Peter MacDougall (top left), Weldon "Joe" Howell (top right), Roberta "Bert Heter" (bottom left)Richard "Dick" Fulton (bottom right) | Credit: Courtesy

Honestly, most people outside the education community don’t know what the County Education Office or its board members do. The office staff and board members go about their important business with professionalism and skill, without fanfare or hype.

Because four of the seats on the board are up for election, however, it’s an important time to help community members cast informed votes.

As the former County Superintendent of Schools, it was one of my great honors to work with the incumbents who are seeking reelection. These individual have been highly effective on the county school board because their background and expertise equipped them to make decisions and take actions with direct positive impacts on students, teachers, families, programs, and school districts throughout the county.

The position is nonpartisan. Those who fill it run the gamut of political leanings. What they share is an unfailing dedication to students and education.

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Peter MacDougall served as the enormously respected president of Santa Barbara City College, where he was instrumental in developing the West Campus and the SBCC Foundation among other programs too long to list, while skillfully managing that complex and highly regarded institution. He chaired the Partners in Education board of directors and co-chaired the endowment campaign for the Computers for Families program that helps bridge the digital divide for local families. He also served on the advisory board of the Santa Barbara Scholarship Foundation, providing a lifeline to hundreds of worthy students.

His accomplishments as a community volunteer have been equally noteworthy, including Cottage Hospital, the Santa Barbara Foundation, and United Way, among many others. He was co-chair for Cottage Hospital’s capital campaign, and has received the Santa Barbara Lifetime Achievement Award, the Anti-Defamation Leagues’ Distinguished Community Service Award, and the Westmont Medal of Honor to name just a few. This totality of service, this passion for education and the larger community, his fairness and goal-orientation have made him a highly effective county school board member for 14 years.

Joe Howell has been a true “go-to” county school board member, volunteering to help and to do the heavy lifting whenever there is a need. He co-chaired the successful endowment campaign for Computers for Families, designed to put a computer in the homes of children whose families could not afford one. This vital program is now serving families countywide, helping with remote learning during this pandemic.

Typical of Joe’s unique dedication, he sends a handwritten letter congratulating graduates of the office’s Court and Community School program, providing extra encouragement toward a better path. Joe also joined me on classroom visits to special education and vocational classes, and programs countywide, to see the needs first-hand and take the actions needed to improve the lives of children and teachers. Joe’s long history of service to the community was recognized with the Santa Barbara Lifetime Achievement Award, among many others. It is this passion and energy, and this focus on what is important, and willingness to do the hard work, that has made him such an effective county school board member for 21 years.

Dr. Richard Fulton is a radiologist and a founder of Pueblo Radiology. He served as president of the Rochester, Minnesota school board when he was a physician at the Mayo Clinic. On the county school board, where Dick has served with great distinction for 10 years, he’s been a driving force in the successful endowment campaign for Computers for Families, and is a strong supporter of vocational education programs. He serves on the executive committee of the County School Boards Association and has been a leader in the Partners in Education’s highly acclaimed Internship Program. Dick is also a very strong supporter of both UCSB and Santa Barbara City College.

Dick approaches his role as a board member with one goal: Find the solution that best serves all students. To him, this is not a political role, but a human role. His longtime service enables him to understand the complexities in our education system and push forward the changes needed so that all students can be served.

Roberta (“Bert”) Heter has been a highly effective county school board member for nearly eight years. A former teacher, she became principal of Lompoc High School, where her leadership was recognized for excellence district-wide. She was also well-respected in state professional organizations, having served on local and state committees, and has received numerous state awards from the Association of California School Administrators.

Bert is also a very involved with youth sports in Lompoc. She served on the Santa Barbara Foundation Board for nine years and is also involved in a number of organizations and nonprofits locally, including the Lompoc Library board.

Bert’s quiet and modest demeanor belies her truly impressive track record of accomplishments for students, teachers, and families. She is highly competent, professional, and effective, always putting what is best for kids first. She is respected and appreciated by all who know her in the education, philanthropic, nonprofit and community arenas, which is why she has been such an effective board member.

Marian Wright Edelman, president of the Children’s Defense Fund, said, “If we don’t stand for children, then we don’t stand for much.” Peter MacDougall, Joe Howell, Dick Fulton, and Bert Heter have always stood tall, passionately advocating and working tirelessly for children and families, undistracted by political agendas or ancillary issues. They do not consider the position a steppingstone, but rather a chance to serve, as reflected in their long and respected careers. Their work represents the effective, calm, nonpartisan leadership needed in these divisive times.

Bill Cirone retired as Santa Barbara County Superintendent of Schools in 2017.

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