Kelly Fitzpatrick-Gonez and Imelda Padilla

One candidate is a teacher and the other is a community organizer. One is backed by charter schools, the other by the teachers union. One is in the classroom every day, the other says she knows the community best.

Kelly Fitzpatrick-Gonez and Imelda Padilla went head to head on Tuesday, May 9, before dozens of parents gathered at Vaughn G3 in Pacoima who heard their final pitches before the upcoming May 16 election.   One of them will be elected to the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) Board in representation of District 6.

The District covers Granada Hills, Lake View Terrace, Mission Hills, Pacoima, San Fernando, Sunland and Sylmar.

In the March 7 election – in a field of six candidates – Fitzpatrick-Gonez came out on top with 37.16 percent of the vote; Padilla received 31.13 percent. placing them in next week’s runoff election. This time, whoever gets the most votes will win.

Both candidates did their best to convince parents she is the best to represent them before the LAUSD.

Fitzpatrick-Gonez has the backing of the California Charter School Association and was a teacher at a school in Lake View Terrace before heading to Washington, D.C. to work as an education policy advisor for the Obama Administration. She’s now teaching seventh grade at Crown Preparatory Academy, a charter school in south Los Angeles.

Padilla has the support of United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA) and other unions. She formerly worked for the community organization Pacoima Beautiful, which is now headed by her sister.

Fitzpatrick-Gonez said she’s running because “I saw the struggles that my mom (a native of Peru) went through for being an immigrant. I wanted to give back to make sure that others never have to face the same barriers that my mom faced.”

As a teacher, she noted she’s also “fighting for my students.”

“The tragedy is we know how to fix these schools. A quarter of our students don’t graduate. That is unacceptable. I’m running for my students and for my mom.”

Padilla said she’s running because she knows the community better and wants to build on improvements already made.  “I want to protect the good things that are being done and fix what’s wrong,” she said.

Many of the questions asked during this debate dealt with charter schools – which are maligned by UTLA but loved by many parents in this community.After all  the foundation  of the charter movement in Los Angeles and the state began right here in this District with the cluster of Vaughn schools in Pacoima leading the charge.

“I want to support and highlight the success of charter schools. We should be learning from those successes, not fighting with each other,” Padilla said in reference to the constant bickering among supporters and opponents of independently run public schools.

There are 28 charter schools in District 6.

Charter supporters contend that charters tend to have better results for students and provide more choices for parents, but opponents point to sometimes-questionable management practices, alleging that some of the schools hand-pick higher-performing students to the detriment of others.

Fitzpatrick-Gonez also believes it’s important to “make the process of choosing a school easier for parents.”

Padilla also said she supports charter schools, but noted that some are not transparent and that has put them in trouble, but in general she concedes that parents like them and vowed to “help them if they’re not doing well so they can do better.”

“If they’re doing things right, there’s no reason why we shouldn’t work together,” Padilla added.

Bullying was another topic discussed in this forum.

Both said they have first hand experience with this issue. Fitzpatrick-Gonez said she has students who eat lunch with her because of the bullying and believes the way to deal with it is “teaching tolerance and teaching students how to intervene, because [solving] it can’t be just from the adults.”

“From a very early age, we have to teach empathy and kindness and that difference is what makes us a community,” Fitzpatrick-Gonez noted.

Padilla, who said she was the victim of bullying growing up because she suffered from rickets at an early age, recommends holding “diversity fairs to understand our differences to change that bullying culture.”

Their working plans if elected are very similar. Both plan to work with parents to improve schools, they want to tackle the bureaucracy that permeates  LAUSD and provide more resources to teachers.

But after next Tuesday May 16th, election day, only one of them will get to execute their plans.