Max Rorty Looks to Be ‘Mental Health Provider in the Mix’ on Goleta Union School Board

Therapist, Community Organizer, and Mother of Two Shares Her Top Issues

Goleta Union school board candidate Max Rorty. | 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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Max Rorty is ready to be the first to represent Isla Vista on the Goleta Union Board of Education. 

This is Rorty’s first run for office of any kind, and the therapist and community organizer brings a unique blend of experience that she believes is needed in the community during this time. She is a wife and mother to a 2-year-old and a 4-year-old, and the older one is attending Isla Vista Elementary next fall 2021.

Rorty has roots in the community through much of her activism work, including her role as cofounder of the Santa Barbara Transgender Advocacy Network. She also served as a commissioner for the City of Santa Barbara’s Community Development and Human Services committee.

The Independent sat down with Rorty to discuss her campaign and some of her top issues. The following is a condensed version of the conversation.

What pushed you to run for the seat?

Two things propelled me. One is that in my work as a therapist, I see kids and families in Goleta and Isla Vista, and I have a lot of admiration for the schoolteachers and counselors and administrators who see my patients struggling and connect them with me and all of Goleta’s community resources. One of the things that we know from therapy is that one safe, reliable adult can make the difference for kids’ whole lives and further their lifelong health. And so it’s really exciting for me to think about being part of the team that supports those adults so that I can not only catch some of the kids and families downstream but also be upstream, making sure that the district is a great place to work and that the adults there have everything they need to take care of the students. …

I think this is an ideal time to have a mental health provider in the mix, and Goleta District already has such a strong commitment to social and emotional learning. We’re a good match for each other because of their commitment to having health-care workers in the schools and mental-health-care workers in the schools. I think that right now in particular it’s going to be super helpful to have somebody with the ability to bring people together, to assume the best of everybody in every situation, and to agree that we have a huge, huge, huge project ahead of us. 

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Do you agree with the board’s recent decision to maintain distance-only education?

Well, I have three perspectives on this issue. One is as a therapist for my patients, some of whom are alone all day in cars, some of whom are parenting their siblings at age 8, some of whom are in real risk of malnutrition. So, getting the schools opened as quickly as possible is absolutely a safety issue. And I’m a parent, and my wife is home with our two kids, and it is really, really hard. And I’m also an essential worker. And I line up to have my temperature taken every day of this, and I have a lot of empathy for the teachers who are about to do the same. And I think that opening safely is an enormous administrative task. And I think that everybody is on the same page. Everybody agrees that we need to open up the schools as quickly as possible for the sake of our most disenfranchised, our most vulnerable, and also for just people who are struggling at home with children who can’t work, who can’t appreciate their children, or their spouses, or their lives. We need to make sure that the voices of the people who we’re asking to save us from this situation are at the table too, so that they feel like they are well protected, that their voices are heard, and that their experiences are taken into account.

Culturally relevant curriculum and bilingual education have become increasingly more in demand. In Goleta Union, El Camino Elementary will be the district’s first dual-language immersion school. What are your thoughts regarding the push for these programs?

Speaking as a white person who’s trying to live an anti-racist life, I think all of us need more education in our curriculum and our conversations, specifically about our local history and about the Indigenous peoples who were here and are here. This kind of education broadens and deepens our connections to each other and our sense of ourselves as a community. If we can talk about our history together, then we can imagine the future that we want…. How we describe the people in our history books and the stories that we choose to tell about historically disenfranchised populations is really important. I was 40 years old before I saw my first movie that the gay hero doesn’t die. 

How would you apply your community organizing experience if you were elected to the board? 

My community organizing is rooted in a real sense of the possible and the kind of optimistic certainty that people want to do right by each other. And it’s been my experience in Santa Barbara and Goleta that when we show people the barriers that they have inadvertently placed in the way of inclusion, they are eager to do what they can to remove them. So I’m excited about joining a team of people who’re conscious of the ways that education has historically been used to divide the haves from the have-nots and excited to join their work in making an inclusive system that gives every student a clear, barrier-free pathway to opportunity. 

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