Primary Election : June 7th, 2022
Polls are open 7 a.m. to 8 p.m., and mail-in ballots can be dropped off or postmarked on or before June 7.
Turning 18 can be less exciting than some people expect. Since most new 18-year-olds are still high school students and still living with their parents, an “adulthood” that is true on paper has very little actual impact on their lives. They can’t even buy alcohol or cigarettes. But since the 26th Amendment was passed in 1971, 18 has marked the age when Americans can participate in our democracy by voting. And this year, in particular, there is a contentious race on the ballot with direct relevance to student lives.
Susan Salcido, the Santa Barbara County Superintendent of Schools, is up for reelection and facing a surprisingly formidable challenge from Christy Lozano, a longtime teacher and veteran. The Superintendent oversees the Santa Barbara County Education Office and is not to be confused with the SB Unified Superintendent, Hilda Maldonado, who is appointed by the School Board.
The County Education Office actually has jurisdiction over all schools in Santa Barbara County, providing “student services, professional development for educators and fiscal services for districts.” The County Education Office runs preschools, special education programs, and Court Schools that operate with the probation department. While this Office does not always directly affect the classroom experience of the average high schooler, Susan Salcido has particularly overseen the expansion of career technical education (CTE) pathways throughout the county, the implementation of mental health navigators in certain schools, and a program to help new teachers and administrators get their credentials.
Yard signs for both Susan Salcido and Christy Lozano line many streets throughout the county in an uncommon display of passion for this kind of election. In an era of increasing polarization and scenes of political anger at school board meetings, perhaps this should not be too surprising. Lozano has framed her campaign around the idea of making classrooms non-political. She rose to prominence appearing on Fox News to discuss a password-protected portal that contained materials for teachers relating to social justice.
She believes these teachings are connected to low standardized test-scores throughout the county. She said, “Children need to learn core analytical skills to have success in their future goals and right now that is not happening. They are being distracted by subjects that aren’t equipping them to reach their goals.” On Fox News, she described the current method of teaching about race and gender as “psychological warfare.” If she were elected, she says she would focus on the “joy of discovery” by having “students explore more than one side of an issue and to teach them to think critically about issues so they can make up their own minds about what to believe.”
Salcido, on the other hand, defends the focus on social justice and social-emotional learning, saying that schools have a responsibility to support a variety of student needs. As an analogy, she described a student arriving to school without food. In order for that child to succeed academically, they need to be given nutrition. Similarly, she says that it’s important to “ensure that [students] see themselves as people who are super valued within our communities and have something to really give back into the community.” She also says that the state of our schools is far more complicated than results from one standardized test, pointing out that scores on the California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress vary greatly by demographic. She also demonstrated that the scores have been increasing since 2017 and pointed to graduation and college-going rates for SB County above the state average.
Particularly regarding teaching about racism and gender, Salcido said it is important that “children when they start reading […] all the way to a senior in high school when you’re opening up a history book […] see the contributions of all people withing the story of the United States.” Just like Lozano, she emphasized teaching children “to debate, to think critically about wat has happened in our past.” She also said that “having an accurate reflection of history is not about blame and shame of any group.”
Schools’ responses to the COVID-19 pandemic highlights another major divide between the candidates. Lozano is very critical of how long schools were closed and learning reamined virtual. She emphasized that “There were a variety of COVID mitigation measures we could have taken to open the public schools,” and that “The learning loss and social/emotional issues resulting from keeping our schools closed for so long are extremely serious.” She blames the length of these closures for the burnout we are seeing now among students and teachers. This effect is certainly widespread and can be seen in the sheer number of teachers leaving Santa Barbara High School at the end of this year. Lozano says that the County Education Office needs to provide “clear and effective” guidance for transitioning back to in-person learning.
Salcido says her office is actively dealing with the effects of burnout, especially among staff. She emphasized “removing barriers” to help new educators get credentials. She also said providing mental wellness resources for educators is key to improving outcomes for teachers and students. She highlighted other organizations around the county working with students, such as Youth Well, as an important part of the process of recovering from the pandemic.
Both candidates insisted that engaging with teachers, students, and administrators is a priority to them. Salcido said that during her time as Superintendent she has probably visited 500 classrooms to observe teachers and students and ask about their experiences. She recalled a specific instance when she visisted a teacher who was rotating between multiple classrooms to help out substitute teachers, and it reminded her that “teachers are taking on so much more than just their teaching and the students in front of them.” Lozano said she would “have an open door policy for the community to engage with [her] about concerns,” and regularly visit classrooms. She also criticized the fact that SB County Board of Education meetings are not video recorded for greater transparency.
Lozano said that she “would like to see an environment where students are challenged as critical thinkers, problem solvers, and given opportunities to try their hands at skills and ideas that are age appropriate.” She would also spend more money on literacy and implement a literacy task force and more effective reading curriculum. She says current SB Unified students have a good first hand experience of the “lack of learning that has taken place.” Her pitch to them is that “A vote against the failing status quo may be the best gift they could give their younger brothers and sisters, classmates and friends, who have many more years left in an educational system that is not addressing their needs.”
Salcido said that if she were reelected, she would double down on many of her current initiatives including preschools, mental wellness, and getting new teachers credentialed. She emphasizes that she has the experience necessary for the County’s schools to recover from the pandemic. Salcido has been endorsed by many local organizations including the Santa Barbara County Democratic party, but she says that endorsements from individual students are the most meaningful, and that she wants to be a leader that students will be proud of.
Both campaigns insist that this is an important election. For seniors about to graduate high school, it is also the first election most of them can vote in. The primary election is on June 7. Polls are open 7 a.m. to 8 p.m., and mail-in ballots can be dropped off or postmarked on or before June 7. Because there are only two candidates, the winner of the primary will be the winner of the election outright. Whoever they end up voting for, this primary is a remarkable opportunity for students to have a voice in the future of education in Santa Barbara County.
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