Four vie for one of three seats on the Manhattan Beach Unified School District’s Board of Trustees. The Nov. 5 election is the first race since 2007. Each candidate sat down with Easy Reader News to share her journey of finding a home in Manhattan Beach and the impetus behind her desire to serve on the board.
Christine Cronin-Hurst: ‘I’ve run my course’
Five years ago, Christine Cronin-Hurst’s day job entailed single-handedly managing $4 billion in pension and sovereign wealth funds for her company’s top-tier clients, including Abu Dhabi, Singapore, China as well as Norincukin Bank, the largest agricultural bank in Japan.
There was one problem. While she was flying around the globe on business, her two young children remained at their Manhattan Beach home with her husband. Her younger daughter Keira, then 2, was always quick to point out that “mommy gone, mommy gone,” Cronin-Hurst, now 50, recalled.
“I always wanted to figure out when financially it would make sense to stop working … I had a crazy 60-hour job traveling all over,” she said.
When her son Spencer entered the third grade at Grandview Elementary, she decided to call it. Joining her husband Mark as a full-time parent, she put to bed her 22-year career of analyzing budgets and balancing sheets for some of the top financial companies in the country—Morgan Stanley, Price Waterhouse Cooper, Fidelity Investments and Capital Groups.
Since, Cronin-Hurst has essentially done it all as a parent volunteer in the Manhattan Beach Unified School District. She readily joined the Manhattan Beach Ed Foundation. As a MBEF school site rep, she helped increase parent donations at Grandview by almost 10 percent. The following year she became an MBEF board member and joined the district’s legislative advocacy team, which annually travels to Sacramento to meet with state legislators.
Other titles on her MBUSD rap sheet include Grandview and Manhattan Beach Middle School PTA executive board member, co-chair of the two school’s science expo and Grades of Green board advisor.
With these varied experiences under her belt and a strong financial expertise to offer, Cronin-Hurst is now campaigning to be elected onto one of the three vacant seats on the MBUSD Board of Trustees on Nov. 5.
“I really dislike arrogant Wall Street types and often downplay my background when speaking with people,” Cronin-Hurst said. “But I do think, the school district in Manhattan Beach has gotten into trouble in the near distant past when it hasn’t had strong financial skills among their leaders.”
Raised outside Detroit, Cronin-Hurst was the first in her family to attend college. She received financial aid to attend Columbia University, where she obtained her bachelor’s in economics. After working on Wall Street for several years, she went onto the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania for an MBA in Finance.
When she was 34, she uprooted from her Boston-based job at Fidelity Investments to 15th and Ocean in Manhattan Beach. An old classmate had informed her about a job opening at Capital Group in West L.A., one of the world’s largest investment management organizations with more than $1 trillion in assets. She got the job, marking the beginning of a 12-year career with the company.
Around the same time, a neighbor set her up on a blind date with a gentleman who lived just around the block. Within a year of that initial date, she and Mark Hurst tied the knot. They would have two children—Spencer, now an 8th grader at MBMS, and Keira, a first-grader at Grandview—and move into the flat section near the elementary school.
Sixteen years have passed since her introduction to Manhattan Beach, her adopted hometown. As both a parent and community member who prioritizes quality education, Cronin-Hurst hopes to rally her financial expertise to not only provide close oversight under the Local Control Funding Formula but also to find pockets of cost-saving reductions in the district’s current budget and seek unexplored sources of revenue, such as Prop. 39, a state program which provides funding to schools for improving energy efficiency and creating clean energy jobs.
“I’ve run my course and I miss the intellectual stimulation,” she said. “I want to give back to the community. We all benefit from strong schools.”
Jennifer Cochran: ‘I feel like we’ve landed’
Back in 2003, fresh transplant Jennifer Cochran sat in her daughter’s Meadows Elementary kindergarten classroom, thoroughly impressed. At the orientation, a teacher explained that the Manhattan Beach school district, deep in a financial crisis, could no longer afford to fund a number of programs. Then she mentioned the PTA and the Ed Foundation, the community’s answers to keep their kids’ quality education running.
“That’s when I realized, it’s not anybody else’s job,” Cochran, 46, said. “We all have a responsibility to do what we can. I think it was right then and there that I realized, there’s something here to be watching and get involved with.”
She was true to her conviction. She quickly joined Meadows PTA Executive Board and later served as president for two-and-a-half years. As her three children—two currently at MBMS and a fourth grader at Meadows—progressed through the schools, Cochran branched out to serve on the PTA Council, Mira Costa High School PTSA Executive Board and MBEF Executive Board.
