This past Thursday evening, candidates running for a seat on the Santa Barbara Unified School District Board of Education gathered via Zoom to make their case to voters. This fall’s election is highly contested, with seven candidates vying for three seats on the board.
Incumbents Laura Capps, Jackie Reid, and Wendy Sims-Moten were joined by challengers Elrawd MacLearn, Virginia Alvarez, Brian Campbell, and Monie de Wit. During the hour-long conversation, moderated by Delaney Smith of The Independent, the candidates discussed their approaches to ensuring safe and productive learning environments in the midst of COVID-19, their proposals regarding educational equity, and their plans to increase literacy rates and math scores.
The evening began with each candidate giving an opening statement about why they are running for the board. The three incumbents, each nearing the end of their inaugural term, laid out their accomplishments and progress over the last four years. Board vice president Jackie Reid mentioned the progress that has been made in ensuring safety, mental health, and equity of students, including the implementation of an ethnic studies curriculum. President Laura Capps added that the board had recently hired a new superintendent, but she acknowledged that there are still issues to address and better oversight is necessary.
Each of the challengers pointed out that further progress and change are needed. Elrawd MacLearn, a 27-year-old health inspector for Santa Barbara County, brought up his low-income childhood and how that prepared him to serve students who face similar challenges. Monie de Wit named literacy as the cornerstone of her campaign. “If you look at the 2019 scores,” she said, “46 percent [of students] didn’t meet the literacy standards.”
Virginia Alvarez, who grew up in the district, mentioned how 60 percent of students are not meeting math standards. She also brought up the suspension rate in the district, which is above the statewide average. “Last year, [there were] about 900 suspensions,” she stated. “Out of those suspensions, about 75 percent are Latinx.”
When asked about the COVID-19 pandemic and how the district should approach reopening, the candidates advocated for a safe, data-driven reopening in the near future. Multiple candidates supported outdoor education, including holding classes in tents. MacLearn acknowledged the health risks, but added that keeping schools closed long-term is harmful. “COVID is not going anywhere,” he said.
Brian Campbell, a PTO member and realtor with Village Properties, which created the Teacher’s Fund, agreed with MacLearn. The bigger health concern, he argued, is the isolation, depression, and increased risk of suicide that results from not being in school.
Reid emphasized a commitment to returning correctly. “We have an opportunity to go for the gold,” stated Reid, referring to tier four in the governor’s plan. She articulated the plan to bring back students in small cohorts, starting with those with the most needs. She continued that the district needs to “have our testing show that we are capable of going back in a safe and healthy way.”
The candidates were then asked individual questions about their experiences and plans if elected. After mounting an unsuccessful bid for the Santa Barbara Board of Supervisors this spring, Capps was asked how voters can trust that she is committed to her school board role. She pointed to her track record and accomplishments over the last four years. She spoke of the role the pandemic has played in her job. “This is a whole new reality that I am so incredibly committed to.”
MacLearn was asked how he would increase literacy in the district, despite literacy rates being on-par with the state average. “Being on-par with other subpar schools is not adequate at all,” he responded. He listed a series of plans to increase teaching support for students, including contracting with Santa Barbara City College to decrease the teacher/student ratio and having an elective class for older students to be teaching aides.
All of the candidates expressed a desire to continue progress in equity and learning initiatives, despite the ongoing struggles with the pandemic. “We have to stay the course,” said Sims-Moten. “We have 13,000 students that we have to take care of and take into account.”
The school board election is on this fall’s ballot, with Election Day falling on Tuesday, Nov. 3rd.