Zahir Robb | School Board Candidate

Voting will take place November 6, 2018

PHOTO: Steven Lawrence | SouthPasadenan.com | Zahir Robb, one of the two new elected SPUSD School Board Members.

Name: Zahir Robb

Age: 38

Address, How Long Have You Lived Here: La France Ave., South Pasadena – 11 years, prior Oneonta Dr. and, Summit Dr. I am a lifelong resident of South Pasadena.

Occupation: Director of Admissions, Leadership Team Member, WASC Coordinator – New Roads School

Work History: For the Past 2 years I have been at New Roads School, a K-12 Independent School in Santa Monica. I am the Director of Admissions, WASC Coordinator, a member of the Leadership and Advancement Teams, Development Committee, and the Marketing and Branding Committee. Prior to New Roads, I was a classroom teacher, college counselor, and Head of School/Principal within independent and public school environments. I have predominantly worked with students K-12, but I also have some experience working with Pre-K and community college students.

Education: MA Educational Leadership and Policy Studies, BA History, earned Single Subject Teaching and Administrative Credentials, selected as a Summer Fellow in Independent School Leadership, and have completed continuing education coursework in college counseling.

Family Status: I live in South Pasadena with my wife, Noel Garcia, and three children – Leila (4), Elijah (7), and India (11).

Have you ever been arrested or charged with a crime?

No.

Have you ever been a plaintiff or defendant in a civil action, bankruptcy or foreclosure? If so, please explain:

No.

Are you a member of any civic groups? If so, please name them:

Parks and Recreation Commission – Vice-Chair, DUDES, CERT, Neighborhood Watch Block Captain, AYSO Board Member, Division Coach and Referee, YMCA Adventure Guides/Trailblazers Group Leader

Please explain what you do for a living and how that work may benefit you as an elected official?

I have spent my life working in education. My entire family has been dedicated to education, including my wife (LAUSD), mother (retired SPUSD), father (CSULA retiree), step-father (retired chemistry teacher) and father-in-law (40+ years with LAUSD). Over the years I have worked on school finance, pedagogy, curriculum design and implementation, school culture and essentially every single facet of education. I have spent time in public and Independent School settings, working with a wide array of students. My daily life is consumed by conversations around the educational landscape and how to develop the most effective schools to ensure academic and social success.

Why are you running for office?

I have always been actively engaged in our community and the school Board provides a unique opportunity to channel my commitment to this city in a way that best utilizes my experience as a career educator. I have a unique perspective and insight on South Pasadena schools. I’m a product of South Pasadena schools, I’m a parent and I’m a professional educator. I will bring years of experience in education policy and leadership combined with a passion for our schools and community to this position.

Our schools have always been a beacon of success for the City of South Pasadena, and I want to make sure that we continue our excellence, but with an eye towards to future. Great schools should always be in a continuous cycle of evaluation and improvement, and we need to ensure that all students are achieving at their full potential.

What are the three biggest issues facing the South Pasadena Unified School District Board?

1. Managing to meet the needs of our students within a limited budget.

2. Addressing the pervasive achievement gap within our schools.

3. Focusing on continued academic excellence, but not to the exclusion of a well-rounded education provided within a positive school culture.

What is your vision or plan to deal with the challenges you just named?               

1. We need to review our budget and make sure we are spending money effectively, while also working on a state level to lobby for increased funding. I have turned around schools with six figure deficits and have spent time analyzing budgets through my work in school accreditation. I want to use this experience to review our budget and provide a fresh lens through which it can be examined, so that we can find new areas of investment and eliminate any wasteful spending.

2. Studies show that a culturally responsive school district can make large gains in student performance. We need to work on engaging all families, connect with community based cultural organizations and make sure we address the needs of all students within our schools. I have worked in a variety of schools from comprehensive public schools under Federally mandated improvement orders to independent schools on the Westside of Los Angeles, so I have specific experience working with a variety of students and families.

3. We need a well balanced approach to supporting our students. We have seen tremendous academic success within our schools, but at the same time we need to make sure we are recognizing that success comes in many forms, not just our test scores. School culture is a critical part of building successful schools, and we need to make sure we are finding the right balance between rigorous academics, a meaningful and engaging school program and a positive school culture. I have built schools from the ground up, creating programs that inspire creativity and engage students in meaningful educational experiences, all within a healthy community built on trust, open communication and mutual respect.

How would you assess the performance of the School Board? What is the Board getting right, what is it getting wrong?                                                                  

The school Board has done a good job in broadening elective opportunities at the middle and high school level to support a wide range of options for students. They have also created an internship program, which will provide a platform for students to engage in real world experience. However, I think we can do a better job of connecting with our alumni to encourage more possibilities for our students. This is an untapped pool of resources that could be better utilized. Another area of growth, is the gap in performance that is evident when we take a close look at student test scores. Students of color and those coming from socioeconomically disadvantaged backgrounds are consistently performing below their peers. We need to ensure that we are looking at how we support these students and create avenues for all students to succeed.

The repealing of the utility user tax or UUT is on the November ballot, and, if passed, would require significant cuts to the services provided to South Pasadena residents. What is your stance on this repeal effort and why?                                   

