Having faced the possibility of being taken out of the district that he has represented for three years, Steve Zimmer became convinced of the career path he would embark upon for the near future.
In his first public declaration regarding his future with the Los Angeles Unified School District’s Board of Education, Zimmer, who was elected in 2009, told The Argonaut in an exclusive interview March 1 that he will be seeking reelection next year.
He said his experience with a redistricting commission map last month that initially removed him from and later returned him to District 4 and seeing the reaction from Westside and Hollywood parents who protested losing him as their LAUSD representative made the decision an easy one.
The map that was approved by the redistricting commission and forwarded to a City Council committee on March 1 put Zimmer back into District 4, which includes Venice, Del Rey. Westchester and Mar Vista.
The number of people who opposed taking him out of the district buoyed Zimmer.
“There were people who had some positive things to say about us, and some not so positive things to say about us,” he recalled. “But they all seemed to want us to stay in the district.”
Karen Wolfe, a Venice parent, was happy to hear that Zimmer is planning to run for a second term.
“I think it’s great news,” she said. “Parents, students and teachers need all of the continuity that they can get, especially when their representative is doing a good job.”
Mar’a Ramirez, a parent at Mark Twain Middle School in Mar Vista, said the school board member and his staff helped her resolve a problem regarding a new component of the school’s curriculum, a world languages initiative that was instituted this year by principal Rex Patton.
“I emailed Steve Zimmer about what was going on. He answered back that same day, set up meetings between parents and administrators and hammered out a solution,” Ramirez wrote on a blog called Moms L.A.
“We received two teachers who are passionate about dual language, our kids are happy students, and the program is truly 50 percent instruction in Spanish.”
Zimmer’s announcement comes against the backdrop of a potentially tumultuous spring for District 4.
New Proposition 39 applications have been submitted by charter schools for space at traditional schools, a successful immersion program at Broadway Elementary School in Venice may be outgrowing the space limitations of the campus, a controversial plan to lease space to a charter school in Mar Vista will be voted on this month and the still smoldering remnants of the demotion of a popular principal at Orville Wright Middle School are only some of the challenges that the district will be facing this spring.
Prop. 39 was approved by the electorate 11 years ago to provide charter operators with the opportunity to have campus space on traditional school campuses where classrooms are underutilized or vacant. Charters are independently operated institutions that in many cases do not employ unionized teachers and have fewer students than traditional schools.
“We’re right in the midst of this work, and this work is very, very important,” Zimmer said.
LAUSD is grappling with how to balance different needs for two groups of parents and students at Broadway Elementary, where a popular Mandarin Chinese immersion program is in place, as well as a traditional curriculum that has served nearly three generations of residents.
Due to the expansion of the language immersion initiative, space concerns have risen and the district is looking at what options exist that could accommodate the wishes of the diverse parents and student groups.
Zimmer also discussed his plans for creating an instructional pipeline on the Westside with Venice and Mar Vista schools that he thinks will have the potential to attract students on a citywide level as well as from the communities that he represents. And while he would like to see his vision initiated in his first term, Zimmer would also like to see it come to fruition in a second term on the board.
“I think that having these creative programs will make our district very unique,” he said. “And we now have the structures in place to create these pipelines for the future of our students.”
The school board member’s vision entails establishing a language nexus that would begin at Broadway and Grand View Boulevard elementary schools, which have foreign language immersion programs. Students who desire to continue on the language immersion tract would then attend Mark Twain for middle school and transition to the language program at Venice High School.
The situation at Broadway especially requires an understanding not only of the importance of the immersion program and what it means to the parents and the school, but an understanding of the history of the neighborhood as well, he said.
“Broadway has been the anchor school for the Oakwood neighborhood for decades,” Zimmer said. “And we have to balance that with the choice that parents have made to send their kids to Broadway with an instructional program that has been very successful.
“We have no margin for error here. We absolutely have to do this right (at Broadway).”
Zimmer knows the history of what is transpiring at Broadway as well as last year’s experience with “colocation spring,” which led him to offer a charter school a land lease at a 2-acre parcel at Walgrove Avenue Elementary School in Mar Vista as an alternative to the growing tensions that came about last year.
Last spring, six District 4 schools were the targets for colocations, where a charter school shares space with a traditional school. This arrangement caused a great deal of tensions at some of Zimmer’s schools and the Walgrove land lease is designed to alleviate some of that anxiety.
All of these continuing and unresolved situations factored into his decision to seek another term on the LAUSD school board, Zimmer said.
“We are at a very critical juncture in the district and on the Westside,” he reiterated. “We really can’t afford to get this wrong.”