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Four candidates vie for RUSD Area 1 Board Trustee Seat

Candidates share their vision for Area 1, Thoughts on Measure O

Note: Noemi Alexander is married to Dex Alexander, the Managing Partner at Black Roses which publishes The Raincross Gazette. Andrew Woodard is the CEO at Woodard Group which was the Launch Sponsor of The Raincross Gazette in January of 2021.

There are four candidates running for Riverside Unified School District Board Area 1. The candidates are, in alphabetical order by last name: Dr. Noemi Alexander, Duffy Atkinson, Azin Mobasher, and Andrew Woodard.

RUSD Area 1 is currently served by Kathy Allavie, who was first elected in 2005. She is retiring after having served four terms.

Area 1 covers the following schools: Alcott Elementary School, Victoria Elementary School, Woodcrest Elementary School, Kennedy Elementary School, Twain Elementary School, Franklin Elementary School, Miller Middle School, Earhart Middle School, Martin Luther King High School, and Poly High School.

Area 1 candidates are listed below in alphabetical order by last name.

Noemi Alexander

Dr. Noemi Alexander is an educator and a mom to children currently attending RUSD schools.

She is a college professor at a California Baptist University, where she teaches Political Science and Public Administration. She is also a Spanish language translator for an organization that serves survivors of human trafficking. Her favorite part of the job is being a mentor to young adults. She also serves with several non-profit and community organizations dedicated to serving greater Riverside. She is married to Dex Alexander, the founder, and CEO of Black Roses, a brand strategy firm in Riverside. Noemi attended public schools in Riverside County and is a first-generation college graduate. She holds a degree in social work, a master’s in public administration and policy, and a doctoral degree in political science. In her professional life, she is a researcher, writer, teacher, mentor, and public speaker. She attends and volunteers at a church in Orangecrest. She also partners with organizations dedicated to middle and high school students.

Why did you choose to run for RUSD?

I decided to run for school board because as a mom with kids in the district and as an educator, I am deeply invested in the success of our schools. I am running for school board to serve and empower students; to represent working parents; and to support our educators to teach well. This is why it is crucial that we fill the learning gap in math and literacy, which was exacerbated by the pandemic. I also want to create more opportunities for students to acquire the skills necessary to compete in the global marketplace, like foreign language proficiency, and increase access to STEM, art, and vocational training. It is our role as educators to create conditions for success that will prepare our students to be college and career ready, with multiple pathways forward. We have done a great job at removing barriers for access to college, so we need to prepare our students for the rigor and financial responsibility of college. Both must be part of college readiness. We must also promote sustainable vocational career options through community colleges, trades apprenticeships, earn-while-you-learn programs, and entrepreneurship. I plan to work with regional partners to provide opportunities for students, so that they can learn, earn, and live in Riverside.

What is the greatest challenge for RUSD at this time and how will you approach it if elected?

Student Safety is paramount. It is the #1 issue facing districts all over the nation. It is our duty to return our kids back to their parents safe at the end of the school day.  In addition to executing the School Safety Plan, and training the adults on-campus, I want to invest in ensuring that our campuses are impenetrable from the outside, while engaging and inviting on the inside. I will be expecting that any capital improvement projects going forward, include a design plan to address any physical vulnerabilities. But Safety is Both Physical and Emotional. For Kids to be Creative, and become Critical Thinkers, they need to feel Safe. I will continue to support our Multi-tiered Systems of Support (MTSS) and our Student Assistance Program (SAP) counselors that provide students with care. To complete the circle of support, we need to provide social, emotional, and mental health services to our families. We can do that by promoting our family resource center and strengthening our relationships with community partners. Together we can provide wrap-around services to support to our families.

How do you measure the success of Measure “O” which was a school bond approved by the voters in 2016?

I think the first marker of success is that the Board has been in constant communication with the Citizen’s Bond Oversight Committee (CBOC) which oversees the allocation of the $392 million bond money. Transparency and accountability are key to good stewardship of public funds. I know that somewhere between 6-10 projects have been completed in time for Fall 2022, and many more that are shovel ready. The schools that are currently in the design phase or the environmental impact phase will continue to be monitored. I am pleased to see that the community is heavily involved in the discussions of the new campuses like the Casa Blanca neighborhood school; the proposed East-side school, and the STEM education center. I think communication, stakeholder input, and transparency are good measurements of success.

There are some who think this election for RUSD school board is about the rights of some versus the rights of others. I still believe the adage “it takes a village to raise a child:” parents, teachers, non-profits, faith-based organizations, unions, and business owners. It requires that we all work together to ensure the health, safety, and high-quality education for every student in RUSD. Our kids need us to stop fighting each other and start working together for them.

