Posted by Steven Levin on September 24, 2015 at 10:58 AM
Erik Nelson is a math teacher at Camino Nuevo High School, Miramar Campus* in Los Angeles. He’s also become active in local politics as a way of strengthening public education.
Erik graduated from USC in 2013 with a dual degree in Business Administration (Entrepreneurship) and Spanish. He immediately joined Teach For America in Los Angeles, where he was placed at Camino Nuevo’s newest high school, the Miramar campus. Erik taught Algebra 1 and 2 in the first year; now in his third year, he is teaching Algebra 1, among other courses.
Recognizing that politics on the L.A. Unified school board have a direct impact on charter schools, including his own, Erik paid close attention to what was happening inside the district’s headquarters. Pretty soon, he decided to get more involved. During the May school board elections, Erik volunteered with the Parent Teacher Alliance on behalf of Dr. Ref Rodriguez – a former charter school leader running to represent Board District 5. In a major victory, Rodriguez defeated the vehemently anti-charter incumbent.
What do you like most about teaching?
I most enjoy my coworkers, who are incredibly driven and intelligent individuals. I also really enjoy being with the kids in non-academic capacities, like playing chess with students after school or chaperoning field trips to museums and camping sites.
What made you want to get involved in the LAUSD school board elections this year?
A coworker and a member of CCSA’s Teacher Fellowship program was involved with the campaign and encouraged me to come along to some of the canvassing and phone banking events. I also had learned much about the election from my grad school classes regarding education policy and student advocacy. As I gained increased awareness of the local politics in LAUSD and through my coworker’s involvement with CCSA, I knew I wanted to be more involved with the process, especially since my charter is authorized by LAUSD and our building is right in the shadow of LAUSD headquarters.
What specific things did you do on the campaign?
Along with my coworkers, we canvassed a few neighborhoods to encourage Latino participation in the election as well as helping with phone banking in the Southeast region of Los Angeles, near Huntington Park. Though I was only available for 3 or 4 events, the contacts we made with people who were undecided about voting seemed to be impactful.
What did you like about volunteering/campaigning?
I wish I could have volunteered more, but with the busy schedule teachers have, it becomes difficult to spend too much free time on weekends on intense time commitments, like the campaign. But from the events I went to, I really enjoyed meeting the other teachers and volunteers and talking with potential voters.
Why was it important for you to elect Dr. Rodriguez to the school board?
I feel diversity is vital for any governing body or board, and in the case of our kids in LAUSD schools, many of whom are Latino it was important to have that ethnic and cultural representation. Furthermore, Dr. Rodriguez’s experience with starting and managing charters schools, with the pros and cons of charters, is also helpful for a board in charge of authorizing and re-authorizing charters in the district.
What do you think the impact of your work was on the election outcome?
I like to believe that we (my coworkers and I) swayed a few non-voters to at least participate in the election, and that just hearing that teachers are also politically involved is impactful to families.
What would you say to someone who is interested in getting involved in school board politics/elections?
I would definitely recommend getting involved! Being politically active (not just giving lip service, but truly getting out on the front lines) is so important, and since we live in a democracy, being involved and having your voice heard is crucial. While the politics may be difficult to navigate or understand, that should not be a reason to not be involved.
*The views expressed in this story do not reflect the position of Camino Nuevo High School, Miramar Campus.