Seven candidates vying for seats on the Santa Barbara Unified School District’s Board of Education took part in a virtual forum on Thursday hosted by the Coalition for Neighborhood Schools.
The candidates included incumbents Laura Capps, Wendy Sims-Moten, and Jacqueline Reid, as well as Virginia Alvarez, Monie de Wit, Brian Campbell and Elrwad MacLearn.
None of the questions Thursday dealt with the novel coronavirus, but most candidates addressed getting students back into the classroom as soon as possible, safely and effectively.
One of the most hotly debated questions on Thursday included discussing the importance and effectiveness of dual language learning and specifically the Multilingual Excellence Transforming Achievement program.
Mr. MacLearn offered his displeasure with Adelante Charter School, a bilingual elementary school.
“They have failing scores, they are within the 27 percentile in math and 19 percentile in English… What is going on at Adelante is not effectively teaching the children and the board and the incumbents have renewed the charter at Adelante, even though they had decreasing scores,” he said.
He said he likes the idea of teaching dual languages but not the current system, adding that parents are intentionally taking their kids out of Santa Barbara schools because of their lack of effectiveness.
“Parents can see the lack of proficiency in educational teaching and they are taking their kids out, which is leaving the lower-income students, the minority students, those who can’t adequately serve their children,” Mr. MacLearn said.
Mr. MacLearn also did not mince words about his lack of support for the current board, offering many criticisms throughout the night.
“The board has shown a lack of transparency in trying to and attempting to learn the needs of the community,” he said.
Other candidates also seemed in favor of dual language learning but questioned the current system.
Mr. Campbell said he “loves” teaching dual languages but said he was not sure how it would help his kids, who attend district schools.
“If we are going to prepare our kids for a future outside of Santa Barbara and outside California, let’s take a look at the fact that the United States has 239 million English speakers and only 41 million Spanish speakers, a big disparity,” he said.
“In the world, Spanish is the fifth most spoken language with Mandarin and English are the top two… You need to know English, so why are we forcing children to not learn English and not become proficient and literate?”
Dr. Reid offered her support for the META system, saying students will engage with it.
“(META) supports the cultural instruction of education. It will decrease absenteeism and it will decrease expulsion rates and suspension rates because students are going to engage in the curriculum,” she said.
Ms. Alvarez came to the United States from Mexico and when she enrolled at McKinley School she spoke “zero English.”
“This is something I can speak from with experience… I see this as a big area of growth for our district… I support META, I support the program but if I was elected I would like to see reports on the board level and monitor it because if we are not making the progress we need, then we need to analyze and change course,” Ms. Alvarez said.
Ms. Capps was very fervent in her response, stating that California is a bilingual society.
“This is the future, like it or not for some of you, I embrace it. I think Adelante is a magical place. The parents could not be more engaged. The students are learning incredibly well. Of course the test scores in one language are not going to reflect accurately what students are learning in both languages, of course that’s the situation when you transform it that way,” Ms. Capps, current board president, said.
Ms. Sims-Moten was very passionate when it came to the question regarding art and music instruction.
“I am so into music, physical education and art… Singing and music actually engages that brain and gets it ready, motivates it, inspires it and has a way of helping connect (with the course material),” Ms. Sims-Moten said.
She added that she helped teach her son a biology course through rhythm.
“It’s really important to have that and I would hope that we’re able to expand it to where people and students are feeling connected,and that we have the opportunities to offer it to all students,” she said.
Ms. de Wit agreed with Ms. Sims-Moten, saying she would like to see more interaction with Arts & Lectures to see some artists, for example, Yo-Yo Ma, the famous cellist.
“He actually says that culture is what unites us and so I think that we should just be abundant with the arts and back off of the armies and the football fields and really prioritize this because it’s extremely meaningful and it allows children to also develop their gifts,” Ms. de Wit said.
The controversial Teen Talk was also a topic of discussion near the end of the forum. Teen Talk is a sex education cirriculm that was adopted by the board unanimously despite pushback during the Sept. 8 board meeting.
“I absolutely support it, it’s comprehensive and we have quite a bit of public input as well as staff research on that,” Ms. Sims-Moten said.
Mr. Campbell said students need to learn about sex education, but believes the district should be exploring different options.
“I support comprehensive sexual education but from all the public comments and petitions that were signed by almost 1,000 people, it shows an overwhelming abundance of people who are against the actual Teen Talk itself,” he said.