I am on the committee fighting this repeal and part of the organized effort to help our community understand the significance of this issue. I have taken a strong “No on Measure N” stance, as I understand that the monies raised by the UUT go directly to the city and directly benefit all residents. They go towards essential services such as: police, fire, paramedics, road repair, senior center, and the library to name a few. This is an important issue for this city and its schools, so I have committed myself to fighting this measure.

Beyond tackling the challenges you mentioned, what is your vision or plan to help get the SPUSD Board where it needs to be?

Using my expertise in education, and understanding of our community, I will:

  • Support art, music and extracurricular programs to educate the whole child
  • Incorporate innovative ideas backed by research to improve student outcomes
  • Survey parents and create forums for the community to make sure everyone’s voice is heard
  • Ensure responsible budgeting and accountability of spending
  • Bring together our School Board and City Government to make sure everyone’s voices are heard and understood, because the more we work together, the more our schools and city will thrive

According to the South Pasadena Unified School District: In June of 2009 voters within the South Pasadena Unified School District boundary approved Measure S. Measure S authorized the district to levy a special parcel tax upon parcels within district boundaries for four years beginning with 2009-10. In February 2018, South Pasadena voters approved a seven-year extension through the 2024-25 year. The purpose of the parcel tax is to augment the less-than sufficient funds provided by the state and protect the quality of education in South Pasadena.  What is your take on how the Measure S funds are being implemented and managed by the SPUSD Board?                                                                     

California is near the bottom in per-pupil spending, and with Local Control Funding distributions, South Pasadena is at a significant disadvantage in funding. As a result, we have to supplement our schools with additional money, but we need to make sure these dollars are used effectively. The only way to do that, is to review our budget and compare our expenditures to available data, to ensure the dollars we spend are yielding results. I have significant experience working with schools on budget related issues as an administrator and accrediting team member. I have seen schools pour money down the drain on ineffective measures and schools accomplish amazing results on shoestring budgets. It is important that we take a close look at our budget and spend the money entrusted to us by the tax payer in the most efficient manner possible.

The Board of Education recently approved a $49 million budget, which includes new additional revenues from the state, but much of that that new money is being consumed by retirement pension programs benefiting full and part-time educators in the district. What are your priorities for spending in the Board budget, what Board expenses could be reduced?                                               

Since my children began attending South Pasadena schools, I have been surveyed once by our school district, and that is a concern of mine. While I have my own ideas about budget priorities for the district, I think I would be naive to assume they are the same as the community at large. My first priority would be to work with the District to survey residents, faculty, staff, and school district personnel, to compare their priorities with those stated within the District’s Strategic Plan. How do they align and where do they differ? These are the essential questions that need to be asked before we embark on any major decision making process, whether that be related to budget, curriculum or school construction. I would prioritize spending that goes directly to impacting instruction and student resources  and take a close look at expenditures on outside consultants.

The Board of Education has recently taken on a lot of criticism for passing a mandatory hall policy imposed on high school freshman and sophomores. What is your opinion about the policy? What is your opinion about how the Board handled the decision and implemented it? What, if anything, would you change?                 

While I feel this issue raised a lot of ire at the time, I understand that much of this was due to a lack of effective communication. The switch to a “firmer” study hall policy, without much explanation created confusion amongst high school families. In many ways this issue was related to budgetary constraints, as changing staffing levels to add more classes could lead to an additional cost of over $1 million dollars a year. As a result of the initial decision, many parents felt that their concerns were not being heard nor addressed, which led to the outpouring of energy at the school Board Meeting. If the school Board had been more clear in their decision making process and had communicated the root causes of their decision more effectively, I feel that the issue could have been more clearly understood. In the end, I feel the Board took action and worked to address the issue within the confines of the budget to alleviate some of the parent’s concerns, but we need more transparency and effective communication coming from our Board to avoid further complications of this nature.

How much money have you raised in your campaign? Please include today’s date. 

As of October, I have raised roughly $8,000.

What do you want us to know about your opponent(s)?                                           

I applaud each of the candidates for their commitment to our schools.

Why should voters vote for you?                                                                                

I am the only candidate who has spent their career in K-12 settings. Like all of the candidates, I am a parent and a committed volunteer, but what differentiates my candidacy is the education and experience I have attained that directly relates to the work of a South Pasadena School Board Member. I am a passionate educator and youth advocate, with a strong understanding of what it takes to build successful schools. I recognize the success of our District, but I also want to ensure we don’t rest on our laurels, and take this success for granted. We need to look ahead and make sure our students are equipped academically and socially for an undefined future.

Is there anything else you would like to add, or that you would like the public to know about your vision and candidacy?                                                                    

I think my perspective as a lifelong resident, parent and career educator will be an asset to the school Board. I am running to bring together our community, our parents, our teachers and our civic leaders to help our schools thrive. South Pasadena is city synonymous with great schools, but we can’t have great schools without a great city. We need to work together and engage in solid decision making to do what is best for our students, our families, our teachers and all residents of South Pasadena.

 

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