September 12, 2008

Pearl Quiñones: The Champion of the Underdog

By Pablo Jaime Sáinz

Pearl Quiñones decided to run for the Sweetwater Union High School District governing board eight years ago in order to stop any type of discrimination in schools, to prevent the discrimination she felt as a Mexican-American girl growing up in a rural community outside of El Paso.

“I believe that all children have the right to a quality public education regardless of their ethnicity; I believe that no one should be discriminated regardless of the color of their skin, or their economic status. I believe that everyone should be treated equally and fairly and everyone should be respected and treated with dignity,” said Quiñones, who is running to be reelected for her third term on Seat 2 on November 4.

Quiñones said that, although she has faced discrimination many times in her life, as a member of a low-income, immigrant family and as a single-mother, she was able to move ahead and overcome all the barriers –something she wants to continue helping other students with her similar family background in the school district, she said.

“I was very fortunate to meet people who helped me for no other reason but to see me succeed. They never expected anything in return, but to give back to the community. I will never forget that. I made a promise to myself that if I was ever in a position to help the people who were less fortunate or who did not have a voice-I would be their voice,” said Quiñones, who has been called “The Champion of the Underdog” by a former district superintendent.

Quiñones, who is the current board president, is being challenged by retired educator Lorenzo Provencio and finance representative Gabriel Rodriguez. She said she should be reelected because through her leadership, the district has made improvements in many areas.

“Our district has made tremendous gains in the last eight years,” she said. “Our test scores are up, the dropout rate is among the lowest in the county and we are upgrading all of our schools because of the community’s confidence in our previous modernization efforts. More students than ever are qualifying for four-year University. And our campuses are safe havens for learning.”

Quiñones also founded the “Pearl Quiñones Perfect Attendance Award,” which recognizes students who never miss class with a certificate good for a hair cut and style session courtesy of a local beauty salon, valued at $250.

“When kids are motivated to stay in school, they have a great opportunity to be successful,” Quiñones said. “Through this award, we hope to provide extra incentive for students to attend class every day and take full advantage of the educational resources Sweetwater makes available to them.”

Quiñones has a background similar to the Latino majority that attends the schools in the district. She was the fourth child of five girls. Her father had no formal education, and her mother attended school until the seventh grade. Quiñones is only the second in her family to earn a college degree. She works as a drop out prevention specialist for the San Ysidro School District and has a master’s degree in public administration from San Diego State University.

“I ran for the board because there had never been a Latina to serve on a board of a district where the majority of the student population is Latino. I truly believe that the top representation should reflect the population that it serves. I ran because National City and San Ysidro never had representation on this board. I ran because there had never been a classified employee to represent the working families. I ran because the majority of the kids that transferred to Sweetwater from San Ysidro were always treated like outsiders.”

In the two terms she has served as a board member, Quiñones said that she has remained loyal to her principles.

“I’ve learned that my service is, and always will be, about our students, staff and parents. It is my job to make sure we hire nothing but the best and the brightest employees, because our students deserve no less. I’ve learned to work with many individuals to find common ground among many diverse opinions, so that in the end our students receive a world-class education.”

Among her endorsements, she has the Chula Vista Tax Payers Association.

During her third term on the board, Quiñones said that she wants to focus on several issues, including creating educational programs that provide students with vocational skills, renovating classrooms throughout the district, and maintaining fiscally responsible budgets that preserve jobs and educational programs.

But most of all, she would like to continue making sure that all students, regardless of background, receive the high-quality education they deserve.

“When I became a board member of the Sweetwater board of trustees I knew that I had a promise to keep to myself and those that I was elected to serve. I truly believe that I have lived up to that promise,” Quiñones said.

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