Culturas Corner highlights individuals who make their community a better place through their work, business, volunteering or activism. Over the next few weeks, Culturas will feature newly-elected leadership in Los Angeles and across the nation. Today we feature Tanya Ortiz Franklin, Los Angeles Unified School District’s newest board member.
Can you start by telling us about yourself (your background, your interests, the important things to really understand YOU)?
My story starts, as many first-gen folks’ do, with my mom’s immigration to the US. She crossed as a child at a time when our country welcomed workers from Mexico like my grandpa. He worked on a dairy farm in El Paso, Texas, and went home to a small town outside Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua, Mexico. Though my mom was a bit of a rebel while in school in Texas and California herself, she raised me to be independent and resilient, which for me meant doing well in school and preparing to attend a great college.
I attended a small private school until 5th grade with my dad’s financial support, but in 6th grade my mom needed to enroll me in public school, beginning my lifelong love for LA Unified. My teachers well-supported me in honors and AP courses. I was involved in cheerleading, leadership and musical theater. And I was the only student from my school to attend an Ivy League university. There, I saw a different level of wealth than I had ever experienced with my stepbrothers attending school in Palos Verdes, while I attended school in Lomita and Harbor City. As I learned more about the history of systemic racism and oppression in our country, I knew I had a role to play in reversing it.
Why did you decide to pursue a career in education, and, furthermore, education leadership?
When I graduated high school from LAUSD in 2001 alongside less than half of my incoming freshman class, I knew that I wanted to work in public education, changing what limited the trajectories of far too many of my peers. I attended Columbia University in New York City and was drawn to join Teach For America when I saw a recruitment flyer stating what I had personally experienced: Only 1 in 10 low-income children graduate from college. I joined the movement to change that.
For five years, I taught sixth grade English and social studies at a middle school that fed into the high school I attended. In the Great Recession, I was laid off from LAUSD and decided to go to law school at UCLA, specializing in critical race studies and public interest law & policy. For nearly a decade, I worked at the Partnership for LA Schools, a nonprofit that manages 19 traditional LA Unified Schools, half of which are in Board District 7, supporting school culture and teacher leadership and advocating for equitable district policies. Given my path and the impact I hope to make for students in Los Angeles, I decided to run for the open board seat in the district that raised me, gave me my first job and shaped my vision for an equitable and just public education system.
You’re joining the board in the middle of an unprecedented pandemic. How can LAUSD better serve its students and their families? How will you ensure that in your role as a board member?
Our district has helped meet some of our community’s most basic needs during this time and will continue doing so— food distribution at more than 60 locations throughout the city and free and easy COVID-19 testing and contact tracing for students, families and staff. While we have distributed devices and hotspots for distance learning, we still need to provide additional support, including stable broadband access and deeper mental health services for our students and families struggling to connect consistently. As a board member, I’m building relationships with city, county, nonprofit and philanthropic partners collectively working to close the digital divide. Our office is sharing regular communications about resources available, including mental health hotlines and best practices for health and wellness. I’m working with my colleagues on the board and the Superintendent to plan for a safe, staggered hybrid return to campus that prioritizes our students with disabilities, English Language Learners and youngest learners and working on a 2021-22 Local Control and Accountability Plan and budget that prioritizes our highest-need school communities.
#StudentsDeserve to be at the forefront, center, and heart of democratic decision-making. Thank you to the youth leaders and adult allies from @StudentsDeserve for a great conversation about reallocating LAUSD resources to support holistic student safety (1/2) pic.twitter.com/qbqSMsgSqm
— Tanya Ortiz Franklin (@TanyaForLAUSD) July 25, 2020
Your priorities include resourcing culturally and linguistically responsive and relevant curriculum. What plan of action do you have to implement anti-racist education?
From my perspective, an anti-racist education includes intentionally centering our students and communities that have been historically marginalized in our decisions about curriculum, staffing, budgeting and policy. Most immediately, this includes stabilizing access to distance learning for all students and supporting a robust community engagement process for our LCAP and forthcoming student-centered funding formula. In the coming months and years, a plan for anti-racist education will be led by the voices of those most impacted by the decisions, will be grounded in shared values and shared responsibility and will include observable, strategic actions to achieve common goals that define success both in terms of holistic student outcomes and in the human-centered ways we collectively achieve those goals.
What is your favorite cultural memory?
The holidays with my mom means making tamales, decorating nearly every corner of the house and watching Hallmark Christmas movies— blending our historical family traditions with modern ones, fitting for a mother-daughter duo.
Merry Cali Christmas! So grateful to have spent more time with my mom this year and to live and serve in beautiful southern California. May we all find and share gratitude wherever possible as 2020 comes to a close. #happyholidays pic.twitter.com/rWgIOoYRI1
— Tanya Ortiz Franklin (@TanyaForLAUSD) December 26, 2020
Answers have been edited for length and clarity. Know someone who should be featured on Culturas Corner? Nominate them here.