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Sunday, March 24 , 2019, 10:03 pm | Fair 55º


2010 Montecito Union School Board Candidate Q&A with Deborah Fuss

NOOZHAWK: What motivated you to run for the Montecito Union School District Board of Education? Explain your decision process.

DEBORAH FUSS: For the past three years I have been very involved at the school. I was a parent representative on the Strategic Planning Committee and Site Council, on the chief academic officer interview team, MUS Cares, a room parent, and have attended almost every board meeting.

As I sat in the audience at those board meetings, I was often frustrated by how the board operated and some of the decisions its members made. For me, it ultimately came down to moving from “watching” the board to being able to help make decisions that affected my children and all children at MUS. I want to help implement the Strategic Plan our team developed, and influence how the board engages and communicates with parents and the broader community.

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

DF: I believe my consistently high leve of involvement at the school gives me a very unique set of experiences and perspectives. I was fortunate to work closely with the administration, teachers, parents and members of the Montecito community in developing the Strategic Plan for the school. As part of the team that crafted the plan over the course of a year, I heard the various points of view, participated in all of the discussions that resulted in the final document, and presented the committees’ recommendations to the board. My participation in those conversations provided an invaluable understanding of the issues that were important to each of the groups working together to develop the plan.

Additionally, my professional background as a marketing executive provides a clear understanding of how to actively listen, effectively communicate and help broker compromise when it’s needed. The board will inevitably have to make decisions that aren’t popular with particular groups. By being able to listen and communicate effectively with constituents who may not share the same point of view, I can help create a higher level of understanding for “why” those decisions are being made, and help move everyone forward toward a productive solution.

NOOZHAWK: The Montecito Union School community has had its share of drama recently. Is that behind you? Is the new administrative structure an improvement? Why or why not?

DF: To me it is less about the administrative structure and more about the effectiveness of the teacher in the classroom. As so much recent research has highlighted, it is the teacher in the classroom who will have the greatest impact on a child’s academic achievement. So, if my children’s teachers are inspired, enthusiastic and motivated, I am confident that my child is going to have a great year.

I believe our community is still in a period of transition and that the events of last spring are still on the minds of many. I do believe the new administrative structure initially seems to be having a positive effect. Our new superintendent, Tammy Murphy, is focused, energetic and is quickly having a positive influence throughout the school. The creation of the chief academic officer position is allowing for greater focus on curriculum and the professional development of our teachers. The teachers I have spoken with are excited and feel that the new structure is providing them with greater feedback in the classroom and opportunities to share with their peers.

NOOZHAWK: The Montecito Union School District has embarked on an ambitious and comprehensive project to strengthen and expand the academic opportunities and accountability for its students and community. Do you agree with the direction of this new vision? What do you see as challenges with implementation? How will you personally judge its success?

DF: I support the direction we are heading in. The vision and goals outlined in the Strategic Plan are ambitious and provide a road map to where we want to go. I am happy to see that the administration is referring to the plan as it lays out the work it will be doing over the next year. The greatest challenge is that we forget the plan in the process of doing the work every day. It is important that the board use the plan to determine the school’s top priorities and, if they don’t, it will clearly have a dramatic impact on whether we can achieve our goals.

The success of each of the various initiatives will be measured differently, but for student achievement it will be the development of a portfolio of evaluations that go beyond the “test.” This matrix will help to determine how the school is doing in teaching to the “whole child.”

Ultimately the success will be seen in the children. Are they intellectually curious? Can they work in teams? Are they kind and compassionate? Do they value and appreciate differences? Has the school equipped them with the skills they need to achieve their potential? Clearly these types of measurements need to be individualized, and at MUS the administration and teachers understand the importance of the intangible elements that are part of teaching to the individual child.

NOOZHAWK: Public school funding in California seems to be in a perpetual state of crisis. As a basic-aid district in one of the country’s wealthiest communities, Montecito Union would appear to be somewhat sheltered from the worst budget pressures. True? Why or why not?

DF: Funding for public schools in California, and throughout the nation, appears to be a tragically low priority. Legislators need to make quality public education a top priority if we want our children to be productive citizens as they enter the workforce.

At MUS, it is true that because we are funded by property taxes, we have been able to avoid much of the budget crisis that is currently affecting public education throughout the state. However, we need to remain conscious that our basic-aid status could change at any time. The school has worked hard to put together a financial reserve that will allow us to ratchet down some of the services the school provides, but it is important to continue to build the reserves so we can be better prepared if basic aid comes under fire again.

Additionally, all basic-aid districts, in an attempt to close some of the economic gap in public education, have provided a “fair-share” contribution back to the state for distribution to other schools.

NOOZHAWK: What do you see as the most pressing issue the Montecito Union School District will face in the next five years?

