Salina Joiner (she/her) is no stranger to fighting the barriers that hold back so many members of marginalized communities. As Executive Director of the Moreno Valley Educators Association, Salina shares her birds-eye-view of the resources that students and teachers need to achieve success in their schools, homes, and communities. Read her thoughts and find inspiration in the ways that LEE has supported Salina in her career.
Explain what led you to care deeply about educational equity. What personal values, experiences or beliefs inform this?
My passion for educational equity stems from my own experience of growing up in poverty. My mother was just 16 years old when she gave birth to me and was forced to drop out of high school because she could not afford childcare. I remember the humiliation on my mom’s face when she had to use food stamps. I remember the heaviness she carried when she worried about where we would lay our heads at night. It was during these moments of desperation when my mother told me the only way out was through education. I suppose her words did not really impact me until I had my own son at 17. I saw myself living my mother’s life and it was through my own anguish I recalled my mother’s words, “the only way out was through education.” However, I endured the same challenges my mother faced 16 years earlier. I could not find affordable childcare or an affordable place to live. As a welfare recipient, I was forced to attend job trainings that required me to collect job applications from low paying jobs. When I mentioned I wanted to attend college my social worker laughed. I remember being filled with rage. I realized that if I was going to break the cycle of poverty, I had to fight like hell and the system was not going to help me. Every struggle that I faced as a teen mom, every door that never opened, and everyone that told me I could not succeed sparked my drive to fight for educational equity.
How has LEE helped you in your mission to end educational inequity?
LEE has been a great resource throughout my professional career. I have attended the Lead to Serve training, the Organizing training, and have had several coaching sessions on running for office. The regional director has been proactive in reaching out to me to share workshop opportunities and share with me possible school board positions in my area. No matter how busy I get, LEE is constantly reminding me of what is important, and that no matter where I am at in my career I can always go further.
What is the impact you’re having on educational equity in your current role?
I am currently the Executive Director for the Moreno Valley Educators Association (MVEA). In my role, I represent over 1600 educators and serve over 30,000 students in the Moreno Valley Unified School District. I strive to improve the working conditions of professional educators through the collective bargaining process and ensure that educational policies passed in the legislature are appropriately implemented throughout the District. One thing I love about my job is that every day looks different. One day I could be facilitating a training on community engagement for educators across the state, and another day I may be discussing how we are going to implement ethnic studies at the high school level. Over the past year, most of my time was spent on addressing the health and safety needs of our students and staff. Today my focus is on bringing students back to the classroom in the fall. I am working alongside teachers and district personnel to make sure that the social emotional needs of our students are at the forefront as we integrate back to in person learning.
So what has to happen to achieve equity in the US?
My vision for ending educational inequity throughout the United States is for the federal and state government to prioritize public education by having a national per pupil funding formula that is applied equally to all students. I find it incredibly unjust that a quality education continues to be based on what tax bracket one is in. I am deeply concerned that our education system is becoming more and more privatized, and that students that cannot afford a private education will be left with a public education system that is already poorly underfunded. Lastly, I would greatly reduce our reliance on standardized testing as a measure of student success and learning.
What are your hopes and aspirations for your career?
My hopes are that one day I can influence policy that prioritizes funding public education and ensuring that all kids have access to a quality education. I have noticed that kids in poorer communities tend to have instruction that is predominately rote learning and vocabulary drills, while kids in more affluent communities enjoy project-based learning and strategies that are more engaging. Kids in affluent communities have access to more resources, extracurricular activities, and an overall educational experience that honors and nurtures the whole child. I want all kids to love going to school because they feel it is a place where they belong. I want all kids to love going to school because they believe it is a place where they can excel and have fun. My dream is to systemically change the educational system so that we move away from seeing kids as data points and instead see them as leaders and change makers.
*This interview has been transcribed and edited for clarity and brevity.