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2010 Montecito Union School Board Candidate Q&A with Gwyn Lurie

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

Gwyn Lurie
Gwyn Lurie


For me this comes from a lifelong history of commitment and connection to education and children. I am a product of and a strong believer in public education. I come from a family of educators. I myself went back into my former high school to teach a class in story telling. I was on the board of the Los Angeles County High School for the Arts and I am currently on the board of The Alliance for Children’s Rights, which works in advocacy for kids in and aging out of the foster care system, education and health care.

My husband and I purchased our home here seven years ago so our two daughters could attend Montecito Union School. Last year, when my eldest daughter entered kindergarten at MUS, I became especially interested in what was happening from a structural and a governance point of view, and I wanted to understand what was going on. So I started attending school board meetings.

MUS has a long and proud history of parental and community involvement, which is one of the reasons that the structural changes made by the board with little community input and discussion were so disturbing to many of us. I strongly believe that we can do much better through the push and pull of open, honest communication.

During the most heated aspect of last springs’ events I was asked by a board member to help mediate between a group of parents who wanted to launch a recall campaign, and the board member they wanted to recall. I certainly understood the frustration the parents were feeling — I felt it myself — but I also felt strongly that there was a bigger picture to consider. And I worked very hard to help to bring the various sides together to find common ground on which to move forward. And I believe that is my greatest skill.

Amid all that, I realized I had the interest in playing an important role not only in helping our school community move forward, but to move forward in a healthy way — to rebuild the very important trust that must exist between our board and the stakeholders in our community.

I think it’s critical that we have a board that sees good, strong, open communication as an important tool of governance, not an impediment to it. Whenever it is legally and ethically responsible, parents and teachers and the community must be a part of these important conversations!

I have nearly three decades of experience building consensus among stakeholders with disparate points of view, including an elected term as student body president at UCLA and service on many nonprofit boards. Because of my background and involvement with MUS, I was encouraged by many in the community to run for a seat on the board. After careful consideration, I feel I have the time, energy and experience the board needs as we set a new direction with a new school administration in place, to ensure greater community involvement and pride in MUS.

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


I served as student body president at UCLA, where I honed many of my skills in building consensus among diverse stakeholders on many controversial issues. I have experience in creating opportunities for individuals to discuss, share, learn, reach consensus and bring about excellent results.

I have served on many nonprofit boards, including my current membership on the board for The Alliance For Children’s Rights. I understand the dynamic inherent to boards and making sure that everyone’s input is valued in the interest of the advance of the organization’s mission. And I understand how to manage the allocation of scarce resources.

As an off-air reporter/producer for ABC News for many years, I know how to research tough topics and present them in understandable and accessible ways. As a former executive, again I understand how to wisely manage the allocation of scarce resources. And as a professional writer, I know how to research, focus and organize complicated ideas.

Most important, as a loving mother, I understand what it means to listen, to teach by example and the importance of not only raising an educated child, but a happy one.

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?

GL: In the absence of compelling data to the contrary, I would not have endorsed eliminating the principal position the same year as bringing in a new superintendent. That said, we have a new administrative structure that seems to be working well. But we are in the early stages and time will tell whether it is an improvement. While all indications are that we have a very strong team in place, it is important to clearly define how we will evaluate our school’s effectiveness, considering input from all stakeholders in the process each year.

We cannot go back in time, and while there is no value in dredging up emotions and stories, there is great value in keeping the focus on what parents and the community want and deserve: To be a true and valued partner in a process that involves inclusion; clear, timely, transparent communication; and opportunities to meaningfully participate in decisions.

We must ensure that MUS can attract the strongest talent to our district and provide them with the vision, guidance and freedom to do their best job. We need to be cost conscious and mindful of administrators not duplicating responsibilities, and creating clear paths of communication, responsibility and authority.

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?

GL: I agree wholeheartedly with the board’s decision to approve MUS’s current Strategic Plan, which was born out of an intelligent and thoughtful process that included broad community input. One of the board’s primary responsibilities is to create a long-term vision for the district and I believe they took that on in a responsible and impressive process.

I agree strongly with the core beliefs that provide an anchor for each strategic initiative in the current plan, including school community collaboration, standards of excellence, best practices, educators as learners, a relevant rigorous curriculum, a comprehensive experience for students, teaching character attributes, service to others, and the development of attributes of personal responsibility and accountability to our learning community.

