3 challengers vie for open Fresno Unified Area 2 seat

The Fresno BeeOctober 13, 2012 

Three people familiar with running for public office are on the ballot for the Area 2 seat on the Fresno Unified School Board.

Two of the candidates -- Luis Chavez and Daren Miller -- squared off two years ago in unsuccessful bids for a Fresno City Council post that ultimately was captured by Sal Quintero. The third school board candidate -- Esmeralda Diaz -- ran unsuccessfully for the Area 2 seat won by Larry Moore four years ago.

The winner in November will replace Moore, who decided not to seek re-election after one term.

The candidates say they've built upon their previous campaign experiences and gained supporters along the way in the highly diverse Roosevelt High attendance area.

Luis Chavez

Chavez, 33, is a Roosevelt graduate who said he decided to run for the school board to be a voice for the community. "I felt there was a disconnect between the community and the board."

Chavez has twin daughters at Edison Computech Middle School and serves on the board of Reading and Beyond, a nonprofit seeking to improve literacy rates in the San Joaquin Valley. He has the endorsement of business and labor organizations, he says in his candidate's statement, as well as the endorsement of Fresno County Superintendent of Schools Larry Powell and others.

From his City Council campaign two years ago, Chavez said he learned problems are best solved by people in the neighborhoods. After his loss, he became Quintero's chief of staff.

Chavez said he would propose several changes: He would hold meetings in Area 2 for parents who don't have transportation to attend school board meetings in downtown Fresno, and he would urge Fresno Unified to open schools in the summer to make more green space available to residents.

His priorities would include putting more resources into the classroom and addressing class size -- especially in struggling schools that have a lot of English learners.

Vocational education classes, such as construction and electronics, should be brought back to Roosevelt, he said. Voters have told him they want the option for students who are not going to college.

Esmeralda Diaz

When she ran for the school board in 2008, Diaz came in third in a race that included four contenders and was won by Moore, who had the endorsement of the Fresno Teachers Association that he previously headed.

This time, Diaz, 45, is endorsed by both the teachers union and Moore. She decided to run this spring after being urged by a group of parents.

Diaz, who earned a medical degree in Mexico, said she put her career on hold to raise her children. She has a 13-year-old son at Edison Computech and a 6-year-old daughter at Leavenworth Elementary.

She wants the district to be more welcoming to parents, such as providing English translation for parents at back-to-school nights.

Fresno Unified also needs to put more resources into helping English learners, Diaz said. Many high school dropouts struggle with the language.

To solve the dropout problem, the district needs to take steps to identify and help younger students, she said, and that means putting more money into elementary classrooms to reduce class sizes. "Instead of 20 kids, now we're going to see 30, 35, even 40 kids," she said.

Voters in Area 2 are worried about gang activity and high school dropout rates, she said. Fresno Unified needs to offer more options to high school students, she said. "We have to face it: Not all of them are going to go to universities, to college. We have to have more vocational schools."

Daren Miller

When Moore decided not to seek re-election, Miller, 46, said he saw an opportunity to serve people in Area 2. "Living in the area the last 43 years makes me a good candidate," he said.

Miller said his 22 years of work at school districts give him an understanding of educational issues. He was vice principal at Fresno High in 1997 and at Edison High in 1998, principal at Carver Middle School in 2002 and vice principal at Kings Canyon Middle School in 2003. He left Fresno Unified in 2006, according to district records.

From July 2006 to June 2010, Miller was a middle school principal for Madera Unified School District. He was demoted in 2010 and since then has been a high school counselor in Madera. Miller said the demotion resulted from a disagreement with his boss.

Building communication with parents in Area 2 will be a priority, Miller said. He said he would hold area meetings to listen to parents' concerns.

Miller said not being Hispanic could hurt his campaign. But during his City Council campaign, he made contacts in the Hispanic and also Southeast Asian communities. He said he gained some fluency in Spanish after years of working with Spanish-speaking parents.

Miller said Fresno Unified needs to spend more money to address individual school needs, such as providing more resources for English learners.

Overcrowding and limited education choices drive more high school students to drop out, he said.


Fresno Unified School Board, Area 2 candidates

LUIS CHAVEZ

Age: 33

Occupation: Chief of staff, Fresno City Council; educator

Education: Fresno City College, associate degree in business administration; Fresno State, bachelor's and master's in public administration

Family: Two daughters

Online: chavezfortrustee.com

ESMERALDA DIAZ

Age: 45

Occupation: Parent, educator

Education: Medical degree from Facultad De Medicina Dr. Ignacio Chavez in Morelia, Mexico

Family: Married, two children

DAREN MILLER

Age: 46

Occupation: High school counselor

Education: Merced College, associate of arts; Fresno State, bachelor's degree, liberal studies; National University, master's degree, counseling; Fresno Pacific University, master's degree, educational leadership

Family: Single, two adult children, one granddaughter

Online: electdarenmiller.com, Facebook.com/Elect Daren Miller

The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6310, banderson@fresnobee.com or @beehealthwriter on Twitter.

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