Candidates speak at SUSD candidates forum

Sandy Belanger, a member of the Saugus Teachers Associaton, speaks as the moderator at an election forum held at James Foster Elementary School Thursday, September 13, 2018. Eddy Martinez/The Signal.

Dozens of parents, teachers and stakeholders of the Saugus Union School District gathered at James Foster Elementary School on Thursday night for the Santa Clarita Valley’s first school board forum of the election season.

Hosted by the Saugus Teachers Association and the California School Employees Association, parents huddled into the school’s multipurpose room to hear all seven of the school district’s candidates speak under one roof for the first time.

Each of the candidates — Laura Arrowsmith, David Barlavi, Sharlene Duzick, Jesus Henao, Evan Patlian, Christopher Trunkey and Judy Umeck — spoke in alphabetical order and had 1 minute to answer the nine questions posed by moderator and STA treasurer ​Sandy Belanger.

The event kicked off with candidates introducing a brief summary of their background, how long they’ve been in the community and their previous education.

Prior to the forum, parents in attendance said they were curious to hear the potential representatives’ platforms, why they’re running and what they envision for the future of the school district and its 10,000 students.

Trunkey, the current board president, cited experience as his greatest strength, including his attendance at board meetings, his presence at community events in support of students or his financial background, which he believes is useful for managing the district’s budget.

“We have a brand new superintendent and I certainly want to make sure that she has the resources and the vision and the goals established for her to be successful in her position,” Trunkey said.

Similar to Trunkey, Umeck believes her experience, responsible tendencies and proven leadership are her greatest strengths.

“We have a lot of new people in the district office right now and I believe I could bring balance to that,” Umeck said. “I always always try to make decisions based on what’s best for kids,” and she hopes to continue to do so following election season.

“Learning has been my life’s work,” Laura Arrowsmith said, “from the moment I stepped in front of a classroom.”

She added she hopes to continue learning the ways that she could benefit teachers and provide them with the professional development needed to ensure every child’s success in the classroom.

Patlian said his communication skills could be useful as the district attempts to increase collaboration between parents, faculty and school sites.

“No one person can change the district by themselves, so I believe my ability to come in and have a strong vision,” along with the ability to collaborate will be a benefit to the school board, Patlian said. “I also represent what I believe to be the new face of Santa Clarita. Families are getting younger, and we are a big part of the community. I believe that we should have parent representation on the board.”

Henao said he’s running for the school board because the district is good, “but with my unique skills, we could make it great.”

The former Marine said he’s focused on fiscal responsibility and security, which he knew about from his military service, and having negotiated over $200 million worth of contracts as a commercial realtor.

“I could get people to work together, and I’m committed to making the board the best it can be,” he said.

As a coach for many youth sports throughout Santa Clarita, Barlavi said he has many years of experience working with children in the district. “When this board opportunity came up, I thought this would be a great chance for me to continue that service to the kids.”

Duzick said her role as a parent and the quest to make Santa Clarita the best are what fueled her to run for school board. With her abilities to listen, communicate and convince people to get involved, Duzick believes she and the community can make the district even greater than it is know.

“We should work together (and) we should partner together in everything that we do,” she said. “I truly believe that the meaning of life is finding your gift and the purpose of life is giving it away. My gift is really connecting people.”

Check Saturday’s paper to read more about Thursday night’s forum, the two candidates who received an endorsement from the Saugus Teachers Association and what candidates believe are the most pressing problems facing the district.

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