Opinion: Board of Education member says new president was chosen for her experience going into challenging times

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 Jon Meyer, a member of the LBUSD Board of Education, and does not necessarily reflect the views of the Long Beach Post.

Last week the Long Beach Unified School District Board of Education voted unanimously to elect Diana Craighead as its president, and Megan Kerr as its vice president. Later in the week, the board received a letter signed by nearly fifty leaders of the Latinx community expressing their disappointment that board member Juan Benitez, then vice president, was “passed over” to serve as president. Because I made the motion to nominate Craighead, I feel a personal responsibility to explain my reasons.

First, it is true that board members can serve in sequence as vice president and then as president, but that is not always the case. Last year, for example, when I was vice president, it was potentially my turn to become president. I chose to step aside so that Felton Williams could become president of our board, and Benitez could become vice president. Our votes for both were both unanimous. Clearly our board respected the two members and the communities they represent. We still do.

But this year we face unique challenges that our district has never faced in its history. First, there are challenges of opening a school year in the face of COVID-19 dangers, race relations tensions and serious economic shortfalls. Second, we face those challenges as we transition from a superintendent who has led us for 18 years to a new superintendent assuming her leadership responsibilities next week. Finally, the school board’s two most senior members, Williams and I, will step down in December and be replaced by two new members with no experience on our board.

Experience and stability are among the hallmarks of our district’s success. Compared with other districts, our superintendents stay longer, and our administrators, many of whom started as Long Beach teachers, some even as students, stay longer. Our board also has been stable. For most of the last few decades, we have worked, not politically, but professionally and harmoniously. We still do. Therefore, my nomination of Craighead was based on her year of experience both on the board for the last eight years, and as a leader in PTA at the school, district and state levels for many years prior to her board service. In fact, when I nominated her, I said, “Dr. Williams, you after 16 years, and I after 17 years, leave the board in December. That leaves Diana Craighead with the deepest, widest experience as a board member, and I think she is well positioned to be our board president during the next challenging year.”

Benitez, who has completed his second year on the board, continues to provide important perspective and leadership. I am grateful that when he was not selected as president, he moved on constructively to vote for Craighead as president, and that he seconded the nomination for board member Megan Kerr as vice president.

My hope is that the Latinx community accepts my word that my decision was based on my judgment that Craighead’s experience will best serve the needs of our students, teachers and staff in the coming year. For more than 50 years I have been honored to serve the rich diversity of our Long Beach Unified School District students as a teacher, a coach, a principal and a board member. As I leave the board later this year, I am confident Diana Craighead will serve all our students with the same passionate commitment she has shown in her many past years of leadership experience.

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