Government / Politics

Election 2020: Hollister School District, Trustee Area 2

Elizabeth Martinez and Leonard JT Espinoza campaign during switch to district representation.

Watch candidates for HSD Trustee Area 2 answer questions from the BenitoLink 2020 Virtual Election Forum.

The Hollister School District Board of Trustees voted last year to switch its method of election process from at-large to district representation. The Nov. 3 election will be the first time in HSD history that each trustee must live in the area that they want to represent, and voting for the seat will be limited to residents who live in that trustee area.

The two candidates running in Trustee Area 2 are challenger Leonard JT Espinoza and incumbent Elizabeth Martinez.

 

Leonard JT Espinoza, 41, was born in San Benito County and raised in Hollister. Throwing his hat in the political ring for the first time, he said he has always advocated for education for all, equality and inclusion “when possible.”

Espinoza works for the San Benito Office of Education at the Early Childhood Special Needs Preschool. He said his experience working in schools and volunteering in the community has given him an understanding about the priority needs and concerns at the school level. Espinoza is also a father of three.

Identifying as a lifelong learner, Espinoza said education is one of his top five hobbies alongside reading. He said his experience as a former student of HSD, a parent of school-age children, a community member, volunteer, and working for the office of education, combined with the connection he has established with the community, will guide him to bring innovative, optimistic ideas to the table.

Photo courtesy of Leonard Espinoza.
Photo courtesy of Leonard Espinoza.

BENITOLINK: Why are you running to represent Trustee Area 2?

ESPINOZA: I am running for Hollister School board Trustee 2 because I want to be the unheard voice for the district. I was born and raised in this district and there are the same needs in schools that have not been met since I was a student. I am ready to work alongside the other board members and advocate for the students and their families.

What issues are most important to your district?

With the situation we are in right now with the pandemic and budget cuts, money is going to be tight and programs will be cut. I will advocate for programs that affect the children directly, especially in the special needs department.

Are there issues you feel are important to your district that the public may not know about?

I feel like the schools in the district I am running for have been left behind when it comes to upgrades and repairs. When the conversation arises about school repairs and upgrades, hopefully I am there to be a voice for the District 2 community. 

What obstacles and challenges does the district face?

The top obstacle I feel at the moment for the district is the coronavirus. It is taking a toll financially and emotionally on the children, families and employees. 

How do you plan to address those issues?

First priority is the children’s health. That’s why I will listen to the families and employees’ concerns while working alongside the other board members and following the advice from the health professionals and state guidelines.

How do you intend to communicate and stay in touch with the constituents you’d represent?

I will communicate in person if possible. Otherwise I have a social media Facebook page under Mr. Leonard JT Espinoza. If anyone needs to reach me, they can also email me which is [email protected] 

What is the role of the Board of Trustees?

To make sure that we are open-minded to diverse ideas, culturally aware and conscious to the beliefs, values and priorities of the community being served. 

What facility improvements do you think are necessary in your trustee area?  What would you prioritize and how would you go about getting that done?  

There are many facility improvements that need to be done in the trustee area I am running for. In the past couple years Calaveras school and others did get facility upgrades like AC, for example. Some schools get blacktop pavement done for their basketball courts while others schools’ blacktop pavement have not been done since they were built. I feel like the board needs to look at which schools are getting more attention than others and start equaling out the improvements. 

With the move to distance learning, what can the district do to support parents and guardians who are now in the position of playing virtual teachers aide?
First thing would be to make sure that the technology that is being handed out is up to date and working. Also keep in mind cultural diversity, different languages and that parents or caregivers will be able to support in different ways. Many resources are out there. That is why it is important to be intentional with the support and resources that are given. When introducing something new to parents or caregivers it is a good idea to provide the right scaffolding like the teachers would for the students. It may help with the feeling of being overwhelmed.

 

Elizabeth Martinez, 52, has served two consecutive terms on the HSD board. Born in Ameca, Jalisco, Mexico, she was brought to the United States at the age of two by her parents who immigrated and established roots in Hollister. A self-described English learner, as a teen she worked picking cherries, walnuts and apricots until she married her high school sweetheart at the age of 18. Now married for 33 years to her husband who has worked at HSD for 32 years, she has two sons, two daughters-in-law and six grandchildren.

For the last 19 years, Martinez has worked at San Benito High School, currently in the Migrant Education Program. In addition, she is president of the California School Employees Association (CSEA) chapter 173. She cites her experience as a classified employee, serving on the CSEA executive board for the past 16 years, as well as her personal connection to Hollister, as vital to her decision making.

Photo courtesy of Elizabeth Martinez.
Photo courtesy of Elizabeth Martinez.

BENITOLINK: Why are you running to represent Trustee Area 2?