Duffy Atkinson

Duffy has lived in Riverside for 20 years. He met his wife Elizabeth, a 30+ year veteran bilingual teacher, site principal and district office administrator, in 2004. Elizabeth is a product of RUSD, attending Alcott Elementary, Gage Middle School and graduating from Riverside Poly High School. Her parents were both teachers in RUSD before they retired in 1990 and her grandmother was a teacher at Central Middle School from the 1920s-1940s. He is a parent of two children, a stepson who graduated from RUSD, and a daughter who attended Alcott Elementary, promoted from Riverside’s STEM Academy and is now attending Riverside Poly High School. Duffy has over 15 years of experience in business development in the power, energy and utility industry focusing on renewable energy and power resiliency. Duffy received his bachelor’s degree of business administration & finance from the University of San Diego.

Why did you choose to run for RUSD?

The last two years were a significant challenge locally and worldwide, and our kids, our teachers and our school districts paid a heavy price for the choices that were made at the state and county level. Our students, on average, are far below grade level standards in core English Language Arts and Math. We can’t let this continue. Status quo isn’t going to cut it. We were failing our kids before COVID because of what district leadership has chosen for its priorities. We can and must do better. Now that we are getting back to a semblance of “normalcy”, it is incumbent on us to actively refocus on the academic and career guidance needs of our students, and we need district governance capable of making prudent fiscal, programmatic and policy decisions that takes into greater account and advocates for the critically important voices of parents, our amazing teachers, and the community. I am running because I have the skillset and evaluative capabilities that will allow me to be an effective member of our School Board. I will fight for local control of what we teach our kids, how we maintain our fiduciary responsibilities and keep our standards set high, rather than allow our values be dictated to us by Sacramento politicians.

What is the greatest challenge for RUSD at this time and how will you approach it if elected?

RUSD’s greatest challenge is existential: it lacks strategic leadership willing to fight for what’s right for students and what is representative of the community it serves. This is manifested in several areas:

First, academic focus in core knowledge studies, i.e. ELA, Math, Science, History, etc. have seemingly taken a back seat to an inordinate amount of focus on “mental health” status, gender conversations, and persistent topics on race, sex and sexuality. Attending to and understanding the importance of social-emotional needs is important to the overall health and welfare of our entire student body, but it is not the primary goal of public education. Our priority should be academic achievement first, while providing our students with multi-tiered emotional support resources and staff as required. Are we doing our students any favors by graduating a “mentally healthy” senior with an 8th grade math proficiency? Second, district spending lacks focus and discipline. We are tasked with using taxpayer resources to best deliver a quality education that prepares our students for either a continued academic career in college or the basic education to be prepared to enter the workforce. Spending decisions per the budget seem to take a shotgun approach; throw some money at a program and see if it works. Even if it does, we don’t appear to have an evaluative system in place to decide whether it qualifies for a unified rollout across the district! We do this year after year. This is not the way to set priorities nor manage a budget to align with those goals. I intend to ask the hard questions, deep dive into the district finances to make sure that our spending aligns with our stated priorities and focuses on improving academic outcomes, not keep writing checks to dozens of disparate vendors hoping that something positive comes out of the investment.

Lastly, the district leadership has become somewhat insular, disconnected from the parental community it serves. The COVID shutdowns played a part in this, but it is no longer an excuse to ignore the voices of parents and guardians when they are asking for their opinions and concerns to be heard, whether it is regarding curriculum choices, the battle we are in over gender policies, etc. Public education is NOT co-parenting our kids. Parents are the drivers of their children’s morals and character choices. If schools find themselves implementing policies or procedures that result in cutting parents out of what’s happening with our kids, something is terribly wrong and needs to be corrected immediately.

How do you measure the success of Measure “O” which was a school bond approved by the voters in 2016.

Measure O was presented and sold to the voters and taxpayers as a bond measure to create funding to fix aging school infrastructure pursuant to a reasonable and well-thought-out project list. Many much-needed site improvement projects have been completed or are currently in process. My primary issue with Measure O relates to the decision to expand the project list outside of the original bond intent to build four all new schools ($50M-$75M each) in a period of declining enrollment and start the process of implementing construction of a new STEM high school building on UCR-owned property under a 50-year lease. I believe we owe the voters and taxpayers the courtesy of sticking to our original agreement and stretch the bond proceeds across as many refurbishment and improvement projects on existing school sites as we can.

Azin Mobasher

Azin holds two bachelor’s degrees in computer science and microbiology and a doctoral degree in virology and has been seriously involved in education all her life, first educating herself, then her two children, and many children in the RUSD. Despite having had the opportunity to have a lucrative career, she dedicated herself to providing educational opportunities and serving RUSD in different capacities, with impressive results to show. During the last 12 years, she has been involved in PTA and has served as Council PTA president, treasurer, and auditor. Because of her services to education, Azin was awarded the RUSD Board of Education President’s award in 2020. Both of Azin’s children have graduated from the RUSD system and are currently attending four-year institutions – one in journalism and law and the other in data science. Her mission is to provide a safe, effective, and inspiring environment for our children to enjoy the learning process. She supports an environment that is flexible enough to allow individual students to nurture their talents and yet rigorous enough to provide the basic education they need to complete and succeed in life.

