School boards in action: 5 questions with Tashon McKeithan, Culver City USD

In the midst of a global pandemic, local educational agency boards have continued working to support programs and initiatives that offer students the academic and social-emotional opportunities they need — no matter which mode of instruction they are in. CSBA’s 5 questions series gives board members a chance to share the accomplishments of their LEAs and their experiences during this challenging time in their own words.

Tashon McKeithan, board president, Culver City Unified School District

What is the most successful initiative your board has spearheaded during the pandemic?

The CCUSD Board of Education looked at the pandemic as an opportunity to re-evaluate how education is formulated and delivered to our students. Like everyone else, we were forced to pivot to a distance learning model early on, but we quickly realized that this new model offered a variety of new options among students and staff for whom the traditional school setting is not as effective. We still see the need for brick and mortar and in-person learning, but the pandemic has shown us that there is an important role that remote learning must play in our educational system going forward. We are currently working on developing a plan that will enable us to do both — a move that will enable us to more effectively address the needs of all of our students and staff.

What has been your board’s biggest challenge during the pandemic and how are you working to overcome it?

The pandemic has caused divisiveness in our community, as it has across the nation. Some believe we reopened too soon and others believe we should have reopened long ago. The debate over safe practices in the midst of COVID has raged on, and it has had a profound effect on the cohesiveness of our school community. We are working hard to bring people back together, to put students and learning first and to recognize that every opinion matters. We are working on more inclusive practices and innovative ways to engage with those in the community whose voices often go unheard. We are striving to be more collaborative and more inclusive as we take on the challenges before us. We will never reach unanimity, but that is not our goal. Rather, we want to be certain that we can hold civil conversations about difficult and emotional issues where every position is valued and considered and that we can work collaboratively to reach decisions in a way that everyone feels as though they have been heard.

What is the biggest misconception you’ve heard about school boards/education during the pandemic?

I believe the biggest misconception is that people think school boards are not putting children first. Quite the contrary. Our guiding principle throughout the pandemic was making sure our students were safe, and all of our efforts related to distance learning were centered on finding new ways to make sure our students could continue to learn from home. Nothing we have done throughout the pandemic has been done without first looking through the prism of how it will impact the students we serve. This has been a challenging time for everyone in education, but I am pleased that our board has always made the commitment to put children first, to look at what is best for their education and to make the difficult decisions based entirely on what is in their best interest.

What are your hopes for the future of your district both short and long term?

We are striving to create more collaboration among our stakeholders. Clearly, the pandemic has divided the community, and we are working hard to heal those wounds. It will not happen overnight, but I am confident that we can return our community to a place where we can discuss difficult issues in a thoughtful, considerate and collaborative way. We are also working hard to create a real partnership with labor. Too often, negotiations between the district and its unions can become an us-versus-them battle. Recently, we have been fortunate to have truly productive negotiations with all of our unions, but we continue to look for more ways to seek common ground and keep the focus on what is best for our students. After all, we are all on the same side in that discussion.

Finally, we hope to shine a brighter light on the importance of diversity, equity and inclusion. I am so proud that our board has just created a new assistant superintendent position solely focused on diversity, equity and inclusion. We have a lot of work to do, but I know our district — from top to bottom — is committed to making this a core focus of our policymaking and the way we deliver education. I look forward to continuing to be a leader in making sure diversity, equity and inclusion are a central part of what we teach in the classroom, what we model in our district and what we expect and demand throughout our community.

How long have you been on the school board and why are you passionate about your work?

This is my third year as a member of the CCUSD Board of Education and being on the board fits seamlessly into my life’s work supporting children and families. The work we do as a board has the potential to have a positive impact on the children and families we serve, and I love knowing that our decisions can help more children get the high-quality education they deserve. It is not an exaggeration to say that schools change lives, and I take that responsibility very seriously. I am passionate about making sure we deliver the best learning experience we can to every child. We are continually looking for new and innovative ways to improve our district and address the needs of our students, both in and out of the classroom. It is an exciting time to be a part of the educational system, and I am honored to play a small role in guiding our district forward.

Responses have been edited for clarity and length.