A southside native has joined the list of candidates throwing their hats in the ring for Merced City School Board.
Beatrice McCutchen is running for the Area 5 open seat, which is currently being contested by only one other candidate, Abigail De Leon-Bacilio.
McCutchen grew up in the south of Merced and went through the city school system as a kid. She currently works for the Merced Union High School District as a health technician, and she also serves as the president of Chapter 252 of the California School Employees Association, the statewide union that represents classified school employees such as custodians, bus drivers and cafeteria workers.
Area 5 encompasses a large chunk of southwestern Merced, roughly from Canal Street in the east all the way to Thornton Road in the outskirts of town, and even extends past highway 99 to include a bit of central Merced as well. The area includes Tenaya Middle School and Reyes, Gracey and Sheehy Elementary schools.
For McCutchen, running for public office is not about placing blame for problems facing city schools.
“People point fingers, but I’m not one to do that,” she said. “I want to have a positive change.”
McCutchen said a major issue plaguing local schools is low reading and math scores, especially among students entering high school. National data from public schools around the country show a connection between poor test performance and poverty for students coming from disadvantaged backgrounds. She highlighted the struggles of parents who work and struggle to make ends meet, who balance the requirements of putting food on the table with going that extra mile and keeping up with their children’s homework and class performance.
“It’s mainly the kids that don’t have the resources, but we have doctors and lawyers and their kids struggle also. I want to make sure that everybody gets what they need to be successful and to be able to move up to higher ground.”
A recurring theme among local activists and those interested in the school system is concern over the lack of community involvement in education. McCutchen said she’s interested in getting to the root cause of the problem, and she has company among other candidates for the school board. Priya Lakireddy, a candidate running this year for an open seat representing Area 1, told the County Times recently it was a top issue for her as well.
“I think that it’s easy to let somebody else run the show,” McCutchen said. “When you get bogged down with work and a lot of other burdens it’s easier if somebody else takes the reins.”
She said complacency plays a big role in the lack of community involvement, and singled herself out as someone who once was complacent herself.
“I believe that it takes a whole village. It takes the community along with the teachers and it takes everybody,” said McCutchen. “I think that’s what we’re missing. Everybody’s not involved.”
“I am actually the real deal. I own up to my mistakes. If I can get it right, I will. If there’s anything that I can do, I’m willing to get in and make it happen. I’m a good listener, and if I don’t have the answer, I’ll get the answer. I think that I’m a good candidate to make a difference,” she said.