As part of our mission to uplift cultural diversity, we are kicking off Culturas Spotlight. The series highlights individuals who make their community a better place through their work, business, volunteering or activism. Below we have our first Q+A with Gina Clayton-Tarvin. Gina is the president of the Ocean View School District Board of Trustees in Huntington Beach, Calif.
Hi Gina! To kick things off, why did you decide to work in education?
I started my teaching career in the ABC Unified School District while attending graduate school at Cal State Long Beach. While taking night classes, I worked days in the ABCUSD at elementary, middle, and high schools. I began to teach full time at Fedde Junior High School in Hawaiian Gardens in 1996 in both the math and science departments working with seventh and eighth grade students. While at Fedde, I was instrumental in creating, procuring, and implementing the Magnet School Assistance Program grant. I was the chief writer of the science portion of the $3.4M federal Department of Education grant, and then served as the magnet school’s science coordinator and later as its lead magnet school coordinator.
Can you tell us a little about your work?
I serve as the president of the Board of Trustees and have done so for 4 of 8 years I have been on our board. I have worked to build a team at OVSD where partnerships, not politics, drive us. Together we have rid our schools of asbestos, lead, and other pollutants. We have completed modernization on Hope View, Oak View, Lake View, Westmont, the Central Kitchen (at the old Rancho View Site), and in the fall we will unveil the newly reimagined College View. We fought for and achieved environmental justice for the children and teachers of Oak View battling the Rainbow Trash Dump operators. Most recently, I have spearheaded the COVID-19 pandemic response for shutdown, distance learning, and the school reopening plans for fall. At a city level, I have headed up various initiatives including leading the charge to stop multiple HDD projects, saved open space, and stopped gentrification in Huntington Beach’s Oak View neighborhood and beyond. Also, I led the charge to investigate and stop the offshore noxious gas odors coming from lawless oil tanker operators. In April, I worked in bipartisan fashion with my GOP colleague, Trustee John Briscoe, to demand the OC Board of Supervisors enact an executive health order for all essential workers to be masked while serving the public. We are now embarking on a 4-city public service campaign to educate residents on wearing face coverings to stop the spread of COVID-19 so that we can get our infection numbers under control, meet the governor’s metrics, and reopen schools in OC.
We’d love to hear more about the work you’ve done with Oak View and its students!
Through a legal, news, and social media campaign, primarily headed up by Trustee Briscoe and myself, we demonstrated to the public the horrendous learning and living conditions that Oak View’s students and residents had to endure for decades. Through a settlement, I negotiated with Republic Service’s Vice President Dave Hauser that Rainbow fund the construction of comprehensive improvements to its property, including full enclosure of all solid waste operations; full ventilation and particulate filtration; negative air pressure on all building; odor-destroying active chemistry treatment to the exhaust from all buildings; and an extra layer of carbon filtration installed.
Rainbow funded $4 million for the construction of a gymnasium at the Oak View campus, completed in June 2019, which provides a sanctuary for the children, teachers and staff of the Oak View schools. In the event any breakdown or malfunction at the Rainbow site causes dust or odors to escape the fully-enclosed facility, the gym is there for use.
Rainbow paid $2.15 million to our amazing pro bono legal team for attorney’s fees. The school district had no responsibility for any fees, the OVSD taxpayers never shouldered any of the fees incurred, and Oak View students and community members are free of the environmental abuses of a corporate polluter.
What can Huntington Beach and its residents do to be a more inclusive place?
Huntington Beach has a lot of work to do to become a more inclusive place. An inclusive community is a place where each person shares a sense of belonging with its other members. It is home. Inclusivity can begin to flourish starting with the school community. At OVSD, we offer services that meet the needs of all students. We create opportunities for children to share their voices. Our esteemed OVSD teachers and staff cultivate mutual respect and strive to engage their students. They acknowledge through curriculum injustices of the past and present so that they can educate students on how to move forward with the benefits of everyone’s strengths. Welcoming inclusive school communities support celebrations of our multicultural identity while cultivating deeper roots of this identity. At OVSD, we strive to foster an inclusive environment, where people are valued because of, not in spite of, their differences so everyone can fully participate and thrive.
What is your favorite cultural memory?
Living abroad over the decades has produced so many great memories for me personally, academically, and professionally. From growing up as the daughter of an airline pilot, to traveling the world with my family, studying abroad, and finally living abroad as an adult, I have lived a very culturally diverse life. I am a trained anthropologist and a 24-year history teacher. I have learned most of what I know from experiencing the world, not from being a pupil in a classroom. I am a dual citizen of Italy and have resided in the capital of Rome, as well as in several Balkan nations, including Croatia and Bulgaria, where I resided on a diplomatic visa with my Croatian national spouse who was the Consular General and Cultural Attache for the nation of Croatia. I speak Italian, Serbo-Croatian, and Spanish languages and have resided abroad to study and research in Costa Rica and Mexico.
Some of my most fond cultural memories were made right in my own classroom in Hawaiian Gardens where 90 percent of my students were either first or second generation Americans. I learned Spanish and Mexican culture centered in the state of Michoacan during my time teaching in L.A. County. I cherish my memories of my students, their families, their cultures and traditions. I loved being their teacher, just as I love being the teachers to my students in Cerritos now. Serving as the president of the board of OVSD has allowed me to gain an entirely new perspective on some familiar cultures, and some newer ones too. It is a joy and an honor to serve our community.
Answers have been edited for length and clarity.