California Educator

August 2015

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I n November 2014, voters in the 70th Assem- bly District elected Patrick O'Donnell (D-Long Beach) as their representative. His district includes the cities of Avalon, Long Beach, Signal Hill and San Pedro. He chairs the important Assembly Education Committee. A key member of the "legislative teachers' cau- cus," O'Donnell is a CTA member and has been a longtime classroom teacher and education advo- cate. As a teacher, he advocated in Sacramento for adequate school funding. He served as a Long Beach city councilman just prior to being elected to the Assembly. O'Donnell was born in Long Beach, and gradu- ated from CSU Long Beach with a degree in history and a master's in public administration. He lives in the Los Altos neighborhood of Long Beach with his wife Jennifer and their two daughters. What did you do before becoming a lawmaker? I served as a classroom teacher for nearly 22 years. I taught middle school for 14 years and high school for just under eight years. Many of my students were English learners and came from low-income homes. I still consider myself a teacher; I am just not in the classroom every day. What led you to run for office? I see my role in public office as an extension of my mission in the classroom — to help others, to provide a path for people to succeed, and to move America forward. I ran for state Assembly not to leave the classroom, but to bring my classroom experience to Sacramento and to give education a louder voice. We need a clear, rational voice that brings classroom teaching experience to the table when decisions are being made. Who was the teacher who had the greatest impact on you? What key learning did you take with you from your contact with that teacher? That teacher would have to be Mrs. Wright. She was a wonderful lady and a great teacher who cared. Her interest and love for her students were great motivators. She was my third- and fourth-grade teacher. You wanted to succeed because you did not want to let her down, and she wanted you to succeed so you would not let yourself down. What steps should the Legislature take to help schools succeed? There is not one single policy or switch to flip to make schools succeed. All schools are different, as are their students. Funding is an issue. California is currently 46th in the nation when it comes to per-pupil funding. Adequate funding means more school counselors, music and art programs, and much more. That's a good place to start. Further, we should not micromanage the classroom from Sacramento. I am a firm believer that too many laws are being proposed from people who have no classroom experience. Many of these proposed laws, although well-intentioned, would make educat- ing our children much more difficult. What are your goals for public education? My goal is for public education to march forward celebrating our successes while continuing to adapt to our current challenges. We must not be dis- tracted by the fact that many in society expect teachers to solve every social problem our state faces. Public education is the glue that holds America together, and teachers are the heroes that make it happen. What advice would you give educators about working with legislators? Get to know your legislators! Set up regularly scheduled meetings and find common ground with them. Invite a legislator into your classroom and show her or him what goes into a successful learning experience. Put party politics aside. And remem- ber, Sacramento is full of well-funded advocacy groups that do not want to talk about the successes you are seeing in your classroom every day. However, if nobody is telling them anything else, they may not know anything else. By Len Feldman Patrick O'Donnell MEET ASSEMBLY EDUCATION CHAIR 40 Advocacy

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