Editor’s note: This is part of a series on local candidates in advance of the Nov. 8 general election.
Emily Zacarias’ experience as a teacher and mother of two inspired her to run for the Goleta Union School District board.
Ms. Zacarias is running against another teacher, Christy Lozano, and businessman Bert Haley for the 3rd District seat.
Ms. Zacarias currently works for the Santa Barbara County Education Office as a special education teacher at Hollister Elementary, one of the Goleta district’s schools. She is working with a team devoted to educating and supporting five students with profound disabilities and who are deemed medically fragile.
Ms. Zacarias told the News-Press why she’s running for the school board.
“My experience as both a teacher and a parent gave me the impetus to run. I have been a teacher of special needs from K-12 and beyond since 2008.
“I’m passionate about teaching and students, especially those with special needs,” she said. “It was my passion for teaching and my experience as a parent that gave me the confidence to run for the position.
“I have two daughters, ages 3 and 7,” Ms. Zacarias said. “It’s a really exciting time right now to be involved in education. I felt the support of my friends, family and the community, and I would like to be involved more.”
Ms. Zacarias, who has both a bachelor’s and master’s in psychology from UCSB, began her career as a special education teacher in the Los Angeles Unified School District for five years, teaching students with severe autism, in a low-income/Title 1 middle school.
She then moved to work for the Santa Barbara Unified School District, teaching students with multiple disabilities at the secondary level.
After taking some time off to have kids, she returned to the nonprofit sector. She worked as a manager for a supported living agency, helping adults with disabilities remain independent by living in their own homes.
She then returned to the classroom as a support special education teacher for the Goleta Union School District for the 2021-2022 school year on a temporary, short-term contract.
“I have worked for a number of school districts starting in L.A. Unified, the second largest district in the country,” Ms. Zacarias said. “I started my teaching career there where I worked with officials, administrators and social workers. I have broad experience in school districts large and small.
“In Goleta, I worked at all nine schools and got a sense of the issues being faced,” she said. “I think the biggest thing is having partnership and respecting everyone involved in education from custodians and food service workers to teachers. We are all here to provide the best education that we can and I think that is one skill I bring to the table.”
Ms. Zacarias discussed her goals if she’s elected.
“I want to be an active partner with the board members,” she told the News-Press. “I want to listen to the concerns of parents and teachers and tackle the issues we will face as a district. The goal is to understand the policies in place on the docket that are coming up that we need to make decisions on and get up to speed.
“My goal is to work together as a team,” she said. “I am concerned with the mental health and well-being of students coming out of the pandemic. Kids can seem resilient on the surface, and they have shown us how amazing they are.
“These kids have just inspired me, but I do think that there was trauma and damage that might take several years to materialize,” she said. “Some of the effects of anxiety and depression have been heightened during the pandemic. I want to make sure that we are addressing all mental health aspects.”
Ms. Zacarias said that as a special needs teacher, she has witnessed the backlog of kids who need to be identified to services.
She added that she wants to be sensitive to the trauma of losing loved ones. “The goal is to make sure the kids are recouping skills and on track as if there hasn’t been a pandemic. I would also love to see some movement on the achievement gap. There is a significant discrepancy between white students and students of color.”
The News-Press asked Ms. Zacarias why she feels she is better for this position than her opponents.
“I will say that being a special education teacher gives me a unique perspective,” she said. “I am constantly thinking about inclusion. It’s a tenet that I always go by: having opportunities for students of all abilities. Inclusivity encompasses ethnicity, age and sex.”
“I think that I offer a really well–rounded experience from my background as a teacher working with special needs students K-12,” Ms. Zacarias said.
“I am for inclusivity and diversity, respecting kids of all backgrounds,” the candidate said. “I am open to questions from the public. I also want to hear the concerns of parents and community members and what they want the district to provide.”
Ms. Zacarias noted she is endorsed by the United Teaching Profession of Goleta, which is the teachers’ union in Goleta.