Joanna Flores serves on the board of the Montebello Unified School District, is an adjunct professor at East Los Angeles College and is studying for her doctorate in education at USC. Flores has a dual master’s degree from University of Pennsylvania and a dual bachelor’s from USC. Flores developed SEA goes2college, a grassroots campaign that provides educational workshops and resources to increase college access to southeast LA residents.
What was the one thing no one told you about being an elected official that you wish you’d known before you were elected?
I find two things overwhelming. First, managing the number of invitations that we get to public events that we have to attend. We’re the third largest school district in LA County, so we’re dealing with eight cities. Second, sorting through our calendar and dealing with all the paper documents we have to file away and the amount of reading we have to do. I have literally devoted an entire room in my house to store all the papers and documents—and my office is already full. We deal with presentations to memos to policies that we’re trying to move forward.
As an elected official you must balance your job, your duties as an elected official and family obligations, not to mention trying to find personal time for yourself. How do you balance all these duties and obligations? Is there a secret to doing this well you can share?
I’ve been an avid runner for 10 years and it’s definitely a practice still. I run 3-4 times a week. I love dancing and so does my husband so every so often I say let’s go dancing. Third I rely on my faith a lot so whenever I’m having a stressful day I rely on prayer or go to church. I also love to cook but don’t have time. On Sundays I try not to schedule anything and cook for my husband and that’s our key time for us to recuperate and get re-energized for the week.
Who was your political mentor—someone who guided and supported you and prepared you for public service? What kind of advice did they give you that was the most important/useful to you?
Desiree Portillo-Rabinov, who is the former president of the National Women’s Political Caucus-Los Angeles Metro, a bipartisan nonprofit organization that advocates for women to run for office. She’s one of the first people who wrote out a check without hesitation to support me. I was running against two incumbents, which is a case where the odds aren’t usually very good. She was the person I could speak my mind and my heart to. Having that outlet and someone to reassure you in those moments is so important. She told me to rely on my faith and truly believed in me. There are those moments in running for office that you wonder if you can do it. You know it’s for the larger cause of helping your community, but having someone reassure you that you can do it is pretty amazing.
My other key mentor is my husband. Being elected is not my own victory but a partnership victory, a team effort. We operate differently and we complement each other. The best advice he gave me was to stay connected with the community—that I need to spend as much time as possible meeting the constituency. Be out knocking on doors or answering emails, making connections. He was very assertive about that.
Describe a project you spearheaded or supported that you’re proud of. Why was it successful and what did you learn from it that helped you be a better policymaker?
I co-spearheaded a special education task force that has worked for six months to determine how much and what type of Special Ed services are needed for our students in our district. The goal of launching the task force, which has never been done in our district, was to assess the needs of the Special Ed community and try to develop changes that are more efficient for Special Ed services for students, staff, parents and teachers. We tried to be inclusive of the representation of all people that play a role in Special Ed students’ lives. After six months of work we finally were able to narrow down what we need, what needs to change, and which services we need to increase. Our next move is to report out our observations and get together a timeline and execution for what we’ll change. We’ll have town hall meetings and share this with the community.
One unique thing I brought is my empathy toward the needs and the struggle of Special Ed communities. After I received a dual master’s in public policy and social work, I was a social worker for two years. As do many social workers, I was a provider for clients with special needs.
What was the most memorable day of your life?
In summer 2008, I got to live in South Africa for 6 weeks to do research on their orphanages. During that time I hiked the highest mountain in Cape Town, called Table Mountain, over a 2 to 3 day journey with my closest friend. We were out in nature with no technology, just visiting with the stars. Incredible!
If you had to be on one television show, which show would you choose and why?
It would be So You Think You Can Dance because I’ve always loved dancing, which I get from my parents. They’ve always danced—even after they had kids.
Who will be the next President of the U.S? Who should be the next President?
No comment, because I’ve never been so conflicted regarding a presidential campaign as this one. I’m a registered democrat, and I’m conflicted in terms of the primary. Our family is old school—we all walk over together to the voting booth and vote. To be honest I’m not looking forward to it this year, which is interesting given I’m an elected official.
The daughter of immigrant parents from El Salvador and Mexico, Joanna is the first of eight siblings to graduate from college, and complete higher education. Joanna lives with her husband in the City of Commerce.
This interview was conducted by freelance writer Mary Ann Marshall.