The Santa Barbara school system is the proverbial kitchen for people who like it hot — really hot. The challenges confronting Santa Barbara’s public school system are staggering. During the past four years, the school district has been forced to cut $12 million from its budget and gone through eight Special Education directors in eight years, while efforts to bridge the achievement gap continue to be a struggle. Why any sane person might want to serve on this school board is a question best addressed by the candidates with their therapists. Fortunately for voters and students, more qualified individuals are running than openings. The most promising, in our estimation, are incumbent Kate Parker and newcomer Monique Limón.
Limón, the daughter of immigrants, grew up in Santa Barbara in a Spanish-speaking household. In public schools, she went from ESL (English as a Second Language) to GATE (Gifted and Talented Education) classes. Thanks to her supportive family — and a serious boost from the Santa Barbara Scholarship Foundation — Limón received a BA from UC Berkeley, and eventually a graduate degree in education from Columbia University. Since then, Limón has worked with California’s Student Opportunity and Access Program — helping students from similar backgrounds climb the academic ladder of achievement. As part of her job, she’s learned how to make the educational pipeline far more inclusive and the entire system far more successful. She has helped parents and students to learn about existing programs and to navigate a bureaucratic system that is overwhelming in any language. Monique Limón will bring the perfect combination of life experience, educational background, and professional skill, making her a refreshing and much-needed addition to the school board.
Kate Parker, a concerned and deeply involved district parent, has shown herself to be consistently thoughtful and engaged in the work of the board, no matter the issue. Impressively, Parker, who typically serves as a moderating force on the board, willingly took the constructive role of “bad cop,” helping the long-failing César Chávez elementary school transform itself into the new Adelante Charter School. The process was a rare example of the board facilitating a collaborative solution between district administrators and a very unhappy school community — exactly what school boards are supposed to do. Parker brings continuity, as well as the potential for emerging as a true leader.
Candidate Dean Nevins brings an undeniably impressive résumé to the equation, but not only is he in the middle of serving a term on the Goleta School Board; he is also about to become chair of the powerful Academic Senate at Santa Barbara City College, itself experiencing major turbulence. Even Nevins’s considerable energies would be stretched too thin facing these additional challenges. Loren Mason was sparked into action by the recent fracas over GATE classes, and we have been impressed both by his evolution as an activist and the energy he brought to the debate. However, we’re not convinced Mason is ready yet, but we very much hope he stays involved.