The crowd erupted in cheers as AngelAnn Flores was announced as the new president of the Stockton Unified School District’s Board of Education and made her was to the middle of the dais.
She only had a short walk to her new chair, but it had been a long journey.
“The community has spoken,” one audience member said.
Flores spent much of her first term as Area 2 trustee as the board’s minority of one, while also facing a tough, personal reelection battle. But she won and was sworn in to office for her second term alongside three new members, effectively initiating a changing of the guard and Flores’ rise to the board’s top spot.
During a phone interview last weekend, Flores said her possible election as board president would be a “good Christmas present.” She got to unwrap it Tuesday, smiling when asked if the evening was a victory lap for her.
“In a lot of ways,” she answered. “It was a lot of sacrifice, a lot of sacrifice, a lot of wondering if we would get here. So there’s a lot of hope in the room today.”
Flores makes up part of what some in the community are referring to as a “reformer’s block” which includes newly-elected trustees Donald Donaire (Area 5), Sofia Colón (Area 6) and Kennetha Stevens (Area 7), respectively replacing former trustees Maria Mendez, Scot McBrian and Zachary Ignacio Avelar.
Shortly after the Tuesday’s meeting started, Flores and the new trustees were sworn in following recognitions of services for exiting board members. Public speakers then wished new and current trustees luck, often aspiring to a new board that will be less volatile than past editions.
“I didn’t like losing. But the politics shifted, and my opponent ran a good campaign,” McBrian of Colon. “It is what it is.”
Colón, with 7-year-old son Titus beside her, said she could feel the hopeful energy in the room.
“It’s the kind of optimism that I encountered when I was campaigning,” Colon said. “So when I would talk to folks, when I would talk to teachers when, I would talk to staff, you know, we know that there’s been a lot of issues going on. Some very bad things are happening or have happened, but we’re ready for change.”
While it was a mostly upbeat night featuring new beginnings, there were signs that the old divides are still there.
While Stevens was elected vice president in a unanimous vote and Colón as clerk with only outgoing-Vice President Ray Zulueta voting against, Flores’ election to president was far more contentious.
Cecilia Mendes (Area 1), who would soon be handing over the presidency, Zulueta (Area 4) and outgoing-Board Clerk Alicia Rico (Area 3) objected to Flores’ nomination, sending varying waves of derision and jeers through the audience.
Mendez urged her fellow board members to nominate one of the new trustees to lead in lieu of Flores, reasoning that the board needed someone fresh at the helm that hasn’t been involved in past battles.
Donaire or Stevens would be her preference, she stated, to which the decidedly pro-Flores crowd grumbled while Mendes made her points.
“I know that we made some mistakes as board members, and I take responsibility. All of us, we have made mistakes, including past board members and many things that they have done,” Cecilia Mendez said. ‘But right now, it’s not the point of this. We wanted to have a new president, that doesn’t have anything to do with … one side or another.”
Zulueta and Rico voted with Mendes against Flores, while all three newcomers endorsed her. Flores cast the deciding vote to send herself to the presidency and was greeted by raucous applause. She quickly got to work, spearheading the elections of Stevens and Colon and running the rest of the meeting.
Before the election, the district said goodbye to old board members before welcoming the new. Each of the incoming trustees chose who would administer their oath of office, with Stevens being sworn in by Bobby Bivens, president of the Stockton branch of the NAACP.
“It’s exciting. I mean, I’m ready to start the journey,” Stevens said. “I think our kids need the best. So I want to make it happen, making sure that that high quality education I talked about in my campaign and that transparency, that we began that work today.”
Donaire is already mapping out his priorities for his term, saying: “I would just really like to make sure that we get these budgets right, that we make sure that we have the funding properly (going) to the places that it needs to go and help these students achieve and graduate.”