The Alhambra Source is interviewing candidates running in this year’s municipal elections, including Alhambra Unified School District school board. We've spoken to Andele Andrade-Stadler, who was reappointed to the first district, and Patricia Rodriguez-Mackintosh, who has served as a board member of AUSD for 12 years. We conclude our coverage with Yvonne-West Palma, who is running against Rodriguez-Mackintosh in the third district. West-Palma, 46 years old, has worked as a speech language pathologist for 16 years in the Los Angeles Unified School District. She completed a master’s degree in communication disorders at California State University, Los Angeles. She is the PTA president at AUSD’s Park Elementary School, in support of her two children who currently attend there.
Why are you running for school board and what are your primary goals?
I chose to run for the school board because I have a strong passion for education. I want to be more involved with the district and help to continue to raise the standard of education in Alhambra. I know we have outstanding teachers and we, as a board, need to be sure that we are doing everything possible to provide the exceptional support and training needed to increase the level of learning by our students.
My goal is to make sure sure teachers have the tools they need to be effective educators. At LAUSD, when I work with my students, we use the core curriculum with our students, so I rely on the teachers to give feedback on the materials, and the best way for teach, reteach. So that we are getting the material across to the students, and seeing if they are really grasping the concepts. That way, parents aren't trying to guess at home how to figure out whether the students are grasping the concepts.
Your motto is, "Happy teachers inspire students." What does that mean to you?
For me, I know when the teachers are happy and they're not feeling stressed, that they are more at ease when they are teaching their students. If they're not stressed about other things, and they're supported by their administration, the parents, the district — then things tend to flow more easily. I'm the PTA president at Park School, and one of my partners for PTA, for [parent-teacher] conference week, each day of the week we did something special for the teachers. We try to do that throughout the school year at Park School, just to let the teachers know that we care and appreciate their hard work. There are lots of things that we can do to support our teachers, to make their job a little easier. We know our teachers go above and beyond, and end up taking their work home with them. They spend their personal time for our students. So it's nice for parents to be able to have that connection and be able to give back. If the teachers are happy, then it reflects on their teaching, and impacts the way our students are learning.
How do you think the school board could outreach to students and incorporate their voice?
I think there should be a questions and suggestion box on each campus that students can feel free to ask questions or make suggestions anonymously to the board. Whether they want to be anonymous or not, it's up to the student, but they should be able to have a voice and express it to the board and to administrators, so that we can take it under advisement and look at what the needs are. We aren't seeing it from the students' point of view, and the way we may look at something is different than how the students feel, and it is key for us to understand what they're going through, so we can make better informed decisions. Of course with our younger students, it would have to be the parents because a first or second grader may not understand the questions but a parent might be able to engage with their children. A child could participate but it'd be more the parents filling out a survey. We should understand what's going on in the community… We see bits and pieces, and I'd like to get a full picture from everyone's point of view.
What do you do as a speech language pathologist in LAUSD?
I work with students who have articulation difficulties, difficulty producing sounds. I work with students who have decreased expressive language, difficulty communicating in complete sentences, formulating their thoughts. I also work with students with autism, early intervention disability, down syndrome. I help them to communicate better whether it's through sign [language], a tablet, or pointing. I help them find their voice, whether it's through a device or language.
What are some lessons you've learned as a teacher, that you could bring to the table?
I have lots of meetings, all the time, called Individual Education Plan. It's for students who might have a special need, or needs support academically or with their speech. So I've had a lot of great experience interacting with families and understanding their dynamics. Being very empathetic and listening to their concerns because I always tell parents, 'You're the best advocate for your child, and you more than anyone knows your child best.' That's why it's a team decision. I don't come in as a professional and say, 'This is what your child needs.' I give my opinion, but yet I always ask for the parent, 'How do you feel? What do you think your child needs?' So that we as a team can come up with a solution. How to better work at school and at home. I feel like I'm a good communicator… And I take everyone's opinion into consideration when we make decisions about what we should do to support our students. I have a lot of experience with that for the last 16 years. So I think I'm a good listener, and I think I'm really good at collaborating with a dynamic team: psychologists, nurses, teachers, and administration.
Tell us an example of when you worked in a team.
We sometimes do have a difference of opinion. We had an instance where probably five of the team members felt one way, and someone else felt one way. We had to work through it. It was hard, but we had to keep providing not only the test results, because the person was focused only on the test results, where the rest of the team actually worked with the student for many hours. So I think the weight of the test versus all the observation, all the time spent with the student, all the actual interactions—I think the test results are important, but all the other dynamics and experiences that all the rest of the team had, should have had a little more weight. That was something we had to learn to teach the person, we need to look at the whole child, not just the scores. Sometimes the scores are one day, one quick snapshot of who that child may be. Being able to take in what does the parent say, how are they at home, what do the teachers say, what do the different therapists say… So we get a better picture of who the child is… To make the most informed decision for what's best for the student. Everyone has to be willing to listen because your idea might be great but also you have to take in everyone else's perspective and really weigh it out before you make a decision.
There are a lot of students in the Alhambra Unified School District that are children of immigrants or recent immigrants themselves. How would you make sure that these students and parents are included?
I know that communication is important because we had a little boy who was adorable. He had his dad sign a paper and come to a PTA meeting. The dad asked what it was for. The boy had signed up his dad to be the PTA president. The dad was just mortified. Luckily, we had a parent in PTA that speaks fluent Cantonese and Mandarin who could translate. We explained to dad what it was, and he said he would volunteer, but he doesn't want to be president. It was nice that we could communicate with the parent. We make sure we have a wide variety of parents that speak Spanish, Cantonese, and Mandarin within our community to let parents know, don't be afraid, join because we have someone who can explain things to you. I also think it's important to have a staff member on campus who can translate for parents, especially if they're just coming to a new school, enrolling their children. There needs to be that liaison to help to translate. It's key to have someone in the office that can interact and answer questions so that parents are informed. I think that's why not everyone shows up to the meetings because they aren't sure if there will be translation. We need to assure parents, 'Come to the meetings,' because all the information that we share is for all families. And that way we get more parents to participate.
Yvonne West-Palma encourages residents to email her with any questions or concerns about her candidacy at firstname.lastname@example.org. This interviewed was edited for clarity and length.