Friday, November 16 , 2018, 11:27 am | Fair 68º


2010 Montecito Union School Board Candidate Q&A with Mary Kirkhart

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

Mary Kirkhart
Mary Kirkhart


f you had asked me a year ago, as a new kindergarten parent, if I would be running for school board today, I would have said, “Oh, I don’t think so.” Not because I wasn’t interested, but because I would have liked to take a few years to ease my way into it.

Last spring, despite great public outcry, actions taken by the school board proved to be disruptive and confusing. This could have been avoided through improved board communication, openness and responsiveness. It was at that time I decided to run for a position and use my experience to make positive changes for the district.

I am honored to have the opportunity to serve our school, our students and our community.

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

MK: As former president and co-founder of a Santa Barbara-based, $1 billion public company, I will bring executive, financial and strategic experience to the MUS board. As leader of a company that grew from three employees to 1,200 in five years, I will also bring first-hand knowledge of the importance of open communication, responsive listening and collaborative leadership.

As a former member of the board of directors of a public company, I have the experience and knowledge of how to preside over organizations in an open and transparent manner.

My husband, Mark, and I are proud parents of a son who is in first grade at Montecito Union. I believe the most engaged and accessible school board members are those with children at the school.

I am a nearly 20-year Santa Barbara resident, the last 14 years in Montecito. I am originally from Whittier, and graduated with a B.S. in business administration from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo.

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?

MK: Hopefully, the “drama” is behind us ... Except for the drama of a campaign!

Although the “drama” my have subsided, the trust of the board has been severely damaged. With three new incoming board members, it is the perfect time to address the trust issue and focus on board openness and transparency. It is also a perfect time to look at how the board handles communication, not only on a regular basis but also during a crisis.

The new administrative structure has only been in place a few months and I will look forward to evaluating its success after a more reasonable time. The new administrative team members are great. They are enthusiastic, communicative and very open to feedback. I very much support new Superintendent Tammy Murphy’s idea of pushing up her typical year-end parent survey to January. This will give parents a voice in expressing how they feel about the new structure.

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?

MK: I agree with and support our Strategic Plan. The biggest challenge will be in how to evaluate success and how to continually update the plan for relevance. Our new administrative team is supportive and enthusiastic about our Strategic Plan. Their experience and enthusiasm will be instrumental in its implementation.

Judging the success of the plan should be a collaborative effort, reflecting the opinion of the entire Montecito Union learning community, including the parents, teachers, community members, administration, and even the 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?

MK: Our basic-aid status allows funding for our school to come directly from our local property taxes. This accounts for about 90 percent of our revenue. During the most recent budget crisis, additional revenue we receive from the state was reduced, but in the big picture, we have been somewhat sheltered from the worst budget pressures.

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

MK: It’s hard to pick just one! Almost one-third of our teachers could choose to retire in the next few years. It will be a challenge to hire so many new teachers while retaining our Montecito Union culture.

We own a property next door to our school and we need to decide what to do with it. This needs to be a collaborative effort with the community and neighbors.

The continuance of our basic-aid status is so important to the funding of our school. It is always at the top of any pressing issues list.

We also need to improve board communication and trust through open and honest communication, transparent and fair-minded decision-making, and responsive listening.

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

MK: The use of this property must be decided by the members of the Montecito community. As a board member it will be my responsibility to reach out to the community to come to a consensus of the best use for the property.

An excellent off-shoot of the “what will we do with the property next door?” question is that we will be looking at our facilities as a whole and come up with a master plan for the entire school, not just “next door.”

One of the many great attributes of our new superintendent is her experience and enthusiasm for large capital projects. I am very confident that she will be a great asset in leading us through this process.

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

MK: San Ysidro Road is very busy and especially busy during drop-off and pickup times for our students.

I would like to see the crosswalk situation at San Ysidro Road, Santa Rosa Lane and the school parking lot improved. These crosswalks are heavily used by parents and children walking to and from their cars parked at lower Manning Park. These crosswalks are also used heavily by students walking to the Montecito Family YMCA. The intersection is very busy, with many cars making right- and left-hand turns into the crosswalks. This could and should be made safer.

Our home is walking distance to Montecito Union, and we walk up nearly the entire length of San Ysidro Road to reach the school. I would not describe the walk as pleasant or safe. I support the plan for the new pathway. I also appreciate that even just the process of a potential new pathway has motivated neighbors to clean up the pedestrian right of way.

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?

MK: Open enrollment is a “hot” topic among Montecito Union parents and community members. The administration is in the process of creating a district policy to address how students from low-achieving schools could be allowed to attend Montecito Union. How open enrollment will affect the school will have in large part to do with how the new policy is crafted.

I would like to see some sort of meeting, sooner rather than later, with a Q&A format for parents with the superintendent to address specific concerns on this issue. I would encourage anyone who is interested or concerned about open enrollment to e-mail the superintendent and let her know that this topic is important.

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?


No one wants to pay more in property taxes, but this bond measure is a realistic way to fund much-needed capital projects for our Santa Barbara schools. The state of California does not fund maintenance projects for schools, so it is left to our local government to fund much-needed maintenance for our aging school facilities. As we upgrade our schools, operating costs will go down. Those savings will go straight to the classrooms to hire more teachers. Measure Q is good for our students and schools, and I support it.

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

MK: All of my son’s teachers have had huge impacts on our family.

Annie Fischer, “Mrs. Annie” of the Montecito YMCA preschool is an incredible “pre-kindergarten” teacher and our year in her “Room 3” exceeded our very high expectations, both in academics and in the loving supportive environment provided.

Just before school started this year, my first-grade son was asked by an incoming kindergartener what he thought of his kindergarten teacher, Laurie McMahon. He quickly and very excitedly replied, ”She’s AWESOME!” I’m pretty sure that in his 6-year-old mind, that’s as good as it gets.

NOOZHAWK: How can voters learn more about your candidacy?

MK: Learn more about my candidacy by visiting or e-mail me at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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

MK: I would support anything that helps student achievement.

Click here for more information on Mary Kirkhart’s campaign.

Related Articles

» Click here for Deborah Fuss’ 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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