DF: The most pressing issue right now is the new Open Enrollment Act that came out of the federal Race For The Top program. Historically, because we are a basic-aid district, with only one school, we have not been subject to inter-district transfers. This new legislation will change that. The administrative team and the board are working on drafting a policy that will address these transfers.

The spirit of the legislation is that every child is entitled to a quality public education and, if they are currently enrolled in one of the 1,000 schools designated as an underperforming school, they can transfer to any school with a higher API (Academic Performance Index) score. This is a noble effort but it will come down to the details of how this policy will be implemented. Without an effective, defensible policy in place, some of what makes MUS special may go away.

Equally pressing is the economic crisis facing public schools in California today and the impact that may have on basic-aid districts. It is likely that within the next five years basic aid may come under attack again and that would have a tremendous impact on our school.

NOOZHAWK: The Montecito Union School District owns property adjacent to the campus. How should it be used?

DF: Like many parents, when we started at MUS we asked why there wasn’t a middle school? The pat answer was always “it’s not possible!” Before we decide the best and highest use for the land next door, I think we need to put together a committee made up of members from the administration, teachers, parents and community and have them investigate fully how we lost our K-8 designation. What would be involved in getting it back? What impact would additional students in seventh and eighth grades have on our K-6 program? After this review, the findings need to be documented and shared with the community. I believe it would be a mistake to move forward on the use of the land without completely understanding and communicating the findings of this investigation.

On a more macro level, it is up to the community, the administration and the board to decide how to use the land and/or if we should invest significant capital in the expansion of the campus during these difficult economic times.

NOOZHAWK: San Ysidro Road is one of Montecito’s busiest streets. Is it safe for students? What improvements would you like to see?

DF: No, it isn’t safe. I’m not sure any major road leading to MUS is safe for students to walk or ride on. I fully support the “Safe Routes to School” pathway. My children would love to ride their bikes to school but is just too dangerous. The pathway that has been designed for San Ysidro Road will be beautiful. I would like to see similar rural paths on School House and East Valley roads so our children can get out of our cars and truly enjoy our semi-rural community.

NOOZHAWK: Earlier this year, the state of California implemented the Open Enrollment Act, which allows students from “low-achieving” schools to enroll in a high-performing school, including single-school districts, without regard to residence. How will this affect Montecito Union School?

DF: As I mentioned previously, this is clearly a huge issue for our school. I fully embrace the spirit of the legislation that all children are entitled to a quality public education, but it really comes down to the details that are still being worked out.

For example, one of the major issues is that the timing for application and acceptance happens early in the year. At MUS, we historically have a significant number of people moving into the district late in the summer. For example, this year a week before school started, it was necessary to hire a new fifth-grade teacher because of a large number of students joining that grade. If we accept a certain number of Open Enrollment Act students in March, based on enrollment at that time, we could potentially have to create additional classes in multiple grade levels prior to the start of school in the fall to accommodate the in-district students. This could pose a significant challenge for the administration and teachers and could potentially affect the services we offer to our children.

I am confident that our administration is working hard to understand the details of the legislation and will develop a policy that embraces the spirit of the policy while maintaining the culture and programs that make MUS such a special place.

NOOZHAWK: Do you support Measure Q, the $75 million school bond for Santa Barbara High, Santa Barbara Junior High and other secondary schools in the Santa Barbara School Districts? Why or why not?


Yes, and in fact our school board has voted to support Measure Q and its companion Measure R (for the Santa Barbara Elementary School District). Many of our children go on to the Santa Barbara junior and senior high schools and it is important that those facilities are maintained and provide a healthy environment in which children can learn.

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

DF: The teachers at MUS are exceptional, and through my work on numerous committees I have been able to work with many of them. I have been truly inspired by their dedication to their profession, the school and, most important, the kids. But if I had to pick one, I would have to say Stacy Allison. Both of my children had her in kindergarten and it was wonderful to see how she did her magic in the classroom. My children are very different and she took the time to understand and appreciate their individuality.

Stacy is also the person who put me on the path to being an “involved” parent at MUS. She pulled me aside one day and said, “If you want to know what’s going on at the school you need to go to board meetings.” Since then, I have attended almost every board meeting and do believe that my attendance has given me a deep understanding of what it means to serve on the Montecito Union School board.

NOOZHAWK: How can voters learn more about your candidacy?

DF: They can ask the administration, teachers and parents at the school. They can email me at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address), call me at 805.448.4442 or go to my Web site, www.deborahfuss4mus.com, to see “What People are Saying” and my list of supporters.

NOOZHAWK: If elected, will you help Noozhawk become a permanent part of Montecito Union School’s Technology Showcase?

DF: [Noozhawk’s note: Candidate did not respond.]

Click here for more information on Deborah Fuss’ campaign.

Related Articles

» Click here for Mary Kirkhart’s Noozhawk Q&A.

» Click here for Gwyn Lurie’s Noozhawk Q&A.

» Click here for Ted Urschel’s Noozhawk Q&A.

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