On November 3, 2020, there will be an election to fill the two vacant seats formerly held by Andrew Blumenfeld and Brent Kuszyk on the LCUSD Board of Education. Four candidates will be running for the two empty Governing Board seats: Caroline Anderson, Jeremiah Arnold, Josh Epstein, and Belinda Randolph.
Below are Mr. Epstein’s responses to our questions.
Note: Some responses have been edited for clarity and brevity.
What makes you unique?
I think there are a few things that give me a unique perspective during this election.
First, I am an educator myself. I am a faculty member at USC in the School of Dramatic Arts and I am dealing with many of the same issues as an educator that our district is. So, I know what it means to approach things like distance learning from multiple perspectives.
Second, I currently have children at three different school locations within the district. I have a 4th grader at PCY, an 8th grader and a junior. So, I know what is happening across the district and I understand how parent and student concerns change from school to school.
Finally, I have a lot of leadership experience at a district and community level. I’ve led the Educational Foundation, but I’ve also co-chaired both the bond and parcel tax campaigns which move beyond just the district and require consensus building throughout our entire town.
How are your plans different from those of the other Governing Board candidates’?
I don’t really feel comfortable characterizing the plans of the other candidates. I encourage everyone to research their ideas in the same way you would effectively research anything–by going directly to the source, but making sure what they are saying is really what they mean. As for me, I have a few areas of focus that are particularly important to me.
1. Continued attention of student social and emotional health: We have made great strides in this area, but I want to continue making sure we focus on the whole student and always keep in mind that while the goal of school is to educate, it is also about developing thoughtful and kind human beings and citizens who feel comfortable and supported and can work to make a real difference in the world.
2. Capital Improvement: I’m very active as a volunteer with the district regarding the upcoming capital improvement projects because I think they are incredibly important. I would continue to be focused on these projects as a Board member. The improvements we are discussing will define the shape, look and function of our schools for decades to come. I want to make sure that these projects meet not just our current needs, but that they place a priority on making us as future-proof as possible.
3. Expanded support of programs and initiatives surrounding equity, diversity and inclusion: This is a heavily discussed topic right now, not just in La Cañada, but all over the country. I think it is crucial we equip our students with the ability to think and talk about these issues because they are going to be having these conversations when they go to college and when they get out into the workplace. But, we can’t equip our students if we aren’t in the place to do the work ourselves as a district and that requires training at all levels. School should be a space where students feel safe and comfortable and that they have the agency to affect change. That can’t happen if we can’t acknowledge and correct situations where students feel discriminated against or marginalized because of their differences.
Why do you want to be part of the Governing Board?
I have spent a lot of time volunteering in this district and I have enjoyed that time, but I think this is the perfect moment to step up and do more.
If you had to summarize your campaign into three main ideas or words, what ideas or words would you use?
Transparency, experience, and creativity.
What are your thoughts on reopening?
Reopening is incredibly complex, especially at the high school and junior high levels. There are so many moving parts to the daily schedule and so many considerations that it is really hard to find the best way forward for everyone. I want to get reopened as quickly as we can as long as it is safe for everyone: teachers and students. The most important thing is that we get open as quickly as possible for students who need in-person teaching more than others. Once we make sure that those students are getting the experience they need, then I think we move incrementally toward a full reopening. No matter what, we all need to be kind and treat each other with grace during these times because even the best solutions aren’t perfect and there are going to be a number of unexpected challenges along the way.
How can LCUSD improve DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusion)?
I mentioned this a bit in my second answer, but I think this starts with training at all levels. I also think the district needs to work harder at attracting diverse, high-quality candidates whenever positions open. It benefits the district when we bring more thoughtful and diverse voices into our schools. Finally, I think there is some work to be done to make sure we don’t have blind spots when it comes to curriculum. Are teachers considering a broad spectrum of voices and experiences when they are choosing essays and texts as class material? It is really easy to keep going with what we know and have always done, but giving students the opportunity to see themselves and their classmates reflected in the things they read and learn is worth the extra work.
From your perspective, what has the current Governing Board done well?
The current Governing Board has done a lot really well. I think in the last few years they have improved communication and they have put us in a pretty good place financially. They are thoughtful and they work incredibly well together to make decisions that keep the needs of our students as their primary goal.
What aspects of the current Governing Board need to be improved? How would you improve these aspects?
I think there is still room to improve communication. I think that the Board listens well, but I want to see them work a little bit more to explain why they reach the decisions they do. I think that information is often clear if you attend the 4-5 hour long board meetings, but most people don’t have that amount of time or patience. So, I think it is important that we work harder to summarize and explain. I also think that it is very easy for the board to hear a handful of very loud voices and lose sight of where the community as a whole stands. I don’t know how you improve that given the limits the board has on surveys and polls, but I do think it is something to be aware of.
If students could vote in the upcoming elections, why should they vote for you?
Honestly, I think I have laid out a pretty good case. I have the experience, I have understanding as a current parent and as a university educator and I have made a point of listening to all stakeholders (even the ones I don’t agree with) as I work to understand the district and the community.
For more information on Mr. Epstein, visit epsteinforlcusd.com.