Opinion: School board president vote was based on experience, not race

People Post is a space for opinion pieces, letters to the editor and guest submissions from members of the Long Beach community. The following is an op-ed submitted by Felton Williams, past president and current member of the LBUSD Board of Education, and does not necessarily reflect the views of the Long Beach Post.

A July 24 article in the Long Beach Post reported on the Long Beach Unified School District’s annual school board reorganization, in which the five elected board members unanimously selected longtime board member Diana Craighead as president for the coming year. The article appeared to touch on the issue of race as a factor in board Vice President Juan Benitez not automatically being selected as the school board president. The piece also mentioned past practices involving rotation of the president and vice president offices as a standard in board reorganizations.

With respect to the practice of rotation as the basis for serving as president, there are instances where the board vice president did not automatically move on to serve as president, with the most recent example of Jon Meyer, who, as vice president, turned down the nomination and nominated me to serve instead. Also, not long ago, I served back-to-back terms as president. There are other instances in the history of the district where the person serving in the position of vice president did not automatically become board president. To conclude race was a factor in the recent board election is inappropriate and unfortunate.

Juan Benitez has demonstrated his concern and passion for students, and I’m sure he will continue to do so in the same fashion as he has since becoming a member of the board. His position as a member of the board provides a forum for him to express his feelings and concerns for students whether it is in the position of president or as a member of the board. His effectiveness as an advocate for students is not diminished in any way. He will always have an opportunity to be considered for the role of president as long as he is a member of the board. And, as he prepares to conclude his first full term as a member of the board, I’m most certain that the knowledge he is acquiring about the district and its culture will serve him well in the years to come.

The school district will be undergoing some serious challenges in the years ahead as a result of budget issues and the pandemic and will require experience to help guide it through these challenges. My support for Craighead is based on her eight years of experience as a board member (including two prior terms as board president), and the leadership that will be required to help guide the district through the perilous times ahead. She served for a number of years as president of the Long Beach Council PTA, working with and advocating for schools throughout the district.

She has earned numerous service awards from the PTA and other parent organizations. Her first child entered our school system in 1993, and her three children have since graduated from our schools. Her experience has given her a significant overview of the needs and concerns of students, families and employees. All of my colleagues on the board apparently agreed as we discussed Craighead’s qualifications at the public board meeting, given that the vote for her to assume the position of president was unanimous.

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