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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It took a bit of convincing for Devany Bechler to throw her hat in the Goleta Union school board ring.
“I kind of said that I’m not going to be the pantsuit-wearing, parade-around-school person,” Bechler said jokingly. “I’ve always wanted to do the work where you can see your impact directly and you’re there and you’re building community.”
But her natural pull toward education and community involvement landed her in a six-candidate race for two open seats on the Goleta Union school board. A mother of four children in the district, a former teacher, and Hollister Elementary’s PTA president of two years, Bechler has the background necessary for taking one of the empty seats.
Bechler’s family is also involved with the local foster-care system and has so far had two placements and plans to foster a third child after her campaign ends. Providing a home for children without one is one of her and her family’s greatest passions, she said.
The Santa Barbara Independent sat down with Bechler to learn more about her campaign. The following is a condensed version of the conversation.
As someone who’s never run for office before, who are you and what inspired you to run now?
I’m a parent. I have four kids aged 10, 8, 6, and 3. I was a teacher first before I had kids and then had kids and taught still…. Now I’ve been home for a few years. But with that being said, then they enrolled in Hollister — they still attend — and it was weird to kind of adjust to being on the other side of the education coin. At first, I was a teacher. Now I’m a parent. It took me a year to figure out why this is so weird. Why is this so hard? It’s because I wanted to be in the copy room. I wanted to be in the teacher’s lounge and in the classroom. And it was like, “No, close the door. We’re going to teach your child, and you’re going to go home.” Which is a good thing, because that’s how education should be.
So the next year, I got involved in the PTA because I just think I have to do something with education and with kids, and it was a great fit. I think I’m remembering correctly; I was president for the last two years, and I was vice president before that…. So I would say part of my motivation is becoming involved with the kids’ education. I have had a lot of people in the last year encourage me to run for school board because I was a teacher and because I have kids in the district and because I’ve been active.
Boosting literacy rates and closing the achievement gap has been an ongoing goal in Goleta Union and other districts across the state for years. What can Goleta Union do to chip away at the goal?
I firmly believe in parent buy-in and community involvement. I think that if people want to go to their school, they’re going to want to do well in their classrooms. If parents like where their kids are going, they’re going to want to help the way that they can, financially, giving of their time or resources. I do think that any kid is capable of rising to a challenge, provided that they have the support and the environment that they need to thrive. And schools have to do that job of meeting that need, but it’s a two-way street. I think in so much of education, parents just say, “Oh, it’s the teachers. The teachers will do this.” I think education needs to be more supported with parents. And that doesn’t mean that parents have to be doing their homework with their kids or attending events. But parents have to have the buy-in of, like, “I love your school. I love your teacher. I love your principal. I want you to have fun at this place….” What does that look like to have pride in your school?
Do you have any ideas on how you would promote more parent involvement as a boardmember?
The biggest thing is just, um, opportunities to come together. I’m a big fan of what I always call food and fellowship; that’s my church background. But I think that people need to gather over food and people need to be together and just see what’s happening in the classrooms. And people need to not only be called for the negative stuff, like their kid’s having a hard time or they got into trouble at the playground. I think parents need more time for opportunities to connect….
I look at, like, a lot of our parent population, and a lot of them are working double jobs, they work a swing shift, and they can’t be there after school. But I think that’s where you can have other families step in and say, “Hey, I’m going to this event, my neighbor, you know, can I take your kids?” Like I’ve driven my neighbor home because they’re gone off to the next event, you know? It takes a village, and people need to come together. I’m kind of into that notion of we all work together and we build community.
At our school [Hollister], we had this barbecue at the beginning of the year, and it’s fun, but it was super expensive. And I was like, “No, I want this to be completely free or very minimal,” so we charged $10 for a tri-tip dinner per family, not even per person. And I said, “This is why the PTA needs to exist, because we want to have people come.” Well, it’s been two or three years now, we’ve had over 500 people come to our barbecue, and that’s what kicks off the school year. It’s just, like, come together and see there are fun things happening….
I think before-school drop-offs are great things. We started coffee at the curb, which several schools do in our district, where it’s once a month and we just have coffee outside of the school. Parents can come just grab a cup of coffee and say hey longer than you normally would. Not everybody can make it, but some people can…. What I love about La Patera is that because their community is mostly on this side of the freeway but also in Old Town, they alternate every other month…. I love that idea of we’re going to bring this coffee to you because so many of them are not driving. Their kids are being bused over, so they’re not going to drop off their kid. They’re going to stay in their house. Things like that are making it work for the community.
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