But it wasn’t until her five-year commitment to the district’s advocacy team — a group of administrators, teachers and parents that travels annually to Sacramento—that her scope expanded beyond that of a parent volunteer. She gained a deep understanding of federal and state education policies that sparked her interest in helping to shape the big picture, ultimately prompting her to run for the Nov. 5 school board election.
“I think that’s the piece to me that tied it all together,” she said. “I understand what the district’s challenges are, what its restrictions are and what it can fund and can’t fund, and what sort of ed code issues there are.”
For Cochran, an Ohio native, school board is in her blood. Her mother, just eight years ago retired after decades of service on the family’s hometown school board. She never set out to follow her mother’s footsteps, but it came naturally, she explained.
“It wasn’t like I set out to do this,” she said. “Then when I had my kids, I would just be in a meeting or at school and talking to someone and shay, there has to be something we could do about that. The more I asked questions, the more people would say, ‘You need to come do this.’”
Before coming to Manhattan Beach, Cochran, who has a bachelor’s in Asian Studies from DePauw University in Indiana, worked for various private international schools in a number of capacities — director of operations, marketing and program development—helping to run English language programs across 30 countries.
Thereafter, she spent years in human resources development planning for the University of Michigan’s executive education programs. After having her kids, she returned to school for an MBA at Case Reserve Western University in Ohio and for five years ran an importing business.
Cochran said she anticipates the district’s challenges in the next four years to be “very HR specific,” especially with the full rollout of Common Core, the new standards-based curriculum being implemented statewide.
“Teachers and staff really need to be engaged in the process from the beginning,” she said. “Like in any organization you have to build morale by involving people in the decision-making and owning what’s happening.”
Cochran said her husband’s job prompted the family’s move to the Los Angeles area, but they specifically chose to settle in Manhattan Beach for having the “best public schools in the area” and its “family-friendly community”.
“My kids feel like they’re from here, which is strange for me because I’ve lived in so many different places in my life,” Cochran said. “Now I feel like we’ve landed.”
Ellen Rosenberg: ‘Continue to hold that torch’
In the early 2000s, Ellen Rosenberg saw a significant paradigm shift take place in the Manhattan Beach community. The school district, into which two of her sons had freshly entered, was in a dire financial crisis, prompting parents to scramble for funds to keep their children’s education running.
“It was really a recognition that funding from the state was unreliable and unstable,” Rosenberg, now 50, recalled.
For the first time, the district’s various school sites—or “islands of fundraising,” she noted—were seen as one body. The community began pressing for parity across the five elementary schools, and new parents were encouraged to invest in the district for the long haul of a K-12 experience.
“It was bringing a more community-wide, district-wide approach to how we looked at our schools and what was necessary for fundraising for our schools,” said Rosenberg, who in the following year became Robinson Elementary’s PTA president. “These are very important tenets we uphold to this day.”
Rosenberg, the only incumbent running in the Nov. 5 school board election, wants to maintain this balance between the community and the schools, something she credits for the current success of the district. With longtime board members Ida VanderPoorte and Penny Bordokas departing from their positions, only board member Bill Fournell and Rosenberg have “experienced that era” of transition, she noted.
“I think upholding the values that have made us so successful in the past 13 years and having the experience to better understand what we need to do in the coming four years is important,” she said. “It was important in 2009 when I did this, and it remains important in 2013. I would be a board member who’s experienced that and continue to hold that torch, so to speak.”
Rosenberg grew up in Palos Verdes and earned her bachelor’s degree in business from UCLA. She soon moved to Manhattan Beach as a young professional at Wells Fargo, for eight years managing middle market lending for companies “very similar in size to our district,” she explained, about $30 million to $100 million in assets.
Following a short stint at IBM, Rosenberg earned her MBA from USC. She and her husband, Mike, had their first child, Jack. By the time Jack entered kindergarten in 2000, she decided to cap her 15-year career in corporate America and begin her “career path of volunteerism,” she said.
Rosenberg has since carried out the full Manhattan Beach K-12 experience with her oldest son Jack, who is now a freshman at Georgetown University, and will do so twice more with Joe, a Mira Costa junior, and Max, an eighth grader at MBMS.
During this time, she became an active member of the Manhattan Beach Ed Foundation, sitting on the board as vice president of fundraising then as president for two terms. She also served on the executive boards of MBMS and Mira Costa PTA. Then in 2009, she ran unopposed for the district board seat, which she hopes to retain next month.
Rosenberg wants to continue doing many things: maintain the district’s conservative fiscal management and exceptional academic standards and programs, and again, uphold the learned tradition of the district’s community-wide efforts.
“But ‘maintain’ can sometimes be a cue for stagnation, and it’s certainly not that,” she explained. “We do want to maintain the exceptional standard but also push the envelope to do even more.”