MARTINEZ: I am running for a third term because I feel I am not done with the work that needs to continue at the HSD. I have four amazing, passionate, caring board members that encouraged me to run for another term and that is the biggest compliment you can possibly get. I have never felt more confident and empowered by the direction we have set out to accomplish. This board for the first time since I’ve been on it is completely united in its efforts. We are committed in bringing forth equity to all and shining the light on areas where we need to freely and openly discuss. For example, special education has always been a major concern for many many years, but only now under the direction of Superintendent Ochoa have we been able to correct our past and create a program we are proud of but most importantly our parents are proud of.

What issues are most important to your district?

I want to ensure that all of our students get the best TK-8 education. This COVID-19 pandemic has completely thrown a wrench in everything and has made teaching much more difficult for our educators, students and parents. We rely on a traditional setting to do this very important work, but right now our kids are struggling. We have a lot of students just not connecting or participating at all grade levels. We are extremely concerned with their mental and emotional well-being apart from the academics. And our focus should be to find out why kids are not wanting to or are unable to participate. This is where the inequities are greatly magnified because some kids are homeless, embarrassed to show on Zoom because they don’t want other kids to see their living conditions. Many don’t have the space in their home to properly learn and study. Language is a huge barrier for our English learners. 

Are there issues you feel are important to your district that the public may not know about?

Currently there are no issues that we have not already openly discussed in our board meetings. This board is not afraid to discuss or address any issue that is brought forward by our community, staff, parents or students. This is the only way we will be able to accomplish what we set out to do.

What obstacles and challenges does the district face?

The challenge this school year of course is our preparedness for the return to school during this COVID-19 pandemic and all the equipment and supplies it will take to make sure we are ready to open. The funding allocated by the state for this school year didn’t take into consideration the additional costs for COVID and the deferrals starting in February 2021. We have so many fiscal challenges this school year like never before and with possible cuts to education in the coming years. We all need to speak with our state representatives so they understand the importance of educating our children. We are investing more in our prisons than we are in our schools, how is this not a major concern for everyone? If we invest in our children’s education the way we should, they won’t end up in our prisons, simple as that.

How do you plan to address those issues?

Speaking with our local state representative and advocating for more funding. I attend virtual seminars through California School Boards Association, Association of California School Administrators, School Services of California and the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials to figure out ways to sustain our district through the coming financial crisis. I know we will have to borrow money to make payroll when the deferrals start and we have a plan for that. And we are currently accessing our remote learning model to work out any issues or concerns as quickly as possible. We are inviting our teachers, classified and parents to participate in our September regular board meeting to hear from them directly on how things are going and where we need to make corrections. We are currently working on preparing all of our school sites with COVID signage, PPE, and completing all maintenance work on the buildings. 

How do you intend to communicate and stay in touch with the constituents you’d represent?

This is a very good question because I now represent a specific district and my constituents are extremely important to me. I will need to create a profile on Facebook and/or Instagram specifically for this purpose to give them the opportunity to contact me and share areas of concerns, questions or just as an informational platform. 

What is the role of the Board of Trustees?

The role of the HSD Board of Trustees is to establish policies and regulations in compliance with state and federal laws. We are responsible for the oversight of student achievement and fiscal solvency. We represent the values, beliefs and priorities of our community and constituents.

We have five core functions and responsibilities:

  1. Setting direction
  2. Establishing an effective and efficient structure
  3. Providing support
  4. Ensuring accountability
  5. Providing community leadership as advocates for our children, the school district and public education

There are more than 5,000 school board members in California governing approximately 1,000 school districts and county offices of education. California is the largest public school system in the nation, serving more than 6 million students. I am honored to serve on the Hollister School District Board of Trustees and hope to continue doing the great work I was entrusted to do. 

What facility improvements do you think are necessary in your trustee area? What would you prioritize and how would you go about getting that done?  

The highest priority regarding facilities is providing Calaveras K-8 with a multi-purpose/gymnasium. The building would be similar in size to what was built at Sunnyslope, but we would want to create a building that fits within the Calaveras design. This will be done by setting aside funding, state grant funds and developer fees, to fund the project. As a board member, I would advocate during meetings and work with the superintendent to prioritize the completion of the project. 

The next priority would be the playing fields at Calaveras (and all other schools as well). 

With the move to distance learning, what can the district do to support parents and guardians who are now in the position of playing virtual teachers aide? 

I think the district can provide trainings to parents. I think the district can create online “help desk” options for parents who need assistance. I think the district can also invest in more tutoring support and online support for students and parents.

 

Patty Lopez Day

Patty Lopez Day,  has been a reporter for Benitolink since August of 2019.  A journalist and writer by trade she's had work published in print and online media throughout the Bay Area most notably La Oferta, the longest running Bi-lingual, Latino owned media outlet based in San Jose California where she started her journalism career after graduating from UC Santa Barbara with degrees in English and [email protected] studies in 2005.   Lopez Day covers Education, and Local News for Benitolink and remains open to new story ideas, sources and tips on any subject matter of interest to the community at large.