[Editor’s note: One in a series of six candidate Q&As for the Santa Barbara School Districts Board of Education. Click here for the main story. Click here for Annette Cordero’s Q&A. Click here for Susan Deacon’s Q&A. Click here for Ed Heron’s Q&A. Click here for Jacqueline Inda’s Q&A. Click here for Charlotte Ware’s Q&A.]
NOOZHAWK: What is the single biggest problem facing our schools, and what is the best way to solve it?
NOOZHAWK: La Cumbre Junior High, Santa Barbara Junior High and McKinley Elementary schools have all been labeled “Year 5” schools in program improvement under the No Child Left Behind Act. Technically, this means the schools could be closed and re-opened as charter schools, and the principal and most of the staff could be replaced. The district is allowing those schools to continue their ongoing improvement plans without a drastic change in direction this year. Is this the right course of action?
KATE SMITH: Yes, I support the continuation of school efforts as long as it is democratic as opposed to authoritarian education. I want to slash the bloated administrative budget and bring money down to the school-site level so parents and teachers help model a schoolwide behavior support plan. At Open Alternative School, the year starts off with every class formulating their rights and responsibilities, and setting the consequences for poor choices and negative behavior. The children’s minds, bodies and spirits are nurtured, and they grow up to be democratic citizens with a love of lifelong learning. All sanctioned schools need a transition to democratic education schools.
NOOZHAWK: Throughout California, the percentage of students in GATE (Gifted and Talented Education) hovers around 5 percent. In Santa Barbara’s junior and high schools, the proportion is more like 20 percent. Should steps should be taken to lower the percentage?
NOOZHAWK: Should the elementary and secondary districts’ open-enrollment policy be maintained?
KATE SMITH: All children deserve a good democratic education in a child-centered setting, with a celebration of diversity, an accommodation of different learning styles and a fair distribution of funds. If each district school is allowed to organize itself with site-level management, each school will become a powerhouse of learning. Where there is an inability to generate funds from the parents, I support administrative assistance to pay parents to work as staff in the schools and as aides in the classrooms. The more parental involvement, the merrier the school. I want the schools to celebrate the seasons and growth of our children into healthy and happy young adults.
NOOZHAWK: Would you support a districtwide school uniform policy?
KATE SMITH: In 1999, the SBSD wrote a perfectly good dress code based on decorum and social mores. I support parents and students as they embrace current fashion to look and feel good in their bodies and clothes. I do not support school uniforms that deny the child a choice of attire; everyday choice of style, design and color is a training ground for fashion sense in adult years. Please contemplate the vocations that have uniforms — the military and service industries — to understand that choice of attire is an upwardly mobile establishment practice. The “white shirts and dark pants” that the schools want to ban as gang attire are the school uniforms required at the Santa Barbara Community Academy!
NOOZHAWK: Would you support a proposal to ban certain forms of gang apparel and styles?
KATE SMITH: It is illegal to implement a district-wide ban as the Bill of Rights guarantees freedom of expression, and that includes dress. The Educational Code allows school site-level bans of gang attire. The problem lies in the improperly approved new SBSD Board Policy 5132, which usurps rather than revises. The new dress code states that control of the students’ clothes will modify the students’ behavior. This is incorrect and is just another push into the school-to-prison pipeline. Clothes don’t cause a disturbance — the students reacting to gang clothes cause a disturbance. Student behavior has to be modified by a school-wide positive student behavior plan.
NOOZHAWK: What are your thoughts on the district’s proposal to hire two gang-intervention specialists, also known as outreach workers — at a salary of $49,000 each?
KATE SMITH: Please Google “Creating Prevention and Intervention Strategies.” It supports a school-wide behavior plan that the teachers and staff implement and model for the students. It is a cooperative environment where democratic rule replaces authoritarian repression. History and political science concur: “Children learn what they live.” If you criticize, punish and repress a child, he will act out with a vengeance. We must nurture and support our children’s minds, bodies and spirits so they grow up to be happy, healthy and successful citizens who can thrive in the 21st century.
NOOZHAWK: The district is being asked to pitch in $64,000 annually to keep the truancy program alive. Historically, the program has been funded by Santa Barbara County, but the Board of Supervisors has said it would cut the entire program unless individual districts pony up. Would you vote yes or no on spending that amount?
KATE SMITH: Please Google the ACLU School to Prison Pipeline and attend to Marion Wright Edelman’s Children’s Defense Fund’s “Call to Action.” The ACLU Racial Justice Program is committed to challenging the “school-to-prison pipeline,” a disturbing national trend wherein children are funneled out of public schools and into the juvenile and criminal justice systems. Many of these children have learning disabilities or histories of poverty, abuse or neglect, and would benefit from additional educational and counseling services. Instead, they are isolated, punished and pushed out.
“Zero-tolerance” policies criminalize minor infractions of school rules, while high-stakes testing programs encourage educators to push out low-performing students to improve their schools’ overall test scores. Students of color are especially vulnerable to push-out trends and the discriminatory application of discipline.
The ACLU believes children should be educated, not incarcerated. We are working to challenge numerous policies and practices within public school systems and the juvenile justice system that contribute to the “school-to-prison pipeline.”
NOOZHAWK: Do you support using one of two unused parcels of district-owned land to build price-controlled housing for teachers?
KATE SMITH: Yes. Teachers’ salaries are one third of top district administrative salaries. We need to support our teachers so they can afford to live in our blessed, albeit expensive, city. I propose slashing the administrative budget and bloated bureaucracy. I suggest grant writers solicit the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation with a revolutionary proposal to bring in a new school paradigm. It doesn’t take funding, but I suggest documentation, so that our efforts can be duplicated nationwide.
NOOZHAWK: Do you generally agree with the direction in which Superintendent Brian Sarvis is taking the schools?
KATE SMITH: No, I do not agree with Superintendent Sarvis. He is being groomed for the CEO superintendent position so the “school-politico complex” will survive. I believe he is employing Machiavellian mechanisms and the “Shock Doctrine” to coerce the school board to approve illegal, unethical and uncivil policies, practices and programs. The Truancy Program and the Gang Task Force are nothing less than institutionalized racism — a fascistic state within our republic that targets low-performing Hispanic males and incarcerates them rather than educates them. El Puente is a toxic waste site, owned by Bill Levy, who enjoys school-property, tax-free status; his warehouse was renovated with taxpayer dollars. I object!
NOOZHAWK: What’s your favorite book?
KATE SMITH: Charlotte’s Web; Winnie the Pooh; The Complete Works of William Shakespeare; Women Who Run With the Wolves; Eat, Pray, Love; Bonfire of the Vanities; anything by John Grisham; A Map of the World, Jane Eyre.
Click here for more information on Kate Smith.