School Board Newcomer to Advocate for Student Wellness, Community Inclusion

Dr. Ruby Kalra So Pas School Board

Working with a team to support the needs of children and their families has been a recurrent theme in the life of longtime South Pasadena resident Dr. Ruby Kalra. Kalra joined the South Pasadena Unified School District’s (SPUSD) School Board on Dec. 11 and, in her new role, is looking to advocate for open communication, parent and student engagement, student success and wellness, and fiscal responsibility. 

Of the four who ran in the December election Kalra received the second highest vote tally with 5,754 votes. The highest vote tally went to fellow newcomer Zahir Robb with 5,814 votes. The incumbent re-elected was Dr. Michele D. Kipke with 5,343 votes, who came in last of the top three, according to the Los Angeles County Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk’s Office. The terms are for four years.

As a pediatric oncologist with 15 years of volunteer service to SPUSD, Kalra said she is focused on supporting the social/emotional learning and wellness of students.

“I’d like to feel that each and every one of our children and adolescents in our schools feels a sense of connection and safety on each of our campuses,” Kalra told The Review. “I think if a child feels that sense of connection and safety, they’re more engaged and they’re more able to learn and grow.” 

A South Pasadena resident since 2002, Kalra has three sons with her husband Ed Elsner, all of whom started in kindergarten at Marengo Elementary. Their oldest, Max, graduated from SPHS in 2016 and attends the University of San Francisco. Cole graduated from SPHS in 2018 and will be entering UCLA this fall and their youngest, Troy, is currently a SPHS freshman. 

Kalra’s volunteering career with SPUSD began in 2003 in Max’s kindergarten classroom at Marengo.
“There, I immediately felt at home reading to Max and his classmates, with Troy by my side in his stroller,” said Kalra. 

Kalra went on to serve SPUSD as a volunteer leader including as president of the South Pasadena Council PTA, president of the South Pasadena Educational Foundation (SPEF) and president of the South Pasadena Middle School PTA. In addition, she has engaged in school-site councils at Marengo Elementary School and South Pasadena High School, fundraising at SPEF and PTA, bond measure and parcel tax campaigns with Measure S and Measure SP and district oversight committees with the Measure S Citizen’s Oversight and LCAP Committees. In 2018, she received the Golden Apple Award for her outstanding service to the district.  

Kalra’s dedication to working with children started when she was young and growing up in India. She has fond early memories of helping young children at her family’s temple and was known as a babysitter of her community. 

“I always knew I wanted to work with children,” said Kalra. 

Her family immigrated to the United States and she became a naturalized citizen on July 4, 1976, the country’s Bicentennial. Kalra attended public school in Chicago and then majored in biology at the University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana while volunteering at a preschool. She went on to earn her medical degree from the University of Illinois College of Medicine at Rockford.

After finishing medical school, she moved to Los Angeles in 1988 to accept a pediatric internship at LA County-USC Medical Center, followed by a pediatric residency at Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles, and a pediatric hematology-oncology fellowship at the University of California, San Francisco. It was during her fellowship that she met her husband Ed, who was then a law student at UC Berkeley. They married several years later and moved back to Southern California, where Ed grew up, to start their family and enroll their kids in SPUSD.  

Today, Kalra is a board-certified pediatrician and pediatric oncologist with Kaiser Permanente, specializing in the treatment of childhood cancers and blood disorders. For the past 11 years, she has also volunteered as the visiting doctor for SPUSD’s Growth and Development Program for 5th grade girls.

Kalra finds parallels between her work in pediatrics, her family and her work with students at SPUSD. It was when she was a pediatric resident looking after young kids and teens with cancer that Kalra first saw an opportunity to address the bigger picture of the child’s future, their family and their needs to support them in their journey. Her experience of working hand-in-hand with a team of nurses, psychologists, social workers and other doctors to address the multitude of challenges faced by those families led her to develop an inclusive leadership style with numerous SPUSD volunteer organizations.

“I’ve really tried to make sure that parents feel included and they that have their questions answered and they know how to navigate the schools,” Kalra said. “I think that’s the same kind of theme from my professional life to my volunteer life and now moving towards the board as well.” 

Looking to the future, Kalra feels grateful for the community’s votes of confidence and is looking forward to taking on her new role in order to advocate for SPUSD students. 

“I take this responsibility for our students seriously and I’ll do everything to promote and ensure student success,” shared Kalra.