Three veteran incumbents on the Las Virgenes Unified School District Board of Education will be challenged by a newcomer to the town when the Nov. 6 election rolls around.
West Hills resident and Marine Corps veteran Kiyomi Kowalski came to LVUSD from Los Angeles Unified School District in search of a better education for her son, who is now a sixth-grader at A.E. Wright Middle School.
Having made the move to Las Virgenes schools, Kowalski said, she became inspired to run for a seat on the board of trustees.
“I toured the schools and I was a looking for a couple of things,” she said.
Academic excellence was a primary draw, but she decided to jump into the board of education race because, she said, the district “needed some help on the ground being a bit more inclusive.”
Kowalski said she “passionately believes that representation is everything” and is focusing her campaign on equity issues.
“As a black mother of two children, I will ensure the board considers the perspectives of families of color,” Kowalski said in an email to The Acorn. “We cannot prepare our children for a diverse world without diverse representation on our board.”
She said she is concerned about increased gun violence at schools, the lack of meaningful vocational training for high school students who choose not to attend college and the widespread use of drugs among “increasingly younger children.”
The stay-at-home mom holds a law degree and contributes her time to nonprofit work. She serves on the board of directors at her synagogue, Valley Outreach Center, handling volunteer coordination and community outreach.
If reelected, Lesli Stein will serve her third term on the board.
“My proven leadership, comprehensive experience and an understanding of the values of our community are essential to ensuring continuation of excellence in education in LVUSD,” Stein said. “My depth of experience has provided me with a comprehensive understanding of the complexities of the school district. I have the knowledge necessary to ask strategic questions and make thoughtful, informed policy and fiscal decisions.”
Stein said technology, school safety, increased counseling services and facility improvements are all on her radar if she is reelected.
Stein has a long list of priorities she will tackle if reelected, including the adoption of diverse academic and career pathway programs so students can succeed in and out of college.
Safety protocols at all schools need to be refined, she said, and she will continue to advocate for increased local, state and federal funding.
Increasing technology use in classrooms is also on Stein’s list of goals, even though the district has made many strides in tech programs since she was elected.
“Since 2009, when I was first elected, LVUSD has seen a dramatic increase in options and opportunities for students to be engaged and successful learners,” Stein said. “I am proud of this accomplishment.”
Angela Cutbill has been a member of the Las Virgenes school board since 2013.
“I’m excited to be seeking reelection to continue serving our award-winning school district,” she said. “No other district of our size in California has this many options and opportunities for students. . . . We are truly cutting-edge, but we can’t rest on our laurels. We need to continue to innovate and stay in front of all the ways that we can best serve our students’ needs for a changing world.”
Cutbill said new programs and initiatives that were ushered in last year need “care and monitoring as they are implemented and grow to fruition.”
She is also concerned about public school funding.
“Maximizing limited funds while continuing to attract and retain our amazing teachers will always be top of our challenges,” Cutbill said. “We need to work to continue to close the achievement gaps for struggling students and to provide opportunities and equity for all students.”
Like Cutbill, Dallas Lawrence was first elected to the board of education in 2013.
“I first ran for the school board five years ago to ensure we established the right policies, fiscal discipline and innovative approaches to education necessary to guarantee our students were provided every opportunity to succeed in an increasingly competitive world,” Lawrence said.
“As the only school board member serving today with children attending our schools, I have worked to bring the parent perspective to our deliberations as well as my experience as a former U.S. Navy officer, teacher at USC and as a federal Department of Education official in Washington, D.C,” he said.
Lawrence said LVUSD is facing unprecedented challenges.
“The first is the massive burden the state has placed on local schools to fill the gap in California’s unfunded pension and benefits programs,” he said. “During the last five years the unfunded mandate has absorbed the majority of every new dollar in state funding we receive. As the senior serving board member on the district’s finance committee, fighting for adequate funding at the state and federal level, where we just secured a new $1-million grant for student safety, for example, has been one of my top priorities.”
The midterm election is Tues., Nov. 6. For information on polling locations, visit sos.ca.gov/ elections/polling-place.