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Nishii Concludes Year as President of ABC USD Board

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From left: Dr. Valencia Mayfield, Dr. Gina Zietlow, Soo Yoo (board clerk), Leticia Mendoza (vice president), H. Ernie Nishii (board member), Toan Nguyen, Dr. Mary Sieu (superintendent), Sophia Tse (board member), Dr. Olga Rios (president), Christopher Apodaca (board member).

CERRITOS — The ABC Unified School District Board of Education went through its annual reorganization at the Dec. 3 meeting.

Elected officials, community leaders, educators, and the district thanked outgoing President H. Ernie Nishii for his year of service.

The board elected Dr. Olga Rios to serve as president. Rios, an elementary school principal in the Bellflower Unified School District and the elected representative from Trustee Area 6, lives in Lakewood resident, grew up in Hawaiian Gardens, and attended ABC schools, graduating from Artesia High School.

Letty Mendoza was elected to serve as vice president. Representing Trustee Area 1, Mendoza is a teacher in the Los Angeles Unified School District and lives in Artesia.

Soo Yoo was elected to serve as clerk of the board. Representing Trustee Area 2, Yoo is the founder and director of a college preparatory academy and resides in Cerritos.

“It was a huge learning year for me,” said Nishii of his tenure as president. He was selected by his fellow board members during his second year on the board.

Nishii provided a summary of his accomplishments as president:

“First thing we accomplished was organizing the district-wide Day of Remembrance for February. We had a team of great witnesses. Kanji Sahara, Min Tonai, Hal Keimi, Jenny Chomori, Nancy Oda, Iku Kiriyama, Jason Fujii, Misao Oka, Marvin Inouye, Bill Shishima, Mike and Grace Hatchimonji, Mary Jane Fujimura, Amy Tsubokawa, and Mas Onoda supported us.

“We had art depicting the experience as well as artifacts (suitcase, tags, judo gi, and the EO 9066). One school had a candle to truly remember the experience. Most importantly, the youth asked questions of those that experienced the incarceration about what it was to be separated from parents and what civil rights are.

“This year we enhanced the program by video-recording survivor statements. The program is continuing and expanding. Two award-winning elementary schools expressed interest in having a program. We will do this — not as a cathartic exercise for Japanese Americans, but as it is done during Black History Month, for all of us. It isn’t a history lesson (which is hard to drive in); it is a civics lesson of where the true power of the Bill of Rights is held (in our hearts).

“It’s about my mom, separated from her dad for no good reason except that he was Kibei Japanese. It’s about my Japanese-speaking grandma, who had two kids to feed and suddenly had her accounts frozen while her husband was arrested to an unknown place on Dec. 7, 1941. And not enough to stand up for them then. We need to build aware youth — that will translate boring history into today’s action, despite presidential proclamations against it.

“As a result of approving the $258 million modernization bond, we fulfilled our promise to complete a plan dealing with our demographic study and evaluate the schools of choice policy with citizen committees. We formed our oversight committee — made from the residents, not hand-picked by our board.

“We had a study session regarding resident priorities for the facilities plan to build high school science buildings. The BB Bond Committee (which I chaired) donated the rest of our money to ABC Foundation.

“We did our first board equity workshop and we received uncomfortable testimony from a brave student at Whitney. Our district also is a top outlier district in terms of socioeconomic position and success. Economics does not dictate outcomes.

“I got to be part of the interview panel when Tracy High was selected as a Model Continuation School. It is a school for second chances and some kids are so positive regarding school, they choose to graduate from Tracy rather than return to their home school.

“We started a new Chinese exchange program with Cerritos College and prepared and approved a Mandarin Chinese immersion program to grow our district rather than contract.

“We had a middle school in a challenged economic area (Ross) win a top national honor (Schools to Watch). We had two elementary schools win blue Ribbon Awards. This award goes to the top one-half of 1 percent of schools.

“Gonsalves has had winners for the Manzanar poetry contest — which for the first time we honored at our board meeting. This year they won their second Blue Ribbon. Leal Elementary, where I was the Arts Foundation co-president five years ago, also won for an amazing third time.

“My mom was an artist, so having an arts magnet school win was important. My mom also provided testimony at Leal about incarceration when she was that age. She passed away five years later.

“Cerritos and Whitney won California distinguished school awards. And yes, my daughter attends Whitney and I’m still part of the school as an involved dad. Artesia High won an Honor Roll distinction (based on test scores). This school offers Japanese language, with 96 percent minority enrollment.

“We had our first vaping workshop at Haskell Middle School, which became a district vaping workshop and became a movement at each of our cities in our district to stop the experimentation of vaping on our kids. I had the opportunity to go to each of our cities in our area and talk about the costs of vaping to our education. We were successful in working with Cerritos to ban all sales of vaping devices and Hawaiian Gardens put it on the agenda to forbid sales.

“Our adult school under Pao Ling Guo is one of the first to offer federal financial aid and we approved a partnership with Pacific College to create a nursing program.

“We extended our Early Childhood Headstart program to be a full-time, and we had agenda items to consider extending early childhood education for moderate-income children.

“We honored Distinguished Young women, top state girls’ wrestling team, and National Merit Scholars.”

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