Editor’s note: This is part of a series about candidates in the June 7 primary.
Schools today need experienced leadership, according to Dr. Susan Salcido.
She has served as the Santa Barbara County superintendent of schools since 2017 and is running for re-election against Christy Lozano, a Santa Barbara Unified School District teacher, in the June 7 primary.
“This is a pivotal time in public education, and right now we need an experienced and knowledgeable leader who understands the intricacies of our countywide school system in our unique and diverse county,” Dr. Salcido told the News-Press.
“We need leadership that shows students, staff and the community that we are both responsive and proactive,” she said. “I am focused on deepening and extending direct support for students and partnering closely with our districts and our external regional agencies and advocating on behalf of all children and their families.”
For the past five years, Dr. Salcido has worked with more than 20 school districts in the county and overseen a budget of $100 million including 200 programs.
Dr. Salcido is currently a mom of school-aged children and the wife of a Dos Pueblos High School teacher. Prior to her role as superintendent, she was a teacher and principal before her rise to the top educator position in the county.
When asked why she believed she was better qualified to be superintendent than Ms. Lozano, Dr. Salcido replied: “I have an understanding of the complexities of our public education system. I have built the right team and have strong partnerships and relationships in every corner of the county. I have the knowledge and experience to lead us forward in one of the most straining and challenging times in educational history.”
Ms. Lozano has criticized schools on issues such as the required instruction of critical race theory.
When asked about that, Dr. Salcido said, “It is so important to accurately reflect the history of the U.S. and bring to the forefront the valuable contributions of all people from all backgrounds and experiences. It is important that students learn accurately so that they do not repeat past mistakes.
“Critical race theory is a term that has gained attention because it means different things to different people,” Dr. Salcido said. “If by critical race theory, you mean white people being blamed and shamed, that is not acceptable. No one wants schools to create division, hate or shame.
“We want schools to build bridges of understanding,” she said.
Dr. Salcido also discussed another educational issue in the news. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis recently signed into law what has come to be known as the “Don’t Say Gay Bill.”
The Florida legislation has brought to the surface a debate on the appropriate age to educate children on LGBTQ+ issues.
“First, I think it is incredibly important to always know that parents and guardians are children’s first teachers, and it is their family that sets values and beliefs systems at home,” Dr. Salcido said. “Since 2016, the state of California requires school districts to provide children with comprehensive sexual health and HIV prevention and education once in middle school or junior high and once in high school.”
Dr. Salcido also said, “Members of the LGBTQ+ community are valued and essential people in our lives, so when I say we support all children in our schools, this absolutely includes LGBTQ+ youth, family and employees.”
Dr. Salcido discussed how the county should transition in a post-COVID-19 world, but noted, “I want to acknowledge the jubilation the community is expressing in having schools open now.”
Dr. Salcido has addressed several concerns such as educator morale, mental health, staff turnover, student mental health and motivation, drug addiction, learning gaps and the need for recovery, and early childhood education.
“In the endemic phase, we need to educate, convene and address these concerns that have been illuminated as a result of coming through this pandemic,” said Dr. Salcido.
“For student learning and academic success, I plan to expand career and vocational education to prepare students for jobs that support our local economy and their future,” she said. “In early education, my goal is to increase high quality childcare and preschool programs to working families and expand early learning for children with special needs to support readiness for kindergarten.”
Concerning mental health, Dr. Salcido said: “It is important to connect students and educators to school based, mental wellness services — in response to the growing urgency in concerns and needs that we are seeing in schools.”
The superintendent also talked to the News-Press about staff turnover among the county’s schools.
“We need to promote the recruitment and retention of school employees,” she said.
Dr. Salcido addressed the link between mental health and staff turnover. “I think that our teachers and staff rose so admirably to the challenges of remote instruction, and they continue to work so hard at teaching and learning that their mental health concerns, exhaustion and fatigue does impact the turnover.”
Dr. Salcido addressed what she is doing to improve student skills and prepare them for real world careers.
“All students need to feel connected to something special at school so they are motivated to learn and progress. Schools need lessons that have real world application.”
She said the county “has invested over $6 million in middle school and high school career pathways, and we are working closely with Vandenberg Space Force. We are working on apprenticeships and career pathways for young adults in sectors that are relevant to our Central Coast region.”
Dr. Salcido explained the scope of her role as superintendent.
“My role is to be a countywide leader and an advocate for children in schools and to support students in specialized services: juvenile court and community schools, special education and early childhood education. I also provide support to districts which includes: budget and plan approval, teacher and administrative credentialing and supplemental support for districts,” she said. “Our county has over 70,000 students enrolled in over 125 schools. My role is to partner with schools to provide academic and financial support and assistance as we serve as a source of information and to serve as a liaison between the state and schools and districts. We also offer a variety of professional development and training opportunities for teaching and non-teaching staff in the county.”
“I am so proud of the work and impact I have made over my lifetime and the team and the way we carry things out,” Dr. Salcido said. “I am proud when I hear from a former student that says that I have made a difference in their life.”
For more about Dr. Salcido and her campaign, visit www.susansalcido.com.