Santa Barbara Unified School District Board of Education candidate Elrawd MacLearn. | Credit: Daniel Dreifuss

This interview is part of an ongoing series of candidate profiles ahead of the General Election on November 3, 2020. Stay tuned to our Election 2020 page for all of our latest profiles and election coverage.

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Elrawd MacLearn is one the “good millennials,” as he likes to call himself. The 27-year-old candidate for the Santa Barbara Unified school board is the youngest in the race, but he said that only brings an added advantage ― he has the closest firsthand experience of the students currently enrolled in the district.

And he said his youth isn’t all that’s on his side. He doesn’t have kids of his own, but he is the third eldest of 11 siblings and had to play the “de facto parent and teacher” role for years with his brothers and sisters. 

MacLearn is currently a health inspector for Santa Barbara County, and he graduated with a bachelor’s degree in biology from UCLA. He was born in Torrance but has lived all over, including Orange County, Dallas, and Los Angeles before he landed in Santa Barbara. The Santa Barbara Independent sat down with MacLearn to learn more about his campaign. The following is a condensed version of the conversation.

What propelled you to decide to run for school board?

For starters, I would say that I think that’s the wrong question. The current mindset is what kind of qualifications makes you eligible for this position on the school board. Which, in my opinion, is incorrect because an elected official is merely the representative for those who elect them. So as an elected representative, my job is just to convey the desires and the will and the purpose of the electors. So to ask me what my opinions are, I’m just a conduit for the parents and the students and the teachers of the district….

For example, there have been multiple issues that have been brought towards the board, and a lot of parents showed up, and the board was like, ‘No, we’re going to do something different.’ … Number one is that I am for parental involvement. There is something I like to call the trifecta of an educational institution, which is parents, students, and teachers. 

You’ve said you have experience in each prong of the trifecta. Could you elaborate?

In that role as a parent [to my siblings], we tried to supplement some of the public school’s curriculum with tutors and after-school programs, which really is inequitable if the education they are getting isn’t sufficient.… Finally, after a few years and a whole host of issues … we decided, let’s take them out and go back to home school. So I started working in a laboratory doing graveyard shifts so I could be with my younger siblings during the day. With that, surprise surprise, their academic success started to go up…. One of the issues with the public school system is that it’s a cookie-cutter mentality that says, ‘Hey, we are going to put you here, and you have to conform to this. We are not going to regard your learning style or how you want to engage. We’re just going to shove this square peg into a round hole.’ 

I know that some people will say that’s your experience and that wasn’t Santa Barbara Unified. And I will say this: That school system was vastly better rated than Santa Barbara. If we look at the scores and proficiency levels, we’re barely making it overall. Fifty-four percent in reading comprehension and 45 percent in computational abilities access the board…. A lot of parents came to me and said, “Hey, the board is not listening to us, and we’re having these negative experiences. We don’t have the means or ability to run, so can you represent us?” ….

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The second layer of the trifecta is the students themselves. These candidates and the people on the board, they didn’t have the internet when they were in school. There wasn’t any long-distance learning, and children weren’t raised with technology…. How do we best educate a child in the 21st century? There is a lot of old thought that is clearly not setting up children for success. It seems to me that a child in the system is already set up to fail in the current way that things are, unless they have supplemental resources to assuage that….

Moving on to teachers, which is the third pillar of the trifecta, I taught my younger siblings, and I was a swimming instructor for many years. That was actually one of the ways I got through college debt-free.… I would have 10 or so screaming 3-year-olds in a highly dangerous environment and have to make sure everyone is learning how to swim. I had to know how to keep them engaged, how to discipline, and, most importantly, how to best service my clients or my customers, which are not the children but the parents. 

I think there is a disconnect between parents and teachers. Everyone is always talking about the student, the student, the student. Of course, this is very true, and the students need to learn. But who has the best interest of the child? Who knows best how they learn? The parent does. So we definitely need more parent–teacher interaction. I want to bridge the trifecta in a way where the learning is comprehensive, engaging, and we have success.

Do you feel like your lived experience as a person of color also might contribute to your ability to represent the needs of families of color in the district? 

I always get asked “what I am,” but I don’t think that someone’s ethnicity plays a part. I think it is as they say: skin deep…. But I would say [the family I was raised in] does. My family became the stereotypical African-American family if you look at the stats. There was no father in the home; we were low-income; if you think of welfare, SNAP, whatever, we were on it. A lot of my relatives were in jail or prison or gang members and whatnot. So coming from that stereotypical minority background and experience, yes, I can relate with that. 

But I will say that on the flip side, it doesn’t determine a person’s success. I don’t know if that’s said enough. Sure, I came from this, but now I’m successful in Santa Barbara. And it wasn’t because of oppression…. It was because I was able to receive an education that taught me how to compute and how to communicate…. The schools also don’t teach critical thinking anymore. Sure, I’m a minority, but if I know how to think critically, then I can improve my standing. 

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