One on One with LAUSD candidate, Alex Johnson

alex 1The Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) special election is nearly two weeks away.  Voters will go to the polls on August 12th to elect the new District 1 representative who will fill the seat vacated by the late Marguerite Poindexter LaMotteAlex Johnson agreed to an interview with the Urban Girl for a no holds barred interview and even disputed the premise of a question I posed to him.

Good afternoon Alex!  Thank you for taking the time to speak with 2UrbanGirls on your candidacy for LAUSD School Board.  We know you are busy, with nearly 30 days left until the August 12th election, so again, thank you for your time.

Thank you for affording me an opportunity to discuss my campaign for L.A. School Board with 2UrbanGirls for the benefit of your growing number of online readers in Los Angeles and Inglewood.

To begin, there have been many articles written about you that paint you as somewhat of a “puppet” for LA County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, as though you haven’t held professional positions prior to working for him.  What do you wish to say to your critics?

I would say simply, ‘Examine my record of professional accomplishment in the demanding and responsible positions I’ve held in Los Angeles, New York City and Washington, D.C.’ Whether as an Assistant District Attorney working to protect children and families from domestic violence or as a senior education and public safety policy advisor to Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas. Prior to working for Supervisor Ridley-Thomas, I worked with school instructional leaders in the New York City Department of Education on performance management and classroom effectiveness. In addition, I worked as an adjunct lecturer at Lehman College, one of 23-colleges in the City University of New York (CUNY) system.

I would say further, ‘Examine what I’ve done since my graduation from Los Angeles Center for Enriched Studies (L.A.C.E.S.) – a top performing high school in L.A. – Morehouse College in Atlanta and lastly American University, Washington College of LAw in our nation’s Capitol  – where I earned my law degree.’  While at American University I served as an Equal Justice Works Fellow, where I advocated on behalf of indigent defendants at the Public Defender Service for the District of Columbia.  Further, I earned a substitute teacher’s license and taught constitutional law to high school students as a Fellow with the Marshall Brennan Constitutional Literacy Project.

I began public service experience as an aide to Georgia State Representative Douglas C. Dean. Moreover, I worked in the offices of U.S. Representatives Julian Dixon and Juanita Millender-McDonald. In 2000, I was a project manager for the 2000 Democratic National Convention Committee in Los Angeles.

I have also worked for the late noted attorney Johnnie L. Cochran Jr., a tireless advocate for justice on behalf of people in underserved and underrepresented communities. I continued in the tradition of Johnnie Cochran as an Assistant District Attorney in Bronx, New York where I fought for victims of domestic violence and sought to protect them by helping them secure safe housing and mental health services.

What you will see are progressive steps in terms of my knowledge, experience, and leadership capability. What you will see is my ability to tackle problems that have a significant impact the lives of people.

What you will see is my capacity to deliver results. I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished professionally. L.A. County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas has served as a mentor as well as a boss. I couldn’t have asked for a better professional experience than what I’ve gained working for him for the past nearly four years.

I’m proud of my body of work. The work I’ve done has positioned me to be a leader in education policy in manner that is inclusive and collaborative. My work and the diverse array of relationships I’ve forged through my work makes me best suited to be the next elected school board member for the residents of LAUSD District 1.

As voters learn what I have done, they have embraced my campaign for change and results at LAUSD. There is no other way to explain the 20-point rise my campaign experienced in the special primary election. I was known by 4% of voters in January 2014 when I announced my candidacy. We worked to educate voters about my background and experience. On Election Day, I received nearly 25% of the vote and finished second to my runoff opponent. We conducted a recent poll. I’m now known nearly as well as my opponent in the general election. Our polling shows I have a clear path to victory.

It will take hard work, but I’ve never been afraid of doing hard work. I pledged during the primary that my campaign would not be out-worked by my opponent or his campaign in this election. This success we’ve had so far is proof that our focused efforts and determination are delivering tangible results [which is exactly what I will do on the school board when I’m elected].

I have a capable and experienced campaign team. I have tremendous support and key endorsements from leaders and organizations our community’s residents trust. My campaign has brought together labor and business in support of my campaign for change at LAUSD. That doesn’t happen very often. I’m trilled and humbled by the breadth of support I’ve received for my campaign.

My supporters are thinking about our future. They know its time for a new generation of leadership to shape education policies to improve our schools.

Our task over the next 30-days is to reach LAUSD District 1 voters with my message, and contrast my candidacy and record with that of my opponent. I know I won’t be embraced by every voter, but I’m confident I will be embraced by a majority of voters in LAUSD District 1 when their votes are counted on Election Day on Tuesday, August 12.

You have worked in the capacity of senior deputy of education to the Supervisor for nearly four years, where I am sure you two may not always see eye to eye on issues.  What have you learned that has helped you prepare to fill the District 1 seat?

