SBUSD candidates Krystle Sieghart (left) and Julian Sarafian | Credit: Courtesy

It’s a troubled time to be entering Santa Barbara’s playground of public education. Whoever fills Laura Capps’s recently vacated seat on the Board of Education for the Santa Barbara Unified School District (SBUSD) will need to be prepared for the pressure. 

Capps resigned from the position after being elected as the county’s 2nd District supervisor. Now that Capps has been sworn into her new role, the SBUSD Board of Trustees is looking for a provisional appointee, from the district at large, to keep her seat warm until her remaining term on the board comes to an end in November 2024. 

Applications to fill the open position will be accepted until December 16, and the school board will have final deliberations and make an appointment by January. 

Once Capps’s term is up, the position will go through an official election process and candidates will need to reside in the specific boundaries of Trustee Area 2, in accordance with the new district map adopted by the board in February. For the provisional appointment, the applicant only must reside within the district boundaries at large. 

Two promising candidates have stepped up to the plate so far to seek the appointment. One, Julian Sarafian, is a corporate lawyer turned mental-health advocate who lives in the Area 2 district, and the other, Krystle Farmer Sieghart, is a community organizer with ancestral roots in Santa Barbara who currently resides in Goleta.

“An effective school board member has a deep connection to our schools and a commitment to be a champion for all students and staff of the district, as well as the ability to be a calm and unifying voice for the community,” Capps said. “Given all the pressures facing public education right now, grace under pressure is key.”

Both applicants are about 20 years Capps’s junior — Sarafian is 28 and Sieghart is 31 — but nevertheless expressed having the enthusiasm and experience needed to fill the position. 

“I still think there needs to be more people around my age in these spaces, being able to bring forward a new lens, a new perspective,” Sieghart said.

Krystle Farmer Sieghart

SBUSD candidate Krystle Sieghart
| Credit: Courtesy

Sieghart was born and raised in Santa Barbara and has familial roots in the community going back to the early 1900s. She said that many of the women in her family were longtime churchgoers and organizers for the Black communities in Santa Barbara. 

“My ancestors … were all involved in local organizing in this community,” Sieghart said. “It’s just very much in my blood to support and show up for the community, and that’s what I’ve been doing in Santa Barbara for 10 years now.”

Following in the footsteps of her relatives, Sieghart cofounded Healing Justice Santa Barbara, a nonprofit organization run by Black women such as herself, with the goal to build community, provide resources, and advocate for Black and marginalized people along the Central Coast. 

She began her journey in organizing as a student at Santa Barbara City College, including being the student boardmember for the SBCC Board of Trustees, where she “learned how to advocate for marginalized and vulnerable students.” Sieghart ultimately resigned from the position and filed a lawsuit against SBCC in 2019, alleging that she was subjected to racial discrimination and sexual harassment during her time on the student senate and as the student trustee. However, she and SBCC settled out of court, and the claims were dismissed in 2020, according to a report in Reed College’s student newspaper.

“I was a product of Santa Barbara Unified; I was a product of GUSD,” she said. “So I have first-hand experience of what it feels like to be a student in these institutions, and what is still happening to students like me, marginalized vulnerable students, students of color, in these systems.”

Years later, advocating for marginalized students is still Sieghart’s MO. “There’s a lot of race-based conflicts going on within the schools,” she said. “I think it’s time for the district to … have equity plans for every school that are very clear about how we expect people to be in community with one another in very respectful and healthy ways.” 

As a mother of three children, Sieghart said she wants to make sure that the county’s schools are safe spaces for her own kids as well. She even mentioned that her 7-year-old son was the target of a race-based assault at his elementary school in Goleta, part of a recent rash of racial incidents in South County schools. “He was choked and called the N-word by another classmate. This is happening, and it’s happening a lot on all these campuses,” she said.

The main reason Sieghart wants to run, though, is because “people like [her] are not in those spaces,” emphasizing that she has “no interest whatsoever” in moving up the political ladder.

“I’m really running for this seat in hopes that it will inspire other folks like me to get in these spaces, so that we can start to see the change that we want to see within these institutions,” she said. “You don’t have to be like these political caricatures that we’re seeing constantly in the news and on TV; you can be yourself in these spaces.”

Julian Sarafian

SBUSD candidate Julian Sarafian
| Credit: Courtesy

Sarafian moved to the city last year with his fiancée and became readily involved in local politics, including working closely with Emily Zacarias during her campaign for the Goleta Union school board. “Being on her campaign was very inspiring for me, seeing how deeply she cared about our students, and emphasizing an empathetic and more human approach to learning and teaching,” he said. “It’s something that resonated a lot with me.” 

One of Sarafian’s main goals on the board would be to “make the school board more efficient, transparent, and connected to the community,” in part by “using tools like social media and the digital world to better share information and hear from community members.”

The Harvard alumnus quit his six-figure job in big law in July 2021 to focus on his mental health and fell into mental-health advocacy soon after that. 

“I had difficulties swallowing and had a gagging disorder for most of my twenties, and that was basically due to mismanaged anxiety” he said. “I ended up falling into depression during the pandemic, and I was ultimately diagnosed with severe anxiety a couple of years ago.” 

Sarafian said he is a “firm believer” that the problems and suffering associated with mental-health struggles can be largely avoided by promoting mental-health education and resources to youth. “Had I learned about these things when I was a kid, I think my life would have looked and felt a lot different,” he explained.

Sarafian has done most of his advocacy through social media content creation and outreach, and he now runs his own law firm “for creators by creators,” to primarily represent social media influencers. 

“But we do a whole slew of other work as well,” he continued, including civil litigation, landlord tenant issues, and “some pro bono work with the mental-health community as well, helping folks in their workplace advocate for their mental-health needs, and making sure that they get resources that they need.”

He may not have been raised in Santa Barbara, but Sarafian is a lifelong Californian, having grown up in Folsom, completed his undergraduate education at UC Berkeley, and only moved out of the state for his graduate studies at Harvard Law School. Now that he’s lived in Santa Barbara for a year, and has been involved in local politics for six months, he says he and his fiancée have “fallen in love” with living and working in the city and do not intend to leave. 

In that time, Sarafian has become involved in the community in other ways besides working on political campaigns. He is expected to serve on at least one of the city’s commissions and is active in the local pickleball community. He is also a volunteer with CASA, through which he has trained to become a court-appointed advocate and mentor for abused or neglected children.

“I honestly really just want to serve the community and help however I can,” he said. “I was trapped, like many of us were, during the COVID pandemic, watching, politically, our country fall into a sort of leadership crisis. So emerging from my former career and coming out of the pandemic, I’m most passionate about being a community leader and organizer, because I really believe that if I don’t do it, then I don’t know who will.”

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