Last year, the school board rolled out a two-year pilot of a new teacher evaluation tool based on the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards. Now in year two, the board is using the revised standards to review non-tenured teachers and tenured teachers who opt into the pilot. Rosenberg said the district is in the process of developing a similar process for administrators, and she wants to see through it.
“We see this very much as an opportunity for professional growth and with that the continuous improvement of the district,” she said. “This is why I’m so enthusiastic and feel it’s so important to pushing the envelope with the district.”
Her reelection campaign in these past few months, she noted, has felt akin to a board member evaluation, a reflection on her four years serving the district. That in itself has been “an amazing learning experience,” she said.
“As familiar and comfortable as I am with everything going on in the district, it’s making me look at what I’ve done in the last four years, what I’ve accomplished, and look at my strengths and weaknesses,” Rosenberg explained.
She continued: “Our kids go to exceptional public schools and they can walk there, ride their bike there, and attend with their neighborhood friends. You go anywhere else in the greater Los Angeles area and it’s simply not available.”
Kathleen Paralusz: ‘A fresh perspective’
In the summer of 1999, Kathleen Paralusz was working as a freshly-minted government contracts lawyer in Washington D.C. when she heard about a short-term assignment on the other side of the country.
Hughes—now Boeing—in El Segundo was looking for outside counsel full-time for about five months, and being a late-20s single professional with no attachments, the Jersey Shore native packed her bags and moved out to Southern California. Eleven months later, she decided to extend her stay indefinitely. Paralusz signed on with Hughes and deemed Manhattan Beach her new home.
“I came out here and I fell in love with it,” Paralusz, 43, said. “It was a big leap of faith. Growing up on Jersey Shore, the ocean is a part of you.”
Today, some 14 years since her first touchdown in Manhattan Beach, Paralusz has proved herself useful to the community. Navigating her legal expertise, she has served on the city’s Parks and Recreation Commission, Parking and Public Improvements Commission and the Planning Commission—the latter for six years—in addition to serving on the Measure BB Bond Oversight Committee for Mira Costa’s campus renovation.
“It’s been fantastic,” she said. “Just the opportunity to serve the residents of Manhattan Beach, it’s such an honor. I was fortunate that I was able to do it on several different commissions so that I was able to get that experience and deal with a lot of different issues.”
Now, with her 4-year-old daughter Bella set to enter kindergarten next fall, Paralusz is hoping to use her experience as a consensus builder as well as her contract law expertise as a member on the Manhattan Beach Unified School District’s Board of Trustees. If elected Nov. 5, she intends to assure the best quality education for her daughter and her peers.
Paralusz, the first of her family to attend college, was self-driven from a very young age, she said, and received strong support and encouragement from her parents as well as several teachers throughout elementary, middle and high school.
With an early inclination toward politics, government and history, she obtained a bachelor’s in American History from the University of Pennsylvania and worked on Capitol Hill for a few years before working toward a J.D. from Boston University School of Law.
Her ambitious drive is evidently intact many years since: Paralusz twice ran for City Council, in 2009 and 2011, and lost. The first election loss was by a mere 47 votes to Councilman Wayne Powell, and the second to Mayor David Lesser and Mayor Pro Tem Amy Howorth.
“I’m not a quitter,” she said. “I just fought the good fight and fought as hard as I could. With that said, I don’t regret running. I don’t like losing but that was probably the only bad part of the whole experience.”
After the second loss, she swore to never run again, returning to her service on the Planning Commission. But a few months ago, she began receiving calls and emails from community members, including past a few school board members and those who actively campaigned against her during City Council elections, suggesting she should vie for a seat on the school board.
It was not an easy decision to pull her papers, she said, but one she feels confident about.
“I do have something to contribute—a fresh perspective. I have the opportunity to get in there and see it through a truly K-12 perspective, and to be in there now and looking at things, having an impact and making decisions on things that will impact her future,” Paralusz said. “It won’t happen when she’s 10. Those measures will already be in place. So I’d be able to help shape it from the very beginning.”
In addition to the fresh pair of eyes she’d bring on the board, she said she brings something that’s been missing since former member Nancy Hersman left—an expertise with contracts, which any school district is rife with, whether it’s vendor, nondisclosure or personnel agreements. These are things she does on a daily basis as senior counsel at Northrop Grumman—her “bread and butter,” she said.
“I’ve always been somebody who takes life as it turns, grab it and take all the opportunities,” Paralusz said. “You have to live life to the fullest to make every day count. Giving back to the community, I’m willing to step out and put myself out there to try to make that difference.”