That said, the strategic plan, to be effective, must be a living, breathing document that grows and changes with the circumstances. The fact is, the current Strategic Plan was written a year and a half ago and prior to the entrance of our new superintendent and administrative team. So it is important that the new superintendent, along with the Board of Trustees, take the time to adjust the plan and prioritize its various pieces, and to develop a process for continual assessment of the plan’s success.

The most important thing to me is that the teachers at MUS feel supported and have what they need to teach our children well. And at the moment, from what I understand, there is a high level of enthusiasm among the teachers who are excited to be part of an energetic and innovative professional learning community.

I will personally view the plan as a success if MUS continues to be a place where all students receive a high-quality public education, where teachers and staff are excited to come to work and share their knowledge, parents feel proud to send their children, students are instilled with a lifelong love of learning, and the community takes pride in the education of our students.

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?

GL: MUS has been more sheltered from California’s worst budget pressures, but that may not always be the case. Basic aid has come under attack before and it may well again. I believe that MUS has both the responsibility and the desire to play a leadership role in the greater community to help make sure not only that MUS continues to have what it needs to provide its students with the highest quality education, but that all students have that same opportunity.

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

GL: Protecting our basic-aid status and open enrollment. California is in a crisis situation, both financially and educationally. This affects all public schools, and we at MUS need to play a leadership role in helping to think through and come up with creative solutions to these important issues. The idea behind the new Open Enrollment Act is to empower parents to lift up their children, not to bring down other children. We need to be part of making that so. MUS has an important challenge to embrace the social justice aspect of this legislation (which is still out for comment and not finalized) while protecting the quality education it has worked so long and hard to provide for its own students.

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

GL: I know there are many different ideas on the best use of the adjacent property, and I have not made any decisions. I am committed to having an open discussion and listening to all opinions in the community before making a decision, based on what is the best use of the property for MUS in the future. I am also committed that whatever decision I do make, I will carefully explain my thoughts and reasons for doing so to the public.

One of the ideas that has come up often is the creation of a middle school. I am strongly in favor of exploring the feasibility of this. But obviously there are many implications involved with such an endeavor and I look forward to an open process of exploration.

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

GL: I support the proposed new walkway and bike way. I would also like to see greater enforcement of existing traffic laws, particularly during morning drop-off and afternoon pick up.

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?

GL: No one knows exactly how the will affect any school as we are still waiting for state guidelines. I believe this should be fully discussed and understood by the community before any changes are made, and I know that our new superintendent, Tammy Murphy, and the current board are already hard at work gathering information and community input, trying to anticipate what the final law will look like and thinking through a school policy and its possible implications.

I anticipate that this will be one of the tough issues facing the new board — how to balance the state requirements with maintaining high-quality, individualized instruction with small class sizes and limited space capacity. I do anticipate that some parents of students at “low-achieving” schools may select Montecito Union, and our goal should be to lift up the academic ranking of all our students.

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, I do. The Santa Barbara Secondary School District is an important partner for Montecito Union School and it needs financial help to provide its students with the highest quality education in a safe and healthy environment. The money will be used strictly to improve and support the learning environment, and I am strongly in favor of this.

The current MUS school board passed a resolution in support of both Measures Q and R, and I strongly urge members of our community to support these measures as well.

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

GL: To date, I would have to say that Stacy Allison, my daughter Sydney’s kindergarten teacher at MUS, has had the biggest impact on my daughter and our family. Sydney’s transition from pre-school to kindergarten was seamless. Mrs. Allison showed a level of commitment to understanding the specific educational and emotional needs of each child in her class, such that I would never have imagined could exist in any school, let alone a public school. After 21 years of teaching, Mrs. Allison’s enthusiasm for teaching, and for learning, remains obvious and infectious. And first and foremost, as a child advocate, Mrs. Allison made my daughter feel safe, known and valued! Since my goal is for my daughter to have a healthy self-esteem, a strong sense of fairness, and a great love for learning, she certainly could not have had a better start.

NOOZHAWK: How can voters learn more about your candidacy?

GL: Voters may call or e-mail me with any questions at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). There is also information about my candidacy on Facebook at Gwyn Lurie for Montecito Union School Board.

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

GL: Day-to-day decisions such as this are best left to the administration. I will certainly pass on your request.

Click here for more information on Gwyn Lurie’s campaign.

Related Articles

» Click here for Deborah Fuss’ Noozhawk Q&A.

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

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

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