Esmeralda Ortiz wants to take her experience working at the Boys & Girls Club helping young people chart their path after high school and use it to benefit students in the Mountain View Los Altos Union High School District by serving on the school board.
Ortiz is the Vice President of High School and Postsecondary Programs at the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Peninsula, where she works with high school and college students. She is also currently completing a doctorate in educational leadership at University of California at Davis. Ortiz believes that both her professional and personal backgrounds would give her a unique perspective on the board.
"I am running for the MVLA high school board because as a first generation, Latina college graduate who attended California's K-12 public schools, I know how critical they are in determining students' success," Ortiz said at an Oct. 13 candidate forum sponsored by the Mountain View Voice.
She is one of six candidates seeking three seats on the high school district's board this November.
Through her work at the Boys & Girls Club, Ortiz said that she has been able to understand students' needs and see opportunities for the Mountain View Los Altos district. Her husband is a teacher at Mountain View High School. She has also said that being fluent in Spanish would allow her to do greater outreach to families who currently face a language barrier.
An area that Ortiz wants to focus on is helping the district increase students' access to a broad array of paths after high school. In addition to attending a four-year college, other options that Ortiz wants students to have available include community college, taking a gap year, military service and joining the labor force.
She wants the school district to deepen its relationships with local community colleges so that high schoolers have more chances to take classes there, as well as to beef up its own Career Technical Education offerings, which include courses tailored to help students pursue jobs in specific career fields.
Ortiz is also interested in seeing the high schools broaden the range of courses they offer to include topics like healthy behaviors and financial and digital literacy.
At the Voice forum, Ortiz said that she has dedicated her career to closing the opportunity gap. To support that goal, Ortiz is in favor of using teaching and grading practices that consider each student's unique circumstances. She also wants to expand tutoring for struggling students, as well as to provide incoming ninth graders with more support as they transition into high school
To make sure all students and staff feel safe and included at school, regardless of their background, Ortiz supports requiring staff and board training on how to make decisions through a lens of diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging. Areas where Ortiz says this is applicable include grading, curriculum, classroom management, resource allocation and counseling practices.
She also supports having students take ethnic studies. The district has rolled out an ethnic studies pilot this year and plans to make it a requirement for all freshmen next fall, ahead of a state requirement that takes effect in the 2025-2026 school year.
Ortiz wants to get feedback on the pilot, but said at the forum that she is confident about the approach of the team of district staff who developed the course.
"It really will allow many students to engage in complex topics and issues and discourse that often too few students get to engage in at the college level," Ortiz said.
Ortiz said she believes the district has done substantial work to destigmatize mental health and normalize reaching out for services, but that more can be done on preventative education for students and staff. This type of proactive work is a more sustainable approach that can prevent students from going into crisis, Ortiz said. She also points to the negative impact that COVID-19 has had on students' socialization as an area of particular concern.