Two newcomers with ambitious goals celebrated wins in a five-candidate election for Livermore Valley Joint Unified School District Board of Education.
Voters chose public policy advocate Kristie Wang and former Tri-Valley teacher and parent volunteer Yanira Guzmán to fill two at-large seats on the five-member school board.
With the vast majority of ballots counted, Wang stood in first place with 18,246 votes (26.04%) followed by Guzmán for the second seat at 15,529 votes (22.16%). That positioned the pair to unseat incumbent Chuck Rogge with 12,212 votes (17.43%) in third place, as well as challengers Kandiss Hewing in fourth (12,057 votes; 17.21%) and Asa Strout (11,867 votes; 16.94%). One seat was already guaranteed to change hands with incumbent Chris Wenzel opting not to seek re-election this fall.
Wang and Guzmán are set to be officially sworn in during a board meeting on Dec. 15, but before that, they will be participating in training and orientation meetings to help prepare for their new roles.
Wang, who gained recognition as a leader of the anti-vaping movement in Livermore, said that upon taking her place on the board, her top priority will be to work toward reopening schools safely.
Prior to winning the election, Wang said she spent several months researching how schools in other communities reopened, including which strategies worked and which didn't. She also attended public virtual town halls and school board meetings in other districts to get a sense of how other areas are approaching reopening.
"I want to see us more ready to go," Wang told the Weekly.
"When things do get better -- and it's going to get better at some point, whether it's in a month or six months or a year -- at some point we're going to be ready to bring students back in and I just want us to be ready for that. I don't want to wait until that time and then start planning, I want to plan now for that day," she said.
Wang is also thinking beyond just getting students back on campus. She said she wants to work on addressing mental health issues and learning gaps that have been exacerbated by the pandemic when students eventually return to in-person learning.
"I think about four days after the election, I did an all-day training on youth mental health because that's really a big issue right now," she said. "I see my own kids and other kids I know who previously didn't have mental health issues and are developing them and so for kids who already had them to begin with -- and I've talked to some of the parents of those students -- this is very serious."
Wang said that her second and third priorities are to focus on advocating for money for the district's budget and to help guide the schools through the national conversation on civil rights, including recruiting more teachers of color to the district and reevaluating the U.S. history and social studies curriculum.
"I want to look at what the textbooks are, what the curriculum is and where we can really bring a more complete picture for all the kids that leave our school system," she said.
Guzmán said that her No.1 priority is improving communication and access to information between the district and parents. She explained how she addressed a recent lapse in communication following a survey the district distributed to get parent input about a hybrid learning model.
"Part of that message went out bilingually but another part did not. So, to compensate for that, I did a quick and dirty video in Spanish trying to highlight the big points and posted that out to my social media," Guzmán told the Weekly.
She said that closing the gaps in communication will allow parents to better advocate for themselves and their children.
"There are other languages within our community other than Spanish, so really making sure that the people who don't necessarily have the language skill set get the required information because it affects them and their children and their families," Guzmán said.
In addition to improving communication through language, she said she wants to explore different methods of distributing information.
"Email is a very middle class type of way of communication, so how do we make sure that other communities get the information? How can we use social media to our advantage? How can we use WhatsApp? These are other forms of communication that are popular in other communities and we need to tap into that," she said.
While she recognizes that she represents the entire Livermore community as a member of the board, Guzmán said that the initial motivation to run for office came about upon noticing how students from low-income and non-English-speaking families were being affected by the pandemic.
"I ran because I saw our community in a crisis -- and not just Livermore -- but I did run for the low-income, the immigrants and the non-English speakers because COVID is hurting these communities much more disproportionately than others and that's not OK with me," she said. "It's not OK with me that our entire community is hurting but it's not OK with me that some people are hurting more."
Guzmán added that her end goal as a board member is to ensure equity and access for everyone, saying, "I'm really trying to advocate and push that if we work together, we can make positive change."
Two of their competitors -- human resources specialist Hewing and information technology business analyst Strout -- shared words of encouragement for the board members-elect.
"I am confident that the two of them will be able to successfully address the issues my campaign presented, and that is what is most important when it comes to who is elected to the Livermore school board," Strout said after extending congratulations to the winners.
"I'm so proud of Livermore," Hewing said. "Our community did their research and chose the best candidates for the board. Kristie and Yanira are intelligent women who will put our students' best interests at the forefront of all of their decisions and policies."
Hewing also said that she is proud of the campaign that she ran and she "would not change a thing," despite falling short of a victory. Although Strout said that he was disappointed about not winning a board seat, he plans to continue serving the community through his nonprofit Unify Livermore.
Rogge, who will be leaving the board next month after losing his bid for a fourth consecutive term, declined the Weekly's request for an interview this week.
The results to date represent the vast majority of eligible ballots, but some small remaining amount of vote-by-mail, provisional and conditional ballots remain to be processed. The Alameda County Registrar of Voters' Office said the next results update would be out Friday afternoon. (LVJUSD also includes a sliver in Contra Costa County; the above totals reflect those 161 ballots as well.)