LBUSD board swears in Maria Isabel López, elects Craighead president

It was a night of big change for the Long Beach Unified School District’s Board of Education.

During Tuesday’s meeting, the board swore in a new member, Area 1 representative Maria Isabel López, and elected Diana Craighead as president of the board for the next year. Board member Doug Otto will serve as vice president for the upcoming year.

The board members representing odd-numbered areas were sworn in for their four-year terms, with Juan Benitez (Area 3) returning for a second term after running unopposed and Diana Craighead (Area 5) returning for her third full term. But the evening belonged to López, who was sworn in by her cousin, Judge Raquel Marquez-Britsch, the first Latina judge in the Inland Empire.

López was accompanied by her family, including her husband, an LBUSD teacher, and her daughters, the eldest of whom was her campaign manager. López and two of her daughters are alums of Long Beach Poly, while the youngest is still a student at the school.

In her introductory remarks after being sworn in, López said, “I want to reassure you that students will always be at the center of my work. I’ll always be guided by these questions: How is this good for students? How is this good for educators? How is this good for parents? How is this good for the LBUSD community?”

López said she’s committed to working with her fellow board members, LBUSD teachers and district leadership.

The other board members welcomed López with open arms.

“From this seat I can tell you, the number one priority is those young people and we all plan to work with you because we understand that,” said board member Erik Miller.

Benitez’s oath was administered by LBUSD Superintendent Jill Baker, and he was accompanied by his daughter for his swearing-in. In his remarks after, Benitez spoke about being moved by what the city’s most vulnerable students went through during the pandemic, growing emotional as he spoke about feeling called to service and to defend those students.

Former superintendent Chris Steinhauser administered the oath for Diana Craighead, who urged her fellow board members and district leadership to “keep a caring heart” as the district continues to maneuver its way through the post-COVID world.

The lone public speaker at the meeting was Kim Tabari, a parent advocate who urged the board to remain non-political during future elections, pointing out that several board members had supported or endorsed Nubia Flores, López’s opponent in the runoff for the Area 1 seat. López was a rare “outsider” win in the Long Beach political world, defeating an opponent who was endorsed by the Teachers Association of Long Beach and the California Schools Employees Association (the district’s two largest unions) as well as several board members and prominent education figures.

“I noticed that the board members supported one candidate over another,” said Tabari. “Although there’s no illegalities I hope that in the future the board stays neutral. The issue of trust from the get-go is at stake. I would ask that in future elections you would stay neutral.”

After López, Benitez and Craighead had been sworn in and made their remarks, the board’s re-organization for the upcoming year went smoothly and quickly. Benitez nominated Craighead (last year’s vice president) for this year’s president position; board member Doug Otto seconded and Craighead accepted the nomination, which was then approved 5-0 by the new board.

Craighead then offered to nominate Benitez for vice president, which he declined. Benitez then nominated Otto for VP, which was seconded by Miller and then approved 5-0.

The next meeting of the Board of Education will be on Jan. 18.

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