Adriana Smith, considered the first Latina board member of the Petaluma school district, motivated by children

Smith, a vocal critic of the district’s approach to COVID-19, was sworn in last month

Adriana Smith can be the pleasant kind, like when the former mayor of Petaluma, Pam Torliatt, asked her to be the voice of the Latin American community on the city’s transportation advisory committee.

“I did it because they invited me,” she said. “I usually say yes. “

But when she makes up her mind, Smith, 52, rarely takes “no” for an answer, like when she had to beg her mother for permission to go to college in her native Mexico, or when her husband said that she was too stretched. to apply for the recent opening of the Old Adobe Union School District School Board.

“My husband said, ‘No, stop; you don’t have time, ”said Smith, before turning to his reason for wanting the job – dissatisfaction with district leadership, especially with his 10-year-old son, Moises Adrian Smith, who has a learning disability.

So she simply replied to her husband, Gary Smith.

“But it’s Moises,” Adrian Smith said.

Smith was officially sworn in last month and is believed to be the first Latino board member for the 42% Latino school district. Smith said she aimed to strongly represent this community, while pushing the district and its superintendent towards a different approach on COVID-19 and teacher relations, topics on which Smith was an outspoken critic during a series of board meetings during the pandemic.

“I might not be able to fix it for Moises, but I might be able to fix it for other kids,” she said.

Smith moved to Petaluma at the age of 30, remembering the community on a trip during his teenage years that also included a visit to Disneyland. She considers the holidays, which served as an alternative to a big showy quinceanera, as fair trade.

Maybe that’s because Smith, an eligibility specialist in the Sonoma County Department of Social Services, found his dream hometown of Petaluma, even if it left family and friends confused at times.

Her husband once asked her, “What’s the matter with you and Petaluma?” Smith laughed over a coffee on the east side of Petaluma.

She has a ready answer.

“I love the culture, I love the community, I love the people,” she said. “They made me so welcome as a Hispanic person that I consider myself a Petaluman.”

Smith was born in Tuxtla Gutierrez, the capital of Chiapas, in the heart of southern Mexico. The eldest of four children, Smith graduated from the University of Puebla, Mexico, near Mexico City, and received an MBA in Chiapas.

Ever since she pleaded with her mother for the chance to go to college, education has been important to Smith. She continued her education in Sonoma County, graduating from Santa Rosa Junior College in English as a Second Language and Child Development Education.

So when the COVID-19 pandemic plunged civic life into turmoil, closing schools across the country, Smith – and many other parents – turned to what their children were missing.

Smith got seriously involved when the Old Adobe Union School District suspended its traditional graduation ceremony and activities for the district’s 42 grade 6 students. So Smith, whose 12-year-old son “Sparky” Smith was about to graduate, and another mom hosted an in-person graduation ceremony at Lucchesi Park on June 4th. Outdoor and social-distancing ceremony attendance has reached nearly 100%, with parents of graduates writing short speeches to celebrate their students. The next day there was a poolside party at another graduate’s house, Smith hosted a movie night at Petaluma Boulevard Cinemas. Finally, a group of college students were treated to a day at Six Flags in Vallejo, and later that month the graduates attended a home game for the San Francisco Giants against the Phillies.

“I said, we’re not going to let our kids down just because of COVID,” Smith said, adding by email that “the graduates haven’t paid anything.”

After this series of celebrations, a new school year would begin and Smith would once again find himself at odds with the district’s approach to COVID-19.

Just a month after the start of the school year, Moises’ fifth-grade class was one of the few across the district who were forced to return home after a series of positive COVID-19 tests among the student body. . Unlike schools in the city of Petaluma, which instituted outdoor mask recommendations, limiting the scope of mandatory quarantines, Old Adobe initially took no such action, which means hundreds of students have missed school hours.

Smith said after three days at home, her son, frustrated and depressed with the isolation, confided in her.

“One day he said, ‘Mom, I’m so done with this that I want to kill myself,” Smith said.

Smith emailed Superintendent Sonjhia Lowery, who was hired in June 2020, amid the pandemic, to replace longtime teacher and administrator Craig Conte.

Although Smith was a fierce critic of Lowery and the District, she was reluctant to give a review after her appointment, saying she was ready to give Lowery a chance.

Lowery, for her part, said she was happy to have Smith’s passion and energy on the board as the school district continues to face great challenges.

“I would say she’s passionate and brought a lot of energy and a new perspective to the governance team,” said Lowery. “I think she’s a great addition.”

Smith was also backed by the Old Adobe Union Teachers Association, which had publicly lambasted Lowery during tense contract negotiations. And her nomination was heavy, with popular progressive group Indivisible Petaluma largely supporting Kinyatta Reynolds, a black woman.

Smith, who said she was offended by what she saw as disparaging remarks about her nomination by Indivisible Petaluma online, called the group by name when they were sworn in. And has no qualms about saying she was the best person for the job.

“I’m Hispanic… I understand the culture of that culture… I understand the Hispanic culture… I have a child who has special needs…” Smith said.

Tyler Silvy is editor of the Petaluma Argus-Courier. Contact him at [email protected], 707-776-8458, or @tylersilvy on Twitter.

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