Santa Barbara Unified School District Board of Education candidate Brian Campbell. | 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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Brian Campbell wears many hats ​— including father, real estate agent, and attorney ​— but he’s looking to juggle an additional role. Campbell is running for one of three open seats on the Santa Barbara Unified School Board. 

He tried his shot at running for Santa Barbara City Council last November and lost, but his decision to run for office then sprang from his discontent with Washington Elementary, which one of his children currently attends and the other graduated from, when it twice went into “lockout mode” because of homeless individuals behaving in a threatening manner. He’s running for school board now because he still sees issues within the district that need to be addressed.

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Although Campbell himself hasn’t worked in education, he said he’s from an educator family. His father is a retired schoolteacher of almost 50 years in public schools, both of his sisters are public school teachers, and he has spent hours volunteering in his kids’ classes at Washington.

The Santa Barbara Independent sat down with Campbell to learn more about his campaign. The following is a condensed version of the conversation.

What central issues are driving you to run?

The main issue is literacy and educating the children. I’ve been volunteering in the classrooms for nine years; I taught science in the elementary school for seven years; I was on the PTO [Parent Teacher Organization] for five years; I was the chair of science night for three years … . It’s been very disheartening for a few years now to see when our [Campbell and wife] kids spend time with other kids in 3rd, 5th grade, and the kids can’t read or write English with any proficiency. It’s frightening…. My wife and I work full-time jobs, probably seven days a week 80 hours a week each of us, but we carve the time out to be in the classrooms with the kids, not just our kids but other kids.

So how can we solve the literacy issue? 

The first thing you do is take a look at successful models, not just in our school district but in other districts. Just looking in our own district, there are two models that have worked really well: Washington’s and Franklin’s. [Principal Casie] Killgore over there [at Franklin], she’s doing an amazing job. I had a chance to tour the campus with her and do all that, and I think she took the Washington model and just made it so much better. She’s receiving funding for it because their school only raises like $10,000 a year in donations. She has the city college students coming in [to tutor] after hours and getting credit hours, and it’s phenomenal. It’s great. We should have that in all of the elementary schools. 

Why do you think that the district hasn’t tried to imitate that model in the other schools?

Every public school has the same state-accredited teachers, the same union teachers. They have the same iPads, the same textbooks, the same “curriculum,” so what’s the difference? You can’t just say it’s a socioeconomic or a demographic issue when you have Cleveland and Franklin right next door to each other but only one is doing really, really well. Too many people blame it on race and socioeconomic, but again, if you have the same books and same qualified teachers, there is something else going on there that the district doesn’t know about or hasn’t researched, hasn’t questioned. 

Do you believe that the reason Franklin has higher test scores than Cleveland is because of the additional supports that are offered like free after-school tutoring? Oftentimes, students of color and those from socioeconomically disadvantaged homes don’t have access to a parent to help them with homework or provide additional support.

For starters, let’s remove race from the equation because when you go to South Boston, you go to the Midwest, you don’t have any diversity, but they face the same illiteracy and the same educational challenges that we do in Santa Barbara. Race is not the issue. It shouldn’t be the issue. Most of these kids are second or third generation, so they didn’t just move here from Mexico six months ago … . Whenever we talk about race, it creates divisional lines and pits people against people … .

Let’s talk about socioeconomics. Yes, parents work hard, but this is Santa Barbara. Most families throughout all of Santa Barbara have both parents working. [My kids are] getting so much attention in school that at night when it’s time to do homework, I don’t necessarily have to sit with them and say, “This is how you do it,” per se; they just want somebody around while they’re doing their work. While we’re cooking dinner, they’re at the kitchen table doing homework, and if they have a question, “Google, what’s the answer?” Everybody has a phone. “Siri, how do you do this math equation?” That’s what I do. It’s not that I’m brilliant. And even families from lower socioeconomic classes, they all have a phone and can ask Google or Siri or Alexa or somebody else, “How do I do this?” They can help their kids, and they aren’t helpless. 

You’re running at a very unique time when the world is experiencing a pandemic and all schools in Santa Barbara County are, for now, closed to in-person instruction. How do you see the transition back to in-person classes?

There are areas like Germany that allow their public schools to go back, and they had very minimal issues and little transmission between kids and siblings even though a couple kids tested positive. Even kids who were in houses where the parents had COVID still didn’t bring it to school. I think there’s a way to really do this and ease the burden on families because the issue that people don’t really talk about is teen suicides are up over 34 percent. Gang violence is up. Kids are bored with nothing to do, no camps and no schools, so they are out in the streets while Mom and Dad are at work, getting into all sorts of trouble. This whole COVID thing — I don’t know anybody who has COVID or who died of COVID. I know four people who committed suicide because of COVID and the stress related to it. 

Nobody talks about the other outlying issues that have been created by the procedures that are in place and the hardships that are put on people, especially the children, who are very social beings. To turn around and lock them in a bedroom for six months is horrendous. We’re going to have a bunch of kids that will need to be reintroduced into society and learn how to work together with each other. 

You’ve said the district spends too much money on non-academic programs while reading and math scores stay stagnant. Some of those programs, like CALM and the Family Service Agency, are mental-health programs designed to help with issues like teen suicide, as you mentioned. Are these contracts money well-spent in your opinion? 

None of these have been put out to bid. (Editor’s note: Both the Calm and Family Service Agency contracts with the Santa Barbara Unified School District were obtained through a competitive RFP process.) I know I have asked to sit in on a class for Just Communities because as a parent, we are able to go sit in on classrooms … . But Just Communities says, “No, we have intellectual copyright we’re worried about, so you can’t actually see what we’re doing or talking to the kids about.” That makes no sense whatsoever. You’re in a public school teaching children, and you’re not licensed accredited teachers or union employees, and I’m supposed to just say yes to some stranger coming on campus and talking to the kids? … None of our literacy or testing rates are going up, and quite a few people are coming out with bad experiences. 

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