2022 CUSD Board candidate profiles: Steven Llanusa

by Mick Rhodes | editor@claremont-courier.com

Steven Llanusa believes stability has its benefits.

First elected to Claremont Unified School District’s Board of Education in 2005, he sees his senior role on the body as something to be valued.

Llanusa is running against Aaron Peterson in CUSD Trustee Area 4, “for several reasons.”

“Originally it was to make sure there was continuity in the school board with a new superintendent, then it became continuity on the school board with [board members] Dave [Nemer] and Nancy [Treser Osgood] retiring,” he told the COURIER. “Kathy [Archer] and Bob [Fass] are in their first term, Nancy and Dave will be replaced by two new board members, and if I didn’t run it’d be three brand new board members and two right in the middle of their first term. So, I thought for continuity’s sake it was worth having a veteran on the board.”

Llanusa, 62, has been an elementary teacher for 35 years. In 1987, he guided sixth graders in East Los Angeles before spending the next year at a district in Canoga Park. He then found a permanent home at Gerald A. Smith Tech Academyin Bloomington, where he’s been teaching elementary students for the past 33 years. He and his husband Glenn, a doctor at Kaiser Fontana, have been together 36 years and married for 14. They have three grown adopted sons.

With nearly 17 years on CUSD’s Board, Llanusa’s priority lies in keeping things humming.

“To maintain the superiority of Claremont schools,” he said, when asked about his top goal for a potential new term, “and to make sure there’s a smooth transition from the old board to the new board.”

Llanusa is a proponent of the educational school of thought that advocates for the teaching of “the whole child.”

“It means looking at more than just test scores, [including] social and emotional learning,” Llanusa said. “A lot of things that came out because of Covid are part of the whole child: is the child comfortable at school? Are their individual needs being addressed? Are they being looked at as more than just a test score?”

Some criticized the CUSD Board for a perceived lack of transparency in April when the district fired former superintendent Jeff Wilson without cause one year into a three year contract and re-hired former leader Jim Elsasser. We asked Llanusa about it.

“My stance on transparency is to endorse it,” he said. “If you go back in my tenure on the school board, I’ve raised questions about Brown Act violations or possible Brown Act violations because of my commitment to transparency.

“Regarding the new superintendent, it’s a personnel matter, and those are not going to be transparent simply because they are personnel matters. We have to respect the legal rights that staff has. I know that there were people who wanted answers right away; some of those answers came out in a timely basis, which they had to come out in a timely basis.

“Transparency doesn’t mean you get what you want now. Transparency means you get it as soon as it can be legally provided.”

Llanusa does not believe the critique was warranted.

“But I understand the criticism, because people who wanted to know right away what is happening with the new superintendent and what was happening with the old superintendent, they wanted to know when they wanted to know it,” he explained. “But what they don’t know is the legal strictures that we as a school board are under, or the possible legal ramifications of leaks that violate the timeline of information being released.”

The district is in the midst of revising its strategic plan, which is more than eight years old.  Typically revisited every five years, CUSD’s revamp was delayed due to Covid and recent uncertainty in the superintendent’s chair. New/old superintendent Elsasser has made it a top priority of his new tenure, and Llanusa said it’s one of his as well. The new plan is about 2/3 complete, Llanusa said, and CUSD will soon post a survey on its website and begin compiling public input.

Among Llanusa’s other priorities for a possible new term is implementing some of the goals set forth by CUSD’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Task Force that have yet to be completed. Among those are examinations of CUSD rates of student suspensions and detentions, and that “Instead of viewing students as coming to school with problems, recognizing that they come to school with different backgrounds and different ways of handling issues,” he said.

Some of his concerns have already been addressed in state legislation.

“Which makes documenting expulsions and suspensions more paperwork, but also it ensures more fairness.”

Llanusa endorses trauma informed decision-making processes and positive behavior intervention strategies. He also is a believer in rewarding good behavior as well as calling out bad behavior.

“One thing I do in my own classroom is compliment three students who have their books out and ready to go before reminding the one student who hasn’t to take out your book,” he said. “It’s much more positive to reward what’s going right. And often by the time I’ve finished complimenting that third student, everyone has their book out.

“In my experience, most people and students want to do well. And if you notice that and you focus on that with positive behavior intervention strategies, it tends to work.”

Llanusa said he welcomes input from constituents directly, at board meetings, and through email. He also acknowledged the difficulty in satisfying everyone, regardless of the issue.

“It’s a hard balancing act,” he said. “I know that Covid for the most part is behind us, but masks were such a controversy, and testing was such a controversy. And it was a controversy that swung both ways. There’s the Bell curve, and the opposite I call the barbell curve, where the ends are of what have the high numbers. The barbell curve for Covid, masks, and testing were those who were absolutely against it, and those who thought we were not doing nearly enough to protect the health and safety of their children.

“Listening to all those constituents, and hearing all those constituents, doesn’t mean we could always make them happy. Hopefully there are things that do make them happy. I think there are enough things going right in our district that if constituents are unhappy with one item, they’ll see progress or satisfaction in others.”

One of his long-term goals is to help shape CUSD staff to reflect the demographics of the student population, which is 69% Hispanic, Black or Asian. Llanusa said racial, gender and socio-economic metrics are among the measures the district is looking at with respect to future hires.

“That is a very long-term goal because we can’t just get rid of teachers to make diversity hires,” he said. “And we can’t just make diversity hires for the sake of diversity hires. It’s something students have brought up as a concern, and of course those voices were listened to during the development of the recommendations.”

After 17 years, Llanusa said there is much to be proud of with respect to Claremont schools, and the services offered students outside of the classroom. He cited the Claremont After School Program, or CLASP, and other community, city, and Claremont Colleges partnerships as outstanding resources some take for granted.

“We have the Teen Activity Center at El Roble, the Youth Activity Center at Taylor Hall,” Llanusa said. “Those are both school and district partnerships that work well. And to the city’s credit, they regard anybody who goes to a Claremont school as a Claremonter.”

At 62, talk of retirement is a reasonable topic for an interview. We asked Llanusa if he had any plans to walk away from the classroom anytime soon.

“Right now, I still love it,” he said. “Last year I learned a new way to teach fractions, and I’m looking forward to using it. This year I found a great way to teach decimals. And as long as I love it, I plan to do it.”

For more information, email Llanusa at stevenllanusa@gmail.com.

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