BY VINCE ECHAVARIA | The Argonaut
Thursday, February 12, 2009 - As a 17-year educator, Steve Zimmer is hoping to apply his experience as a counselor and work with innovative classroom programs as a member of the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) Board of Education.
Zimmer, who has spent his teaching career at Marshall High School in Silver Lake, is seeking the school board's District 4 seat held by Marlene Canter in the election Tuesday, March 3rd. District 4 includes the local communities of Westchester, Venice, Mar Vista, Playa del Rey, Playa Vista and Del Rey.
While he has valued his time in the classroom interacting with students, Zimmer says he is ready to use that experience to help a school district, which has faced a variety of struggles, move forward.
"I'm passionate about the learning and teaching process," said Zimmer, who began teaching English as a second language at Marshall High and now teaches English and history in addition to counseling.
"I live for the engagement of that life experience (of the students) with the subject matter."
The Hollywood resident said he spends his time both teaching and working as a counselor with intervention programs that help at-risk students. He says he has "seen innovation work within LAUSD" and wants to ensure the district is represented by someone who has experience in the classroom in addition to developing innovative programs and addressing health issues.
"We have been able to create very successful programs at Marshall and have so many support services in place," Zimmer noted.
A native of Connecticut, Zimmer earned his Bachelor of Arts from Goucher College in Baltimore and moved to Los Angeles to join Teach for America in 1992. He believes he is the candidate who can bring people to the table while maintaining much of the independence represented by current District 4 member Canter.
Referring to the district's economic challenges as it faces a more than $250 million budget deficit and deals with the aftermath of a payroll debacle last year, Zimmer says the district needs to have strong leadership when challenging the budget priorities and the governor.
"For far too long the district has prioritized things other than the classroom in its financial decision making," he said.
In the District 4 race, Zimmer is opposing Michael Stryer, a Fairfax High School teacher and former executive at what is now investment bank J.P. Morgan. The two men recently discussed their priorities at candidate forums in West Los Angeles and Woodland Hills.
Zimmer says he and Stryer do not seem to differ tremendously on issues but in terms of perspective, saying Stryer has worked in finance and the private sector, while Zimmer has the perspective of a community organizer. Among the endorsements Zimmer has received are from Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, United Teachers Los Angeles union and the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, while Stryer has been backed by 11th District City Councilman Bill Rosendahl and the Los Angeles Times.
As a candidate seeking the District 4 seat, Zimmer calls the district the "most diverse in LAUSD in every way," including demographics as well as "temperature-wise," referring to its coverage from the San Fernando Valley to the coastal communities.
"In a lot of ways it's a snapshot of L.A.," he said.
Zimmer says as a candidate, he has become familiar with communities in the Argonaut coverage area and notes that while the district needs to work to raise the "excellence bar" for performance at some schools, the local community schools have extraordinary potential.
One of Zimmer's priorities that he wants to apply in communities such as Del Rey is having safe passages to school. With the Westchester area's move toward local governance as five schools have voted for autonomy within LAUSD, Zimmer says he is a strong supporter of the effort.
"It's a critical experiment for the district with an important and well resourced partner in LMU," said Zimmer, referring to the Loyola Marymount University Family of Schools. "We need to really have genuine autonomy while staying in the district and not going charter."
While Zimmer says it will be difficult to have changes with autonomy while maintaining the diversity of the schools and the rights of teachers, he is looking forward to working with the groups involved in the effort.
If elected to the school board, Zimmer says he will focus on three primary issues — safe schools for every student, meaningful options for every family and excellence. In regard to safety, Zimmer said he will work to ensure students feel safe at school and have safe passages to and from school.
As a board member, he would also try to help families be able to make choices regarding their child's public education and would work to ensure that the best teachers are recruited and receive proper training.
With the election less than a month away, Zimmer says it will be difficult to leave teaching behind if he earns a seat on the school board, but he believes he has the background to contribute to education in a different way.
"I feel very strongly that if you have a set of skills that can help in a crisis, then you should try to step up and lend a hand," he said.