The three most important lessons I’ve learned working with Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas are (1) there is no substitute for hard work, (2) there is no better public service path to walk than community education, engagement and empowerment, and (3) to be truly successful in public service, you must be – and always remain – a servant leader.’

I’ve been working in the education policy arena for a number of years now, and with each of the positions I’ve held, I’ve added another layer of policy understanding and perspective that served to compliment the professional roles and responsibilities I’d been given.

As senior advisor to Los Angeles Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas for education and public safety, I’m responsible for an array of education and public safety issues faced by L.A. County’s 10 million residents and the 2 million residents of L.A. County’s Second District.

My oversight of education and public safety policy issues includes: juvenile justice reform including juvenile indigent defense, early childhood education including Head Start, public safety realignment, structural reform of the Sheriff’s Department, reducing commercial sexual exploitation of children, reducing inequities related to children with special needs, and preventing gun violence.

As senior advisor to Los Angeles Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas for education and public safety I provide leadership in the development, oversight, implementation and integration of the education and public safety policy priorities and initiatives for one of our region’s most progressive elected official.  I have led the effort to steer nearly $64 million to provide continued access to high-quality universal preschool in the County.  Directed nearly $1.5 million toward the Children’s Defense Fund (CDF) programs in the Second Supervisorial District, including over $500,000 to implement a pilot summer literacy program in two probation camps.  The literacy program has proven extremely successful and was expanded to 5 sites this summer. Moreover, I led an effort to identify nearly $7 million to fully fund a $50 million probation camp replacement project and $5.7 million to restore funding to an early childhood education policy and advocacy project. 

You have worked as a prosecutor in the district attorney’s office in New York and part of your work in the Supervisor’s office has expanded summer programs for students in Probation camps.  Do you foresee having the ability to bring those programs to LAUSD?

It is imperative that I bring a culture of change to LAUSD and the LAUSD Board of Education. The old ways of managing issues at LAUSD have not worked to the benefit of all students.

In the past 30-years, too little has changed in our communities to make education what it needs to be for our children. If we don’t change the status quo at LAUSD, our students will continue to fall further behind. Our students will continue to drop out at higher rates, and their graduation rates will not rise as high as they need to be. LAUSD District 1 has been producing poor educational outcomes for far too long.

The fact is the traditional system has institutionalized low achievement. Reform, accountability, and leadership are the keys ways to turn education in our community around. I am the only candidate who can bring together stakeholders from across LAUSD District 1 to enable parents to work effectively with educators and unite teachers with parents to drive student achievement and reverse the troubling education trends that have persisted in LAUSD District 1.

Our parents, teachers and students need a school board representative who will fight for them. They need a person who will bring energy and new ideas to the School Board. I will fight to get our schools their fair share of school funds and resources to improve our schools. My work with the Children’s Defense Fund has shown me what effective and focused efforts to promote literacy and learning can do to change the lives of our young people.

We must improve our schools. Our kids are not getting the education they deserve.  We need to make L.A. schools more innovative and accountable.  And we must make them safe. LAUSD must benefit our children and give them the education and opportunity they need to learn, progress and succeed.

The late Marguerite Poindexter LaMotte was known as a fierce defender of the District 1 students.  What kind of advocate will you be for the students and their families?

Alex Johnson speaking with the community

Alex Johnson speaking with the community

I’m running for L.A. School Board because the people of our community need a fighter. Our community needs and wants a school board representative who will act on their concerns, be an advocate for them, engage them in an ongoing dialogue on the education of their children, support good teaching, promote innovative learning, and work hard to deliver results on the education issues they care about.

I have the intelligence, drive, energy, ideas and desire to work effectively with all stakeholders that meets what our community needs and wants from their next school board member. I have the attributes LAUSD District 1 voters are seeking.

My advocacy for our students and their families will extend to the years before our children start school. I want preschool for every child. Kids who attend preschool are more likely to do well in school, and better able to succeed in life. I have already helped 10,000 local children gain access to preschool.

On the School Board, I will fight to give every child that opportunity. We must provide our schools the money and resources they need to help our young people learn and succeed at an early age. Every third grader needs to know how to read at a third grade level when they finish the third grade. Anything less is unacceptable if we care deeply about student success.

Good schools start with good teachers. I will fight to make sure that every school has good teachers.  In New York, I served as part of an education team that was dedicated to improving teacher performance. I know how to identify and develop good teachers.  I will support new funding for teacher training and professional development.

I have to say that parental involvement is essential. I believe we must develop with new ways to encourage parental involvement.  We need to ensure that parents have a voice in their child’s schools.

Lastly, LAUSD’s most important job is to keep our children safe at school.  But far too often, they have failed. I’m the only school board candidate with a proven record of protecting children.

As an assistant district attorney, I prosecuted domestic violence cases and stood up for children and families who were victims of violence and abuse. As education and public safety advisor to Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, I helped fund a Safe Passages and gang intervention program to help kids get to school safely.

