Emily Zacarias is the newest member of the Goleta Union School District board.
“My goal as a school board trustee is to keep the district focused on student learning and achievement, while advocating for the needs of students and families in the community,” said Ms. Zacarias, who defeated opponents Christy Lozano and Berty Haley in the District 3 race. “In addition, I hope to ensure clear, transparent communication with families to continue to build trust in the community.
“My goal as a board member is to hold the district accountable to their promises,” Ms. Zacarias, whose term started Dec. 9, told the News-Press. “Right now, mental health and well-being is front and center on everyone’s mind. The district has in place an evidence-based social-emotional learning curriculum, that teaches things like resiliency, conflict resolution, mindfulness, among other important social skills.
“We have a school psychologist on every campus that is trained in culturally responsive practices, as well as a new screening tool called the DESSA, which allows teachers and other school staff to assess students in areas like self-and social-awareness, relationships, personal responsibility, and goal-directed behavior,” she said. “I would love to see more training and implementation of restorative justice practices to help heal and repair wounds between students.”
She added she would like to see “more training on trauma-informed practices, which is happening right now with a partnership with UCSB, which is working with our school psychologists and administrators.”
Another issue of concern to Ms. Zacarias is the achievement gap.
“As a governing board member, my role is to oversee the management of the district. We will be closely watching the academic data that comes in from this year and compare it to previous years, looking for growth and progress in all subgroups,” she told the News-Press. “With the districts’ adoption of a Multi-Tiered System of Support, there is a way to more effectively monitor the students who are not progressing so we can address it student-by-student.
“Implementing high-quality English Language Development lessons is a high priority for the district,” Ms. Zacarias said. “I think the issue of bringing back summer school is something that we may need to look into, as that has been shown to be effective in bringing students up to proficiency.”
As a teacher of special needs, Ms. Zacarias spoke to what she would like to see done for special needs students.
“I think we, as educators, are all doing the best we can with what we have. You don’t go into special education for the money, but for the passion you have helping kids with unique and challenging needs. I have witnessed firsthand the tireless work of teachers, paraeducators and service providers on behalf of their students in GUSD. I would love to see better understanding and communication between the district and all families of children with special needs, to prevent misunderstandings, mistrust, and disagreements, which can lead to unnecessary and costly litigation.”
According to CalMatters, only 47% of students met English Language Arts (ELA) standards and only 33% met math standards statewide in 2022. The News-Press asked Ms. Zacarias what she would like to see done to improve test scores in Goleta Union School District, which serves more than 3,500 students in grades K-6 at nine schools.
“This is the $100,000 question. This is what the district as a whole — including principals, teachers, and staff — is constantly trying to solve on a daily basis.
“I don’t think there is a one-size-fits all answer that will work for every district, nor every student, beyond one-on-one instruction (which is not feasible for any public school system).
“We have all the right tools in place, but we still struggle with certain groups,” Ms. Zacarias said. “I think re-evaluating our assessment tools is useful, and focusing on inspiring teacher-student relationships, because this is where you make those inroads for students who are struggling for various reasons.”
Beginning in 2023 Proposition 28 requires the state to provide additional funding to increase arts instruction and arts programs in public schools. At least 80% of the funding is to be used to hire staff, and the remaining 20% can be used for training, supplies and arts educational programs.
The News-Press asked Ms. Zacarias how she would like to see Prop. 28 funding implemented in the Goleta Union School District.
“I’m so excited to see how school sites decide to spend this money, I am a huge proponent of music education, so this is my wheelhouse. But there are amazing opportunities for other types of arts — like dance, performance art-like acting, drama, and improv, culinary skills, film-making, coding … The possibilities are endless. I’d love to see all students learning the basics of an instrument like keyboard, guitar or violin.
“Partnerships with local community groups/businessess — like UCSB’s Ethnomusicology program, Santa Barbara Bowl Foundation and SONOS would be really cool. I will say that I would love to see money spent on ways to expose students to other cultures through the arts, e.g. West African drumming, Japanese Kabuki theater, Polynesian hula dancing.
“All cultures have something to offer and we should celebrate that diversity!”
“I would like to ensure opportunities for a diverse range of views in the community to inform the board on issues that matter to students,” Ms. Zacarias added. “I think that the way our nation is heading is so polarized and just about any issue these days — especially in education — is politicized to the point of causing community members to turn on one another. This is not setting a good example for our kids, and I would like to prevent this from going too far, as has happened in other towns across the nation where school board members and superintendents are threatened.
“We are all adults and should take the job of educating our children very seriously, keeping religious and political agendas out of the board room.”