Never one to be accused of being soft-spoken or timid, the newest member of the Los Angeles Board of Education wasted little time getting to work Wednesday.
At 11 a.m., Monica Garcia walked briskly into the school district's Friedman Occupational Center. Doing away quickly with pleasantries, she peppered officials with questions about campus programs and its expansion plans.
"We were hoping for a day off after the election," joked Lester Garcia, an aide who is unrelated to the board member. "She said, 'No way!' "
Garcia cruised to an easy victory in Tuesday's election, defeating Christopher Arellano. She received more than 75% of the votes cast in a race to represent a section of the school district that stretches from Boyle Heights to Mid-Wilshire and includes Chinatown, Koreatown and the Pico-Union area.
Arellano narrowly forced a runoff in a March special election, but soon abandoned his campaign when it was discovered he had lied about earning a graduate degree.
Garcia, 38, arrives on the board at an uncertain time. Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa is pushing for control of the nation's second-largest school district, saying that the board has failed to tackle such problems as low graduation rates.
A Villaraigosa ally, Garcia remained coyly ambiguous about the mayor's takeover plan: "There are some things about it that are interesting and other things that aren't clear to me."
She added: "We all know this district needs to change, but we need to ask, how will the mayor's plan help?"
Garcia replaces Jose Huizar, who left his seat nearly a year ago after being elected to the Los Angeles City Council. Garcia becomes the lone Latino voice on the seven-member school board that oversees a sprawling district in which about 72% of the 727,000 students are Latino.
As a Huizar aide, Garcia was closely involved in the board's controversial decision last year to require students to complete a set of college prep courses. In an interview Wednesday, Garcia said she aims to push the board to increase the funding needed to better train teachers and prepare students before the rigorous requirements are phased in beginning in 2008.
Her visit to Friedman's South Los Angeles campus reflected her intentions, Garcia said. In the fall, the school will open a construction-training program for about 200 students that will incorporate the tougher academic standards.
"What do you need from us to make sure this is ready on time?" she asked school and district officials.
"She knows this district, she's very aware of what needs to be done," said Assistant Supt. Santiago Jackson, who heads Los Angeles Unified School District's adult and career education programs.
Garcia also said she would call for school leaders to be given greater autonomy from the district's behemoth central administration to make budget and instruction decisions.