We are very fortunate to have Betty Lieu on the Torrance Unified School District school board as our district advocate for CTE and STEAM education. Betty Lieu has served on our school board for the past four years. She is also a Torrance Unified School District parent and resident in Torrance. Betty is a practicing attorney and the wife of California Congressman Ted Lieu, 33rd district representative. Last year, serving as school board president, Betty supported our district and stakeholders through the COVID pandemic, ensuring supportive measures were in place for safety and confirming the proper protocols and procedures were followed, and mental health services were provided for the health and well-being of our students.
Why serve on the Torrance Unified School District School Board?
Betty always liked education. Raised in Hong Kong, she looked up to teachers; her math teacher inspired her, helping her discover a talent for math. As a child in elementary school, she imagined herself working for her father as a secretary for his business or becoming a teacher. After her first year of college, she taught Algebra to 9th-grade girls in an all-girls Catholic school. Teaching 14-year-old girls was a challenge since mathematics was their least exciting topic. Teaching ended up not being the career path that was the right fit for her; she decided to become a lawyer instead. She expressed her appreciation for teachers and education and stated that being a lawyer is easier than teaching. Although she took a very different career path, she was very interested in education. Her parents came to the United States as immigrants to provide her and her siblings with opportunities, including a better education.
When Torrance School board member Mark Steffens retired in 2018, many individuals reached out to her to encourage her to run for a position. People were concerned with someone joining the board with extreme views; they felt she would bring balance to the board with her more moderate views. Her childhood dream was fulfilled with her election to the school board, and she feels she is making a big difference in education with her intent to support our district to be better. The roles and responsibilities of school board members are limited to hiring the school superintendent and approving budgets and policy. The hire of Superintendent Dr. Stowe was significant in times of COVID, particularly with his prior experience in the school district and his connection with the city, community, and district. Dr. Stowe helped set the path straight, and he agrees with the values she believes in, the value of CTE STEM education, support for mental health and mental health education, and school safety. Dr. Stowe also supports STEAM education, the integration of the arts into STEM.
What do you hope to achieve by representing TUSD?
One of the things she has been vocal about is the importance of including students’ voices and having student representatives come to meetings, not just three-minute speeches or presentations. Her son is now a freshman in college and is doing well due to the district STEAM resources; without those experiences, he may not have known what he wanted to pursue. When he applied for college, he already had two patents pending, a start-up hired him, and now he has six patents. The patents include the company he works for, plus his name, Brandon Lieu. In TUSD, he was exposed to sciences and robotics, discovering he had an exceptional talent for science and math. Her goal is to nurture STEAM initiatives and maintain quality education for our students. She is dedicated to giving a voice to parents and friends, and neighbors in the community. She stated schools and districts are so different from when she went to school. High school is so different from then and much more complicated. Our population has grown, and the current competition is harsh, and we have to understand that.
When did you first become familiar with Career Technical Education? What was your perspective of CTE, and how has that changed, if at all?
Betty learned about CTE when invited to tour the Southern California Regional Occupational Center (SCROC) in Torrance. SCROC is not directly affiliated with Torrance Unified. She always thought CTE offered training for the automotive industry, woodshop, fashion design, and medical assisting, something for another career, not for those bound for a 4-year college. The perception at that time was – why go to college if you are ongoing to take over your family automobile shop? Her original thoughts changed when she had her student learn in CTE and STEM. Her understanding back then wasn’t correct; she realized career technical education could include pursuing a 4-year degree and being more inclusive. As a result of our district initiatives, CTE has become more popular. What was once a stigma like mental health – the idea of don’t talk about it, don’t do it – is now perceived as positive. CTE saves students the time and energy of going into a career path they may not like. CTE gives students a head start. Students can determine the type of engineering they would like to pursue just by taking the classes we offer in our district.
You talked about the positive impact of CTE programming. What are areas of challenge for us to grow as a district?
Ideally, students will complete a pathway capstone in two years; however, some only complete one year and don’t continue due to limited time. Some students may want a lighter senior schedule. She has a sense that more males than females are participating in specific pathways, like engineering. There has always been a push for female engineering. With the high number of engineering companies in the area in the South Bay, there are still not as many females in the engineering field. It would be nice to get to a 50/50 ratio. Betty compared the challenge to her career as a female attorney in a male-dominated culture, which has to change. Another example Betty gave is Asian acceptance in the film industry or other non-stereotypical fields.
Sue S. Key, Ed.D.
Region V Experienced Fellow