The announcement took Terry Martinez by surprise.
Wednesday evening, she was seated in the audience at the Redondo Beach Unified School District’s annual State of Education event, preparing to congratulate her longtime friend and fellow RUHS alum Gentil Smith on being named this year’s Education Advocate — an award bestowed annually by the Redondo Beach Partners in Education (PIE).
Prior to Wednesday’s ceremony, Martinez had been asked to supply PIE with biographical information about Smith. She thought she among the few who knew the identity of the award’s recipient.
But the name she heard was not Smith’s; it was her own.
Startled, she took the podium to say her thanks.
Martinez, who grew up in Hermosa Beach, graduated from RUHS in 1971 and went on to El Camino College, UCLA, and the University of Hawai’i, where she met her husband.
She taught within the RBUSD for over 12 years, and has remained active in the RUHS Alumni Association. As the high school’s archivist under six different school administrations, she has become the “go-to person for RUHS history,” said principal Nikki Wesley.
“We keep these things going at Redondo in a traditional and historical way while we’re moving into these new centuries,” Martinez said upon accepting her award.
“There are different challenges all the time in trying to keep the traditional things vibrant enough so students will become part of the cultural experience of being in things like Ivy Chain… I get calls from all over the county. It’s terrific work. I really love it.”
After accepting a bouquet from her husband and a hug from her son, Martinez learned why she had been tasked with preparing a biographical sketch of Smith’s life. This year, there would be two Education Advocate awards.
Smith, who laughed and shed a tear all at the same time, thanked Partners In Education for recognizing “how much I really love this district.”
Smith also graduated from RUHS in 1971, and married a fellow alum in 1976. She served on the board of directors of the Alumni Association and the Redondo Beach Round Table, and was elected Woman of the Year by the Chamber of Commerce. She was a founding member of the Redondo Beach Educational Foundation, and served on its board even after her children had exited the school system.
Smith was also heavily involved with the Redondo Beach Sister Cities program, which has garnered humanitarian awards from the Mexican government.
“All I can do is encourage young parents to get involved with your schools,” Smith said upon accepting her award. “Get involved with your Ed Foundation. Get involved any way you can with your children. Connect on that level. You’ll never, ever regret it.”
Both Smith and Martinez were awarded certificates from Senator Lieu and Assemblymember Muratsuchi.
“It could not happen to two greater people,” Superintendent Steven Keller said.
The Education Advocate awards were announced after several key players in the RBUSD spoke about schools in Redondo Beach.
School board president Laura Emdee started by thanking voters for approving Measure Q, which gives the district access to $1.75 million in state funding.
The funding, she said, will be used to organize workshops for teachers; arrange training sessions to teach staff and students how to use newly phased-in technologies; and to update curriculum.
Emdee reminded parents that the state is changing the way it funds school districts, under a new state system called the Local Control Funding Formula. A controversial initiative, the school board is focusing on its silver lining – that the system affords school districts greater decision-making power in terms of the way they spend their money.
“The table is set for greatness now,” Emdee said, in keeping with the evening’s theme: A Taste of Education. “We have flexibility in our budget to provide our teachers with the support they need… [We have] the technology to meet the needs of every child so that no one’s left out and no one’s limited by resources. We have an opportunity to truly reach our goals by providing money towards these goals, so this is an exciting time to be part of the Redondo Beach Unified School District.”
State Senator Ted Lieu followed with a summary of the progress California has made — in general and particularly in the realm of education — over the last five years.
“In 2008, the state was facing a $60 million deficit,” he said. “Unemployment was in the double digits, our credit ranking was tanking, we were issuing IOUs and [we were] on the verge of a government shutdown. We didn’t do that; we made some very painful choices… Just a few months ago, the state legislature passed an on-time, balanced budget.
“We paid out over $4 billion in debt. Our unemployment is the lowest in nearly five years. Our credit rating has increased. We have a projected budget surplus, and we took a lot of this surplus and doubled down on education. We did something called the Local Control Funding Formula, the initial version of which was not that good for the South Bay.”
Displeased with the formula’s first iteration, Senator Lieu he joined Assemblyman Al Muratsuchi and other South Bay legislators to fight against what he believed was an unfair system.
“We said, ‘Look, you can’t help other districts and cut ours. That’s simply not right,’” Lieu said. Under to the updated version of the formula, he said confidently on Wednesday, “everyone wins.”
