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Jewish Journal

Valerie Fields A Voice For Change

by Bill Lambert

May 17, 2001 | 8:00 pm

When Valerie Fields decided to run for the school board four years ago, it wasn't her first experience with education policy or trying to fix our schools.

I first met Valerie 25 years ago when she was the top education adviser to Mayor Tom Bradley. We worked together on projects like the Black/Jewish Youth Experience, where we brought together African American and Jewish teenagers to help break down the walls of misunderstanding that separated our communities. This was the precursor the Anti-Defamation League program Children of the Dream, of which I am now national chair. Before that, Valerie was an elementary school teacher in the Los Angeles Unified School District in Van Nuys.

Valerie was, and still is, a key figure in the Jewish community and was crucial in helping to forge the legendary Bradley coalition. She is one of the few people who was there at the beginning of the Bradley administration, and at the end she focused exclusively on how the city could help improve its schools. That's how we got programs like L.A.'s BEST, a nationally recognized model for quality after-school programs. Valerie helped make the city a vital partner in our children's education.

Valerie Fields is a great force for making the changes we need to save our schools. Since she joined the school board, she has proven that she is a reform-minded, independent thinker. She led the effort to return phonics-based reading to our classrooms, restored arts and music education to the curriculum, and fought the waste and mismanagement in administration. An uncompromising advocate for our schools and our children, Valerie has the experience and understanding of education that the school district needs.

She is an independent voice on the board who isn't afraid to stand up and question district policies. Before Valerie was elected, the LAUSD used whole-language reading instruction that deemphasized comprehension in favor of context. But whole language didn't effectively teach our children to read.

Valerie contacted her old friend, Marion Josephs, the leading expert on phonics-based reading in the state and a current member of the State Board of Education, and brought her to Los Angeles to help implement results-oriented phonics-based reading. Today, thanks largely to the efforts of Valerie Fields, our schools use phonics to teach youngsters to read. More kids are reading at grade level, and test scores are up.

Valerie also realized that the budget cuts the district had endured over the years had eradicated important programs such as art and music education. She brought together the Los Angeles arts community to help restore arts to the curriculum and developed training programs that help teachers use art to teach other core subjects like math, science and history.

She also realized that a great deal of money was being wasted or spent on redundant programs, so she forced the district to submit to tough performance audits to identify waste, as well as redundant and obsolete programs. She also supported the creation of the inspector general position to investigate waste and mismanagement, as well as authoring the resolution to restructure the general counsel's office, significantly lowering the district's legal fees and costs.

But most important, Valerie Fields committed herself to funding the most important resource in the classroom -- teachers. Valerie voted to give our teachers a fair raise even when Mayor Richard Riordan threatened to withdraw his endorsement and spend millions to defeat her. Our teachers were among the lowest paid in Southern California, and it was nearly impossible to attract and retain quality teachers. Now they are at about the middle of the pay scale.

Valerie does what she believes is right for our children, not for her political career. That is part of what makes her so valuable to our children and schools: She is an education policy expert with a lifetime of experience and community involvement. She is making progress in turning our schools around and making teachers more effective and better trained.

In just the few years that Valerie has been on the board, much has been accomplished, and much remains to be done. She has proven herself an independent voice for change. I urge you to support Valerie Fields for School Board on June 5.

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