I helped launch an anti-bullying summit that brought L.A. kids together to develop ways of preventing bullying in schools. I worked with the Children’s Defense Fund to create summer learning programs in California youth probation camps, helping kids in trouble turn their lives around.

Our children deserve school leaders who put safety first. I’ve proven I have what it takes to do fulfill that responsibility.

Mr & Mrs. Johnson are proud parents and supporters!

Mr & Mrs. Johnson are proud parents and supporters!

You speak very highly of your parents’ involvement in you and your sister’s life and their desire to ensure you had the best education possible.  Many students in District 1 come from either single parent homes or are in foster care.  What are your plans to increase parental involvement in their child’s education?

My mother worked as a classroom teacher in LAUSD. My father was a Teamster truck driver. I’m the son of parents who were decidedly ‘old school’ in raising my sister and me. What they gave us was a solid family structure and a belief that we would go nowhere fast without a quality education. We didn’t come from a privileged background, but we received everything we needed, and more, to grow and mature to become the adults we are today. I value their teachings everyday. The respect I have for them is a source of personal strength.

I believe three things are essential to increase a parent’s involvement in their child’s education and the school they attend.

(1) Recognize that single parents and guardians have many demands on their time. We have to make it easier for parents to come to schools during times that work with their schedules. And we must create a welcoming environment for parents when they come to school campuses.

(2) Part of the problem is parents and guardians are working multiple jobs to make ends meet, which means they have little time to be involved. The recent decision by LAUSD to pay school workers – like bus drivers, teaching assistants, custodians and cafeteria workers – $15/hour minimum wage will help thousands of parents be more involved. Tens of thousands of L.A. school workers have children attending LAUSD schools, and those working parents will now be able to cut back on their second and third jobs, giving them more time to be more involved in the education of their children. I joined these school employees in their fight for a fair minimum wage that will keep them from sliding into poverty while they work to take care of our children at school.  This was a hugely important development for hard-working, dedicated women and men at LAUSD that our schools cannot do without.

(3) We cannot understate the importance of giving parents and guardians a voice in the direction of their schools.  If we want people to be involved, they have to create the means to give them a voice. We need to listen to their concerns and hear their ideas. We must solicit their involvement and make their involvement more meaningful and substantive. It’s the needs of their children, after all, that must be our prime consideration. LAUSD is a mammoth institution, but a neighborhood school needs to function as a neighborhood resource for the parents and guardians of our communities.

Neither you nor your opponent have ever been previously elected to an education board seat or any seat for that matter.  What qualities do you have that will make you a better candidate for voters to choose on Election Day?

First and foremost, I have a proven ability and track record as a consensus builder. I will fight hard for the residents of LAUSD District 1, but the voters of LAUSD District 1 won’t be electing me to the school board to pick fights. There has been enough strife on the L.A. School Board in recent years and it has often gotten in the way of progress and delivering results.

I’m not a hostile guy by nature or upbringing, but I know how to be a tough negotiator. With every negotiation comes some compromise, but you don’t need to compromise your principles to be effective and accomplish beneficial things for parents and students. I have expertise in key education issues, particularly school safety, early learning, healthy children. I’m not new to these issues and hundreds of children have been helped by the programs I have assisted in my job as an education policy advisor.

As charter schools continue to penetrate LAUSD, many residents in the community are alarmed by your campaign donors.  How will you separate the views of your contributors to the work that needs to be done on behalf of the voters? 

I dispute the premise of your question – that residents are alarmed by charter schools and those who may support them. LAUSD District 1 has more charter schools for one reason: District 1 parents want them. Thousands of parents in the community want their children in charter schools because they believe those schools will provide a good education for their children.

That’s why thousands of families are on waiting lists for charter schools. The vast majority of residents in the district support charter schools. My only commitment to the parents of LAUSD District 1 is to ensure that every child in our community has access to quality education. I will fight hard for that regardless of who contributes to my campaign.

We’ve lost a generation of young people to probation camps, jails and prisons that we may have been able to redirect to college or a career trade if we had given their elementary, middle and high schools the resources they needed to provide them with a quality education.

I’m not willing to wait another 30-years for change at LAUSD. The time to act is now! We’ve waited long enough. I’m prepared and ready for this school board education policymaking responsibility and I’m confident the voters of LAUSD District 1 will demonstrate on Election Day that they know that as well.

Thank you again for your time Alex.  2UrbanGirls wishes you the best and encourages our readers to remember to vote on Tuesday, August 12th.


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About Melissa

I am a lifelong Inglewood resident living in District 4. I serve on PTA and School Site Council as Vice-President, for the last 8 years with Inglewood Unified School District. I volunteer on the Wellness Committee for ICEF Public Schools. I am an alumni of California State University, Dominguez Hills with a degree in Political Science. You can find me on Twitter under @CreoleMommie

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