Why did you choose to run for RUSD?

I am a mother, a mentor to many students and a volunteer for the schools for the past 12 years.  For the past 12 years I have been involved with RUSD in different capacities. I have been actively involved with PTA for the past 12 years and because of these [involvements] I have been in constant communication with the school board and RUSD and have knowledge about the rules and its operations. I was instrumental in establishing a new middle school followed by a high school (Riverside STEM Academy) that was rated the fourth and tenth best high school in the State of California, based on US News ranking (and 100 in the Nation), after only 10 years. I have firsthand experience on parental involvement in school affairs. Currently I am the Riverside Council PTA president (overseeing 41 schools in the district). Because of my experience over the years, I am fully aware of the strengths and weaknesses of the educational system and the RUSD. I will bring the best one can offer in education to Riverside.  I believe there is nothing more urgent than preparing our children for tomorrow.  My plan is to improve the standing of the schools in Riverside – from kindergarten to 12th grade.  To bring RUSD schools to the level of the best schools in the nation.  We need well-rounded programs.  We need to teach students math and science but also humanities and art.  We need to make sure they graduate with knowing another language. In this world, being a bi-lingual will help to proceed your career. We need to make students familiar and respectful to other cultures.

What is the greatest challenge for RUSD at this time and how will you approach it if elected?

I believe there are a few challenges facing RUSD currently.  One which is very important to me is the standard of education. The standardized testing scores released recently are very low and I totally understand that the students are coming back to schools after a two year of online learning. I believe getting parents more involved in the schools and trying to educate the parents regarding the school system and how to check their student’s progress is one thing. I am not a teacher in the classroom, but I believe the students need to be taught at the grade level and not below.

How do you measure the success of Measure “O” which was a school bond approved by the voters in 2016?

Measure O has done a tremendous job renovating many of our RUSD schools in need. The funds are still at work improving many more with the prospect of building new schools where warranted.

Andrew Woodard

Andrew was born at Riverside Community Hospital and raised in the Sungold Home Neighborhood of the Magnolia Center. He grew up attending RUSD schools, including Pachappa Elementary and Central Middle School and graduated with the class of 2005 at John W. North High School. At North, Andrew met his best friend and high school sweetheart, Chelsea. The couple was voted “Match Made In Heaven” in the yearbook. Andrew attended California State Polytechnic University, Pomona and later became a licensed engineer in 2014. After working as a civil engineer for several years, Andrew and his wife Chelsea started their own engineering firm, The Woodard Group. Their Riverside-based team have provided civil engineering solutions for several local projects Including new construction of the Dixieline Truss Plant and Habitat for Humanity’s Mulberry Street Cottages. Andrew has also taken several leadership positions in the community. He currently serves as the chair of the Raincross Group Economic Development Committee, president of the Arlington Business Council and on the board of directors for Meals on Wheels Riverside. He also serves on Mayor Patricia Lock Dawson’s Economic Advisory Council and was the past president of the PICK Group of Young Professionals. Andrew and Chelsea and their two young children live In the Woodcrest neighborhood. They attend Sandals Woodcrest Church and serve on the marriage ministry team.

Why did you choose to run for RUSD?

As a parent of two children that are currently enrolled in RUSD schools, I know that we must prioritize the voice of parents in the decision-making process. I am running for RUSD Trustee to ensure that district policies and practices not only allow for but encourage parent involvement and engagement on items that come before the board.

What is the greatest challenge for RUSD at this time and how will you approach it if elected?

My top priority will be ensuring campus safety. I will work to strengthen our partnership with the Riverside Police Department and expand security measures – like adding more cameras – to be more proactive and keep our schools safe. We must also address the COVID-19 learning gap by providing every student with the resources and mental health support they need to be successful.

How do you measure the success of Measure “O” which was a school bond approved by the voters in 2016.

When Measure “O” was passed, RUSD had several facilities that were in dire need of repairs and upgrades. The Citizens Bond Oversight Committee has done an excellent job ensuring Measure “O” funds have been used appropriately. Measure “O” funding has gone towards investments in modernization, public safety, and construction of new facilities.

November 8 Election

RUSD Board of Education elections will be held on Tuesday, November 8, 2022. The last day to register to vote is Monday, October 24. For more information on how to vote, to register to vote, and other important dates and information, you may visit the Riverside County Registrar of Voters website.

For more information on the RUSD Board of Education, including a trustee area map, you may visit the RUSD board website. For a detailed map of Area 1, click here.

For more information on Measure O, visit the Measure O page on the RUSD website.