[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 Jacqueline Inda’s Q&A. Click here for Kate Smith’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?

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Ed Heron

ED HERON: There is a need to elevate the quality of education and increase the academic achievement for all students, including the English learners, the economically disadvantaged and those with special needs. Children are our greatest asset and each one deserves a world-class education. Our vision must be one of high expectations for success, working to support teachers, students, schools, families and the community. We need to expose children to the arts, science, math, literature and the “wonder of learning.” Teachers make this happen and we need to recruit more high-quality teachers and let teachers do what they do best … teach.

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?

ED HERON: The “improvement plan” was totally reviewed by a special task force within the last year and is now being implemented with every belief that it will be successful. Because of this I see no reason to determine that a “change in direction” is necessary at this time. However, one of the first items on the agenda for the new board should be a complete update on the issue with emphasis on exactly what is the expectation and who is accountable. We are obligated to see that underperforming schools improve and this has to be a very high priority.

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?

ED HERON: I don’t believe there is any magic percentage that is right or wrong for GATE participation. A report on the GATE program completed in May indicates a goal that the classes will “reflect the general student population and giving equal access to all who qualify.” This report needs to be reviewed and studied by the school board with consultation with all “feeder” districts and all interested parties — including teachers, principals, students and parents — with the goal of being implemented in the 2009-10 school year.

NOOZHAWK: Should the elementary and secondary districts’ open-enrollment policy be maintained?

ED HERON: Each high school has many specific “pathways” that need to be available to any individual student and to eliminate these choices would not be acceptable. I believe strongly in elementary “neighborhood schools” but there are valid reasons why parents might chose another school (family circumstances, child care, etc.) and, by law, circumstances exist where children must be allowed to move to another school. Allowing a move to another school without reason is last on the priority list and only if space exists. Our goal must be to make the neighborhood school the “one of choice.” When we do it would limit the desire to change schools.

NOOZHAWK: Would you support a districtwide school uniform policy?

ED HERON: No I would not. This is the type of decision that must be made at the individual school level with tremendous input from the principals, teachers, students, parents and community. If the law requires that the parent be allowed to opt out of this requirement, it is my belief that such a policy, even if desired, would be extremely hard to implement and enforce by an individual school.

NOOZHAWK: Would you support a proposal to ban certain forms of gang apparel and styles?

ED HERON: If any of our schools feel after a thorough evaluation with teachers, students, families and the community that a problem exists on campus that interferes with the educational process or threatens the safety of anyone on the campus and that it might be corrected by implementing a school-specific dress code, I would support the additional requirements. We must have a safe school environment on our campuses. If such a policy is created and adopted by the school and district, it must be evaluated on a regular and timely basis.

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?

ED HERON: I believe the gang problem is a regional issue and a solution must involve the participation of every school district and governmental agency on the South Coast and must including nonprofits, community members, students, families and the business community. Not one single question has been raised in public regarding the cost of this five-year community approach, nor as to how and who is going to pay for it. The school district just cut $4 million from its budget. No funds currently exist for a long-term approach to solve the problem and we need to develop one in conjunction with our regional partners.

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?

ED HERON: I believe the truancy program is designed to cooperate with parents to encourage their children to attend school and obtain the education they deserve. If this is a positive program, the children and district benefit. However, recently I have also heard there is a detrimental side to this process and therefore it should be reviewed by the new school board. I hope the county proceeds with paying for the program this year, knowing that the school board will be working closely with them to work out an equitable program with the correct funding process.

NOOZHAWK: Do you support using one of two unused parcels of district-owned land to build price-controlled housing for teachers?

ED HERON: Unless I am persuaded differently by factual presentations, it is my feeling that the school board should focus on education in the classroom and not get involved as a developer of real estate. I have seen no facts indicating that teachers want price-controlled housing. The school board does not have the time or the expertise to take on such a heart-wrenching process that will decrease the level of community support we need for education. Assets worth millions of dollars, determined to be surplus to the schools’ needs, are sitting earning no return and actually costing us $100,000 a year. This is not good fiscal management.

NOOZHAWK: Do you generally agree with the direction in which Superintendent Brian Sarvis is taking the schools?

ED HERON: The direction of the schools is the responsibility of the school board. The community currently has a lack of confidence in the administration and the school board. This is a major concern if we are going to provide a world-class education for all children. Everyone involved wants consistency, dependability and trustworthiness … all of which seem to have been lacking the last couple of years due in part to fiscal management issues. Dr. Sarvis is an experienced, thoughtful and capable superintendent. With a strong board he is capable of fulfilling his role of bringing options to the board and implementing the policy options that the board chooses.

NOOZHAWK: What’s your favorite book?

ED HERON: A book that has influenced me over the years is The Power of Positive Thinking by Dr. Norman Vincent Peale. A book that most recently caught my attention would be Three Cups of Tea, One Man’s Mission to Promote Peace … One School at a Time, which I read on a recent vacation. It was fascinating and shows the power that one person can have on the educational system of a country. In retrospect, it very well may have helped me come to the conclusion that I can have a positive influence on the education of the youth in Montecito, Santa Barbara and Goleta.

Click here for more information on Ed Heron.