the present, the student population in California’s public education system became more diverse. At the same time, we have increased public investment to build up the world’s largest prison system so if you are a young man of color, you have a better chance of going to jail, not Yale. Sadly, more than 70% of our prison population lacks a high school diploma and the cost to incarcerate an individual annually costs tax payers more than to send a high school graduate to college. In the land of the free, when we fail to educate, we incarcerate and the loss to tax payers and to the individuals trapped in a broken system is catastrophic.

Aside from the backwardness in public investment, one of main problems is that we have a disconnect between the people who have the power to make a difference and the people who need the change. In California, we have experienced a dramatic demographic shift in our student population yet most school boards, curriculum, diversity in staffing patterns, has experienced little to no change. For anyone, especially an education leader of color, who attempts to change the system from within she/he will encounter roadblocks, indifference and in some cases marginalization. Most well intended people give up out of frustration.

Our teachers and classified staff, who are the foundation of every public school system, are underpaid and underappreciated. The misguided individuals in the White House who are proposing to give our teachers a gun, first need to give them a raise! Some scoff at my suggestion that we should pay teachers what we pay police officers but I sincerely believe that a quality public education is the most effective tool to reconcile social and economic inequality and the best research I have read shows that consistent quality instruction is the most important strategy to closing the academic achievement gap. A well paid, highly qualified staff working in a school culture that promotes a high-expectations, student-centered, culturally relevant curriculum along with collective accountability is the hallmark of a system committed to positive transformation in closing the achievement gap.

Since being elected to the SMMUSD School Board in 2002 I have been a strong advocate for initiatives that both identify and work to close the academic achievement gap. To our community’s credit, we advanced the principle of equity in public education and I am proud of the fact that south side schools are no longer the most underfunded and undesirable schools in our school district. One clear example of our progress can been seen in Edison Language Academy that was totally rebuilt and where the students score better than the district’s average in math and English acquisition. More recently, the school board has been working to implement the strategies identified by Dr. Noguera. The boards vision of Excellence Through Equity can now be seen in our social justice standards and restorative justice practices. The curriculum is becoming more engaging through a focus on critical thinking, cultural relevance and inquiry-based learning. Our dual enrollment partnership and our Young Collegians program with SMC is expanding access to college-level courses for our students. The Board’s decision to require every student to complete an ethnic studies course by 2024 will harness the strength of our diverse student body and better prepare all students to succeed in a diverse society.

To be certain, we have made progress in various areas and we still have a lot of room for growth. Math acquisition is a concern for all student groups, especially in middle school. Improving our food program and athletics, providing our teachers staff support in the classroom to meet struggling student needs and aligning in-school teaching with after-school tutoring and enrichment will make all the difference in successfully closing the achievement gap. Finally, schools cannot do it alone and we need the City of Santa Monica (both City programs and funded non-profits) and Santa Monica College to strengthen its commitment to our students and schools of greatest need.

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