Teachers Union Prez Karen McBride on Back-to-School Dilemma

McBride Works to Find Santa Barbara’s Educators a ‘Seat at the Table’

Credit: Delaney Smith

From the time she was in 3rd grade, Karen McBride knew she would become a teacher. 

As president of the Santa Barbara Teachers Association (SBTA), McBride has made a massive impact on Santa Barbara educators. Originally from the Bay Area, McBride didn’t become a teacher until after she moved to Santa Barbara 35 years ago when she fell in love and got married. 

McBride taught at the now-closed Open Alternative School for the first four years of her teaching career and instructed several elementary grades. She was also the school librarian at district elementary schools before she taught at La Colina Junior High for 15 years. 

Even before she became president of the SBTA, advocating for educators has been close to her heart.

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“I’ve always been someone, even as a kid, who was drawn to fighting for what I consider social justice and for the underdog,” McBride said. “I feel like it’s my duty to stand up for others. I see my role [at the SBTA] as trying to create spaces where educators have a seat at the table.”

She cited an example from her teaching days, when the district had planned to remove elementary librarians from schools. Though she was not a librarian at the time, she was part of a group that stood up to the district and ultimately saved the librarians’ jobs. 

Now, the biggest issue facing McBride is the back-to-school dilemma, where many educators feel unsafe returning to their in-person work without having received a vaccine yet. She said that 77 percent of her 715 members expressed on a survey that they had some level of discomfort going back without a vaccine. Nonetheless, teachers had to go back to work last week, many without the vaccine.

“I did some site visits this week,” McBride said about the educators going back unvaccinated. “Their attitude is incredibly positive despite the fact that they may have fears about being vaccinated. Educators wanted to be back with children. Their concern has always been for safety. 

“I think one of the things about this whole year that’s been so hard is that everyone knows what amazing educators we have in the area, but this pandemic has been so divisive and damaging,” she continued. “I really want to represent that teachers are not the problem here. They’ve felt really harmed by this.”

When not fighting on behalf of educators, McBride can be found enjoying the Santa Barbara sun. She spent the first seven years of her life in Santa Barbara living out of a boat on the harbor and passed her love for the ocean on — her oldest son is an olympic-level sailing coach. Her younger son is a graduate student.

“I just want to be outdoors; I want to be with my kids and dog; I want to be happy,” McBride said. “I love any activity associated with the water. If the last thing I see before I die is the ocean, I’ll be happy.”

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