“We collapsed pots of funding and made it much easier for school districts to spend their money the way they see fit,” he said. “Things are looking up and it’s very clear to me that the best days in California are yet to come.”
Assemblymember Muratsuchi followed Lieu, first reiterating his commitment to ensuring the South Bay school districts “remain among the best” in the state.
“This year can be characterized as the year of change,” Muratsuchi said.
“First we had the governor pushing this formula – he was proposing to give more money to urban districts and less money to suburban districts. I kept on fighting with the governor and his staff, talking about from my personal experience, knowing how much our suburban school districts need more resources and our class sizes are too large and our teachers and other staff are getting laid off, and so we were able to… fight for districts like Redondo Beach to achieve a compromise so that all schools will be getting more money than they received last year.”
Following a burst of applause, Muratsuchi introduced “not only one of the greatest mayors in the South Bay but the mayor that has the most fun.” Steve Aspel took the floor.
Aspel talked about how his own daughters, now 22 and 20, benefited enormously from the excellent academic and social education they gained at Redondo Union High.
His daughters, who had attended a parochial middle school, entered RUHS “a year behind in math and in science and they both had to go to summer school,” he said. “That’s my way of saying the Redondo school system is way more advanced than you will ever know. We know from both sides.”
Aspel said he credits with his daughters’ early success two influences: their mother Pam and Redondo Union High School.
Then, Keller demonstrated to parents and staff the strengths of the RBUSD through the eyes of its students.
“Typically what we do is we serve you propaganda tonight, but what we’re going to do is walk you through the lives of our kids,” he said. “We focus on the whole child and we’re going to prove this to you.”
He introduced two elementary school kids: Owen, a first-grader at Jefferson Elementary whose favorite part of school is reading chapter books because “my mind goes into the book and out of this whole world and even out of the earth.”
Owen loves his daily morning exercises – “That’s Beach Cities Health District right there,” Keller said, “and we love them” – and wants to be a fireman.
Ella, a fifth-grader at Jefferson, loves spending time in the science lab – “That warms my heart because it’s not just a book, it’s a touching, tasting, feeling, doing science, being involved,” Keller said – and wants to be a professional ballerina.
She loves that her teachers open her mind to other points of view.
“Ella is sitting here as a fifth-grader telling you there are multiple points of view in the world,” Keller pointed out, noting that RBUSD teachers teach more than the information contained within a textbook.
Next, Keller introduced middle- and high-schoolers. Reese, a seventh-grader at Adams, is aiming to attend MIT and become an engineer; he loves that his teachers are “nice and helpful.”
Trinity, a freshman at RUHS, loves her school because “everyone here is so helpful and encouraging and we all try to help each other reach our goals.”
And Cedric, a senior, has appreciated being able to step into leadership positions at RUHS, both in band and journalism.
“I didn’t know anything about being a leader when I started out, but both programs helped me shape into a confident leader that my peers can depend on,” Cedric had said.
Dr. Annette Alpern then talked about the district’s stance on higher education: that “there is no one size fits all.”
“What we want to ensure is that when [students] graduate from the Redondo Beach Unified School District, they have a range of choices – that they’re prepared to attend a four-year university, a two-year community college, go straight for a career or technical field – but they’re going to have the educational background and life skills to be successful in any of those choices that they make,” she said.
“[There] is no one life pattern that we are validating and stating is the correct choice. We are giving all of our students equal opportunities for access and success so that they, along with you, their parents, can make the best choices for them.”
As Keller reiterated: “We want everyone to have a shot and gosh darnit, we’re going to do that. We’re going to hustle.”
Keller explained that the district’s focus is not solely academic, but holistic: that teachers see development as not just academic but also social, emotional, and physical.
“It can’t just be a test and it can’t just be academics – that absolutely is part of it but you need the others as well,” Keller said.
Prior to speeches, sponsors (Four Daughters Kitchen, DOMA Kitchen, Sesame Moe’s, Sacks on the Beach, Valentino’s, Silvio’s, Toscana Deli, Neighborhood Grinds, Good Stuff, and various PTA, school, and city committees) served up miniature portions of salads and healthy fare, competing for the popular vote.
Chef Cole Malouin, a Redondo Beach middle-schooler who competed on Food Network show “Kids Cook-off,” was serving up an impressive vegetable-laden quinoa salad, but ultimately, third place went to the Birney PTA, second to the Madison PTA, and first to Allison Parsons of Redondo Shores for her “super sensational secret salad.”
To donate to the Redondo Beach Educational Foundation, visit rbef.org.