Esmeralda Ortiz, one of several candidates vying for a seat on the Mountain View Los Altos Union High School District's board, says she wants to use her experience working with high schoolers at the Boys & Girls Club of the Peninsula to aid the school district.
As vice president of high school & postsecondary success programs at the Boys & Girls Club, Ortiz leads a team that helps students reach and complete college, as well as pursue other career pathways after high school graduation.
In an interview, Ortiz said that she is passionate about helping students and improving equity in education, and that serving on the board would allow her to have a larger impact. She also said that the present moment, as schools re-group from the pandemic, offers particular chances to effect change.
"(We have) a unique opportunity to not just revert to what we would consider normal, but to create a new normal for all students to be able to thrive within the district," Ortiz said.
Three seats are up for a vote on the high school district's five-member board this November, but only one incumbent, Catherine Vonnegut, is running for re-election. Ortiz is also joined by four other challengers: Jacquie Tanner, Eric Mark, Carrol Titus-Zambre and Thida Cornes.
In deciding to seek a seat on the board, Ortiz said that she has spoken with district officials and current board members to learn more about the district's priorities and feels there is good alignment with her priorities. She also noted that her husband is an English teacher at Mountain View High School.
As a first-generation high school and college graduate who attended public schools from kindergarten through college, Ortiz said that she understands the value of public education.
"I know just how critical our public schools are for preparing students for post-secondary education," Ortiz said.
One of the issues Ortiz wants to prioritize if elected is expanding the post-graduation options presented to students. While Ortiz said there are great supports in place for students interested in pursuing a four-year degree, she said that isn't the only path for teens leaving high school.
"I believe that when students know the full menu, they have agency to explore their passions and actually have options," Ortiz said. "Whether that's career technical education, community college, four-year universities, a gap year, military service, the labor force – just recognizing that those are all different post-secondary pathways (that are) worthwhile to pursue."
Another area of focus for her is ensuring that resources are being invested into mental health and wellness programs. While Ortiz believes the district has done a lot of work in this area, especially as schools reopened from the pandemic closures, she said that there is still more to be done. In particular, she wants to make sure all students can benefit from the district's wellness services, regardless of their background.
She also wants to work on strengthening communication with families, so that parents know about the resources that are available for their students, both for mental health concerns and in other areas. That includes working with the Mountain View Whisman School District to make sure information is being shared with students and families about the transition from eighth grade to high school, Ortiz said.
Ortiz pointed to the particular importance of making sure information is accessible for working class families, who are often busy providing for basic needs and may have less capacity to seek out information from the district.
To learn more about each of the candidates running for the high school district's board, visit mv-voice.com in the coming days.