Goleta Union School District Board President Sholeh Jahangir. | 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.

Join the Santa Barbara Independent for a discussion with the Goleta Union School District Board of Education candidates on Wednesday, September 30, at 5:15 p.m. live on Zoom. Register at independent.com/forum.

Goleta Union School District Board President Sholeh Jahangir is the only incumbent candidate of six vying to keep her seat on the school board. Jahangir is a Goleta local, having gone through Foothill Elementary, La Colina Junior High, and San Marcos High School before attending college at UCLA. 

Jahangir had worked as a teacher earlier in life before moving back to Santa Barbara, but even after she moved back to town, she kept close ties to education and her community. She volunteered as the PTA president at her two sons’ schools and sat on various youth sports boards before she was pushed to run for school board and won in 2016. Self-described as “community-oriented,” Jahangir’s track record shows nothing less.

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“I am who I am because of great public school teachers,” Jahangir said. “I am who I am because the community around me gave me an opportunity and saw me as a potential. It is my life’s quest to spread that out. I always say that 3,000 students might not know who I am, but 3,000 students’ lives may have been better because I sat on that seat.”

The Independent sat down with Jahangir to talk about her previous four years on the Goleta Union school board and what issues are important to her reelection campaign. The following is a condensed version of the conversation.

As the only incumbent of six candidates running for a seat in the Goleta Union School District (GUSD), can you rehash some of your proudest accomplishments since joining the board in 2016?

Actually, like six months into getting there, our superintendent retired, so I was part of the team that got to hire our new superintendent, Dr. Donna Lewis. She came in from the Bay Area with a different perspective, and I think she brought in a lot of exciting styles to Goleta. She really wanted us to invest in a facilities master plan. Our facilities are old and needed some refurbishment. 

We went in and studied each site and brought in experts in the community and parents and teachers and asked: If we could create the school of the future, what would that look like? What would be in that facility? We took all of that data and input, and the board adopted this really amazing master plan that tells us that we’re going to put the environment first; we’re going to bring in solar; we’re going to try to do groundswells; we’re going to build classrooms like the modern workforce that could be adaptable to different seating arrangements or building breakout spaces. Now, from that, we are going to work on a bond to help with the most dire needs first, which are our infrastructure…. This is something that I am so proud of, because we are the first in the county to be doing this.

I’m also really proud we decided to go ahead with a dual-language immersion school [El Camino Elementary School]. I come from a home that is multilingual. We speak about 4-5 different languages in our home. We speak Farsi, English, Urdu, a little bit of Greek, Punjabi, and Pashto…. Because of all of those languages, my children are fluent in two, writing and reading. Their brains are just opening up to the world and picking up music easier; my kids are picking up Spanish now. We see language in our home as a global asset. It is not something you should be ashamed of; you should use it as an asset…. We know that children that can learn in both languages are going to be more desirable as the workforce grows into a global economy. 

As an elementary school district, student’s and family’s needs during the pandemic can be even more specific than K-12 districts like Santa Barbara Unified School District. What kind of inequities have come to the forefront in GUSD and how are you and the board meeting those needs?

When COVID-19 shut down everything in March, it was a tremendous shift in the paradigm of education and how we see education in society. Public education has taken the ills of society, saying that it’s failed our communities, that we don’t fund it correctly, we don’t prioritize our teachers. Then all of a sudden, when it became the lifeline of how people survive or didn’t survive — if your children are at home with you and you can’t go to work — what do we do? All of a sudden, the eyes are now on education.

… So all of a sudden, we have new needs arrive. We have technological needs, we have educational gap needs, and we have food insecurity. COVID brought out so many things and pivoting points, literally hourly things change in what we can and cannot do. 

Let’s address food insecurity first. Economic crisis happens with COVID, families are hungry, small businesses are shutting, so we decided as a district we would feed all community members 18 and younger regardless of what district you belong to. If you show up to our sites, we will have a lunch or breakfast for you, and we’ve served continuously from day one of the shutdown until now…. I was a huge champion of this and really believe we need to feed our children no matter what the cost is.…

Second is technology. We decided to partner with our community sister schools and find out how many of their students don’t have Wi-Fi or modems or any technological need. We went to our local provider and said that they need to provide hotspots that are affordable or even comped…. Then we went to our IT department within Goleta Union and said every family needs a device. We need to get it to them whether we drive it to their homes or they pick up.… 

And then when we’re talking about the gaps in learning, we needed to create a robust academic program. Something that could be done from the home with little children. Kindergarteners and 1st-graders do not have the attention span of a high schooler, so we need to create smaller, intimate connections with teachers and classmates. So we really invested in professional development and support for our teachers to make sure that this fall when they started, they had the resources. 

But our hardest situation is with special-needs students and English learners. We hired 21 new teachers to reduce the class sizes, we put in more aides and made small pods, and for our special-needs [students], we are creating very small one-on-one groupings….

Running for school board again is a no-brainer for me because this is not done. I believe morally that leadership and working for these children is my duty. I cannot walk away.

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