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Most Valuable Parents: Carl and Karen Still, Vieja Valley School

The couple take advantage of their flexible work schedules to assist the school in ways big and small.

Article Image
Karen and Carl Still, with sons Ty, left, and Toby, are dedicated volunteers at Vieja Valley School in Santa Barbara. “As soon as you sign up for something, quickly people come and find you, and suddenly you’re in charge,” Karen Still says with a laugh. (Still family photo)

The tiny Hope Elementary School District in the upper State Street area of Santa Barbara has long been considered an area paragon for parent volunteerism and fundraising. After all, this is where PTA funds pay the bulk of the bill for the three schools’ specialists in music, art, P.E. and computers. 

So here, any parent who stands out as an exceptional volunteer is an all-star among all-stars.

At Vieja Valley School on Nogal Drive, that label could be used to describe married couple Carl and Karen Still.

The Stills’ deep involvement with the schools ranges from the micro to the macro, from selling T-shirts at a table during Back to School Night and coordinating the school choir to serving on a vision committee for the entire district.

The Stills joke that at Vieja Valley, where the method to solicit volunteers is highly organized, it doesn’t take long for faculty members to put new wide-eyed helpers to work.

“As soon as you sign up for something, quickly people come and find you, and suddenly you’re in charge,” Karen Still says with a laugh.

More seriously, the Stills said they believe that volunteerism is a key ingredient for the school’s long tradition of academic success.

Plus, Karen said, children love to see their parents involved.

“When I said I would help organize the choir, my son was just beaming away,” she said.

The Stills’ unconventional work schedule gives them time to spend at the school, where their oldest son, Ty, is in fifth grade, and their youngest, Toby, is in first grade.

Carl, for instance, an IT professional, telecommutes as the director of operations for an East Coast financial investment and research company called Marketocracy. He starts work at 6 a.m., and often can get done on time to volunteer in the schools.

Karen Still works part-time as a physical therapist at Muller and Weber Physical Therapy on Bath Street, and teaches anatomy part-time at UCSB.

For several years, Carl, 44, has headed up the school’s yearbook, taking much of the photography himself and laying it out digitally on a computer. 

“It’s kind of fun,” he said. “(Over the years) you get to see the kids progress from kindergarten through fifth grade.”

He also serves on the school’s technology committee, which strives to ensure that the school keeps upgraded computers in its classrooms and labs. A few years ago, when he was working with QAD, a software development company in Goleta, he helped persuade the company to donate about $4,000 to the school’s technology fund.

On an even more macro level, Carl is among 25 appointees of a district vision committee that is charged with helping administrators try to move the district in a new direction.

The district recently entered a funding phase called Basic Aid that eventually will allow it to have more money per child, and the committee is looking at how those extra resources should be used.

Karen, 45, is also involved in a multitude of activities. In addition to coordinating the school’s choir program, she runs Vieja Valley’s program to sell logowear merchandise to raise money.

She also volunteers to help the school participate in an annual national PTA contest in which students are encouraged to express themselves creatively through disciplines such as literature, dance, video production and musical composition.

As if that weren’t enough, the Stills also have a hand in the school district’s annual fundraising golf tournament, put on by the Hope School Education Foundation. Last year, it raised $25,000.

Although Hope district schools have a strong reputation for parent volunteerism, the district’s switch to Basic Aid has cost the district many good parent volunteers because going into Basic Aid recently required that the district stop allowing students to enroll from outside the district.

“We’re getting smaller and smaller numbers of children in our school, so it’s hard to raise as much money,” he said. “But where there’s a will, there’s a way.”

The Stills’ volunteerism isn’t limited to their school or school district. Karen, a former soccer player for UCSB, coaches her boy’s soccer team. Carl, also a graduate of UCSB — that’s where they met — has become a leader for his son’s Tiger Cub Scouts troop.

“Getting involved as a volunteer is so critical to our children’s education,” he said. “I would encourage people: Don’t be shy. … New parents don’t necessarily have the perspective that’s really needed, so it’s really challenging.”

Karen added: “Even a little here and there is very helpful.”

MVPs: Carl and Karen Still

School: Vieja Valley; 375 students; kindergarten through sixth grade

Location: 434 Nogal Drive

Write to [email protected]

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