Some people were born to be wild, but Elise Dale, a volunteer parent extraordinaire at La Cumbre Junior High, was born to plan.
Little wonder, then, that in her professional life she serves as a consultant for Santa Barbara County, namely in the department of — you guessed it — planning and development.
“That whole organization thing kind of comes naturally to me,” said Dale, who, with her high school-sweetheart husband, Jaime, has two sons, a seventh-grader at La Cumbre, 2255 Modoc Road, and a ninth-grader who attended the school last year.
Dale has been a major planning force behind many of the school’s activities, from the eighth-grade graduation ceremony to a lucrative fundraiser at a local bookstore to an adults-only beer-tasting meant to generate revenue for field trips.
In addition, the PTA secretary exercises her creative side, helping with the costumes and sets for the school play — Copacabana — in which her son is performing.
Prior to attending La Cumbre, the Dales’ sons spent their elementary years at Open Alternative School, where the culture of parent volunteerism is thick. As such, spending countless hours working for La Cumbre only seemed natural to Dale.
But Dale admits she probably logged even more time at Open Alternative, simply because the expectations of parents there were so high.
“At La Cumbre, it feels like easy duty,” she said. “It’s lovely, actually, because (teachers and administrators) are so happy to have the support that they get.”
One hindrance to parent volunteerism at junior high schools is the fact that the students stay for just two years, she said.
“You don’t build that network,” she said. “It’s harder to get involved.”
With that in mind, Dale has tried to make sure she can leave something behind to ease the process of volunteering for future La Cumbre Junior High parents. Specifically, she has written a kind of how-to manual for various volunteer activities.
For instance, when Dale was charged with the task of coordinating the eighth-grade graduation ceremony, nobody could tell her where to begin, because, until recently, the PTA simply wasn’t very strong, and so didn’t make records of such things.
As Dale organized the event from scratch — finding nurseries to donate plants to embellish the podium, enlisting the art teacher to create a beautiful banner — she wrote it all down.
“It’s not rocket science, just kind of a ‘who, what, when, where’ needs to happen,” she said. “I actually have a template I use for events.”
Dale also renewed a fundraising event that had withered away a few years ago for lack of success in generating cash. The idea has been to partner with Chaucer’s Books, which agrees to donate 25 percent of all the proceeds it receives in a given evening to the school. Parents, of course, are encouraged to purchase books. A few years ago, the event yielded a disappointing $200.
This year, Dale had an epiphany. If the school merged the fundraiser with an existing school program requiring all students to read one book a month, perhaps it would generate more buzz — and bucks. She encouraged parents to come and purchase books their children could read for the school’s reading program. Partly owing to this idea, the event raised an impressive $1,700.
For this, too, Dale wrote an instruction manual.
Although it seems Dale will spend time volunteering in whatever schools her children are attending, she has good reason to reserve a special place in her heart for junior high. It’s where she met her husband.
Dale, 47, said she’ll never forget that first day of junior high school in Las Vegas, when Jaime — a new kid in school — walked into her math classroom.
“I leaned into my then-best friend and swooned,” she recalle. “I said, ‘Oh my gosh, I’m going to marry him.’“ (Her friend’s response: “Eww.”)
By their senior year, she and Jaime — a computer programmer at QAD Inc. — were dating, and they never looked back.
That year, the couple both decided they wanted to attend UCSB. In 1982, they began doing just that, and have lived in Santa Barbara ever since. For many years, she worked in the county planning department, rising to a management position in personnel, but resigned in 1999 to take care of her two sons, then ages 5 and 3.
These days, her hours as a consultant range from 20 hours a week to 40-plus. Still, she always finds time to spend at La Cumbre.
Dale said La Cumbre felt like a good fit for her kids because, like Open Alternative, it is small.
“That’s one of the things I like about it — it’s warm,” she said. “OAS is a smaller elementary school. They never had grades — that was going to be a big transition.”
Dale said she has always felt strongly about the virtues of public service, both in a volunteer capacity and as a professional.
“There’s a rumor that a former supervisor at the county some years ago said that all public servants were stupid; if they were smart they’d be out making money,” she said. “I could not disagree more. In my career, I try to make public agencies more efficient and effective. In my volunteer work, it’s a similar kind of thing.”
— Noozhawk staff writer Rob Kuznia can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.