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2010 Santa Barbara School Board Candidate Q&A with Loren Mason

NOOZHAWK: What motivated you to run for the Santa Barbara School Districts Board of Education? Explain your decision process.

Loren Mason
Loren Mason

LOREN MASON: As a parent of two children in the Santa Barbara School Districts I have been involved with our schools for years and attended many school board meetings. It became apparent to me that there are many parents who feel they need someone on the board who would be an advocate for their children’s educational future. After speaking to these parents, I decided to run for the school board to ensure that all of our students’ needs are met.

NOOZHAWK: What unique experience or expertise do you have that will make a difference on the Santa Barbara school board?

LM: As a business leader in our community, I have managed multimillion-dollar budgets with a critical eye. This background provides the insight that is needed to find practical solutions through creativity and compromise. Fiscal responsibility is paramount in tough economic times.

NOOZHAWK: Public school funding in California is in a perpetual state of crisis. How is the Santa Barbara School Districts prepared to withstand continued budget pressures from the state? What can the district do to strengthen itself financially at the local level?

LM: The districts should maintain a certain amount of reserves to cover necessary expenses in tough economic times, especially when state funding is never guaranteed. I believe we need to stress more accountability and fiscal responsibility throughout the districts. This would make the districts more attractive for the private grants that are going to be needed to offset the cuts in our public funding. We are lucky to live in a community where resources are available if we develop a plan and demonstrate the accountability and discipline that private donors expect to see before they decide to participate.

NOOZHAWK: What do you see as the most pressing issue the Santa Barbara School Districts will face in the next five years?

LM: Closing the Latino student achievement gap. There are almost 2,000 English language learners in our junior high and high schools. The results of the STAR ELA (Standardized Testing and Reporting English-Language Arts) tests show only 26 percent of Latino 11th-grade students score proficient compared to 74 percent of white students. We must address this issue right now and start making the changes that are needed to close this achievement gap.

NOOZHAWK: Do you support Measures Q and R, the combined $110 million school bonds for the Santa Barbara elementary and secondary school districts? Why or why not?

LM: I support infrastructure Measures Q and R, but want to make sure that the funds are spent effectively and wisely. The Santa Barbara School Districts recently entered into lease/leaseback contracts that did not have any competitive bids. I believe that at the very least the districts should get three proposals, if possible, before selecting a contractor. I would also like to see the infrastructure improvements done during the summer break. I have managed many school improvement projects during my career that were required to be completed during the summer break as this type of work can be a safety issue and also cause distractions for our students.

NOOZHAWK: Assess the overall academic performance of both the Santa Barbara elementary and secondary districts. What are the specific strengths and specific weaknesses of each district. How would you improve them?

LM: In the single plans for student achievement, our junior high schools state that they are receiving students from our elementary schools who are severely at-risk and below proficiency levels. It is hard for the secondary schools to foster significant academic proficiency growth without looking at increasing the amount of instructional classroom time. The student achievement plans also suggest a need to better evaluate and improve teacher performance. Ultimately, the success of our students will depend on our ability to identify and assist the educators who need support.

NOOZHAWK: Earlier this year, Santa Barbara School Districts trustees authorized the merger of the GATE and Honors programs. Do you support the new arrangement? Why or why not?

LM: The districts’ stated goal of increasing underrepresented student participation in all of their advanced programs is an admirable goal. We should always stress quality and equity in our educational programs. We must be able to align our instruction to the needs of all of our students in terms of their preparation and goals. The districts’ GATE/Honors merger did not solve the underlying issue of closing the Latino student achievement gap. We need to provide all of our students a proper foundation earlier if they are going to be successful in our advanced programs that are offered in our secondary schools.

NOOZHAWK: Assess the Santa Barbara School Districts’ special-education and child-care programs. Are they serving these students and their families adequately? Why or why not?

LM: The districts have not adequately assessed or identified the special needs of all of our children. If the districts would do the proper assessments, the students and families could be served by the programs that we have in place. With almost 2,000 English language learners in the secondary district, my concern is that many of these students may actually have a learning disability that has gone undetected.

NOOZHAWK: Describe one new program that the Santa Barbara School Districts can pursue that will provide greater learning opportunities for all students, including English learners and special-education students. How will it help?

LM: I believe we should have more vocational programs. Vocational programs that emphasize employable skills as well as math and writing would provide relevant options for many of our students, especially those who may not be able to attend college. In the past there have been vocational charters proposed and I would support this type of proposal in the future.

NOOZHAWK: What are the best — and fairest — ways to assess teacher performance?

LM: There is no one way to accurately assess teacher performance districtwide. Elementary and secondary teacher assessments will be different. We need to set realistic achievable performance goals for our students and then our teachers should be evaluated upon how well their students achieve these goals.

NOOZHAWK: Is there too much emphasis on student test scores? What can the Santa Barbara School Districts do to broaden its assessments of academic achievement?

LM: Yes, we are spending too much time teaching to a test and not enough time teaching students how to think. However, we do need to use test scores as one component of the evaluation process for student and teacher performance. We need to better utilize the input from our teachers and principals to develop a more accurate way of assessing performance.

NOOZHAWK: Is the Santa Barbara School Districts doing enough to provide its students with technology training? Name an initiative that it does well.

LM: As a father of two children in the districts, I have not seen adequate technology training for all of our students. The Dos Pueblos Engineering Academy is a shining example of what is possible. Our community has the skills, talent and resources to foster more programs like the Engineering Academy.

NOOZHAWK: If you could change one thing in the Santa Barbara School Districts, what would it be?

LM: I would push for more accountability at every level throughout the districts. The policies and culture of any organization begin at the top. It seems that everyone is calling for more teacher accountability, but we also need accountability for the performance of the school board, administration and the principals. We need better direction at the top and then we need to do what is right for our students.

NOOZHAWK: What is the Santa Barbara School Districts’ greatest asset?

LM: Its many educators who have continued to do a great job in spite of the difficult circumstances encountered in recent years. We have a number of excellent public schools in the districts and with strong leadership all of our schools can become sources of community pride.

NOOZHAWK: Which teacher has had the biggest impact on your children, or yourself? How?

LM: The teacher who had the greatest impact on my two children is Steve Dugan, their eighth-grade algebra teacher at La Colina Junior High School. Many years ago I read an article that talked about the effect that eighth-grade algebra will have on our students’ future education and careers. Mr. Dugan certainly has had a strong positive effect on my children’s future, and from the bottom of my heart I want to say thank you to him.

NOOZHAWK: How can voters learn more about your candidacy?

LM: I have had numerous people contact me with questions throughout the campaign. Some have come up and talked with me as I continue to try to get my message out to the community. Others have visited my Web site and e-mailed or called me with their questions. Click here for my Web site, my e-mail is .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) and my phone is 805.722.5917.

NOOZHAWK: Would you support our plan to have the Noozhawk logo affixed to the tops of the mortarboards worn by the Class of 2011 at their high school commencements? If in official school colors, of course.

LM: I appreciate the proposed plan from Noozhawk and think that graduation sponsorship would be a great way to generate revenue for the districts.

Click here for more information on Loren Mason’s campaign.

Related Articles

» Click here for Monique Limón’s Noozhawk Q&A.

» Click here for Dean Nevins’ Noozhawk Q&A.

» Click here for Kate Parker’s Noozhawk Q&A.

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