Parents, teachers, staff and even a few city council members filed into the Carrillo Recreation Center early Thursday morning to hear Santa Barbara Unified Superintendent Hilda Maldonado’s State of the Schools address.
The attendees, numbering around 100, grabbed their coffee and snacks and headed to their seats as the executive director of the Santa Barbara Education Foundation, Pedro Paz, started the meeting.
“We all know education is a fundamental right, and is key to development,” said Mr. Paz. “This year we’re focusing on putting more money in the classrooms and exploring new partnerships in our communities.”
Mr. Paz also announced an increase from $100,000 in awarded teacher grants last year to $150,000 this year.
Mr. Paz then introduced Dr. Maldonado to a lasting applause.
“Education has gone through a forced transformation as a result of the pandemic,” Dr. Maldonado told her audience. “Never in my years did I imagine teachers would be teaching through a screen.”
Dr. Maldonado later talked about Chat GPT, the newly popular artificial intelligence internet tool. “Technology and A.I. are so advanced that I could have just done the following to prepare for my speech,” she said as she pulled the website up on the projector behind her, revealing a chat response to a prompt asking for a speech.
The show of artificial intelligence was not just a gimmick, but served as Dr. Maldonado’s call to action to continue to improve classrooms.
“These changes reflect the need to prepare individuals for a more interconnected world,” Dr. Maldonado said. “We are in a different time from when we all went to school.”
The conversation then shifted to changes the district has recently made to address various issues.
“It is vital to me to have the voices of students at the center. That is why I formed a student advisory council to help inform my decisions,” said Dr. Maldonado as she brought on Kavya Suresh, the student member of the Santa Barbara Unified school board.
“As we wrap up the school year and enter a new stage I want us all to care — we cannot remain indifferent to the changes happening in our schools,” Kavya told the audience. “Compassion creates community.”
The presentation addressed a number of development programs aimed at disadvantaged students, such as the Program for Effective Access to College. “When I learned about it, I made a decision to expand it within our schools,” said Dr. Maldonado.
As per the PEAC website, the organization is a support system for first-generation college-bound students. One organizer, while displayed on the projector, said, “It’s a space for students to come in and get their work done, but it’s also a place to collaborate with other students and get a meal.”
Toward the end of the presentation, Dr. Maldonado returned to one of her central points. “What if our community made learning and literacy a priority? Let’s show our students our support,” said Dr. Maldonado. “Reading is the one skill that opens all doors.”