Anyone paying attention to the current school board campaign might be impressed to hear how often the word “literacy” is thrown around — literacy as a human right, literacy as a social justice issue, literacy as a fundamental part of each child’s education.
It would be quite impressive if all the candidates had a deep understanding and working knowledge of the complex issue of literacy and what it takes to implement sound practices to improve the literacy levels in our schools for students who are born with a hereditary condition called dyslexia.
Only Monie de Wit can speak broadly and in depth about literacy.
She is the only candidate who, for years, has been advocating for improved practices to address literacy in the Santa Barbara Unified School District and in our community. She has spoken in front of the school board and advocated for children of low-income parents whose children are illiterate because their dyslexia has gone unidentified and untreated in the district.
Monie has tirelessly spoken out at school board meetings on the subject of literacy for nearly a decade. The current school board members have totally ignored and dismissed her plea to help these children.
Through her 20 years of volunteer work at the Dyslexia Awareness and Resource Center, Monie discovered her son had unidentified dyslexia. Using the resources of the center, Monie learned how to advocate for her son to get him the appropriate services he was entitled to. Monie spent many years fighting the district to get services for her son.
Monie only spoke Dutch when she started school. As an English language learner herself, she is very familiar with the literacy struggles faced by a huge percentage of the students in the Santa Barbara Unified School District. She is the only one of the candidates who understands how this underserved population can be taught to read, write and spell, and why the current methods utilized by the district are so inefficient.
Monie understands the personal lifelong consequences of illiteracy in the lives of our children who are left behind by poor approaches to reading instruction. When our schools fail to teach students to read, they simply cannot reach their full potential in employment, personal fulfillment or community participation. And far too many fall off their pathway to success and get into big trouble.
When the Dyslexia Awareness and Resource Center closed its doors some years ago, the board voted to offer the center’s considerable resources to the Santa Barbara district. The center’s library held the largest collection of books, videotapes and parent training material in the country, at an estimated value of more than $200,000. Our benefactors included The Paul and Natalie Orfalea Foundation, Charles Schwab Dyslexia Foundation, The Hutton Foundation, The Irvine Foundation and multiple state and local foundations.
Fortunately, Superintendent David Cash was excited to move the complete center into the district office. He sent four men to the center to move everything to the district; it took them five days to move everything.
It was called the Parents Resource Center, and Dr. Cash hired Cheri Rae to run it and train the parents. The center flourished under Dr. Cash; it was supported by philanthropists, educators and even politicians, and brought great accolades to the district for its proactive approach.
Shockingly when Dr. Cash retired and Superintendent Cary Matsuoka took charge, he and the incumbent school board members — now running for re-election — allowed the Parent Resource Center to close. They deprived the community and parents in the school district any access to these valuable resources.
The closure of that innovative Parent Resource Center shows just how much the school board members do not understand the needs of students with dyslexia in their district. To this day, I wonder what they did with the valuable resources entrusted to their care.
For 30 years I advocated in the juvenile courts for Santa Barbara students who were illiterate because they had dyslexia and poor reading instruction. I have heard far too much talk about literacy, and far too few understand the subject of literacy and what action needs to take place.
Thankfully, Monie de Wit does.
I hope you will vote for her for the Santa Barbara Unified board and ask your friends and family to do the same.
Joan T. Esposito is the founder of the Dyslexia Awareness and Resource Center and past president of the California Learning Disabilities Association.
Joan T. Esposito