Sunday, July 22 , 2018, 7:11 pm | Fair 78º


Noozhawk Talks: Leslie Dinaberg Sits Down with Kate Parker

{mosimage}Newest Santa Barbara schools trustee brings a current parent's perspective to Board of Education debate and discussions.

Coming up on the tail end of what she calls one of the most “fascinating and stressful years of her life,” Kate Parker, the newest member of the Santa Barbara School High School and Elementary Districts Board of Education, took some rare time off to share her experiences.{mosimage}

LD: What’s it like to be on the Santa Barbara school board? Are you the only elementary parent?

KP: I am. It’s a lot of meetings. It’s hard because I really feel like it’s important to have parents serve on our school boards. They can offer a really unique perspective, especially in Santa Barbara (where the secondary and elementary boards are combined) … but it’s really hard when you have young kids. I couldn’t do it if my mother (Jan Wharton) didn’t help.

But I’ve learned so much. I feel like I’m really contributing to our community and it’s just been a fascinating year, and it’s also been the most stressful year of my life.

LD: I would imagine it’s more challenging as the parent at an elementary school because it’s a smaller community.

KP: Once you get on the board, you really quickly get the perspective of the whole district, rather than me being just an Adams parent … When I came on it was really the toughest teacher negotiations that the district had in decades, and I was the only school board member who was on a campus every day picking up kids.  So I was having a lot of direct contact with teachers, who are always so kind and respectful of me, but also had lots of questions and concerns.

LD: Did you feel like you knew what you were getting yourself into?

KP: I went to most meetings for two years, so I understood the business of the board; I understood the way the board ran. What I didn’t anticipate, I think, is how emotional these issues are to so many people and so many people come to the board when there’s a problem. … We do have celebrations … there’s so many great things going on that people will come just for that moment and celebrate, but when they come to speak to the board it’s because they have a concern.  … They come in with a lot of misconceptions, and that part I didn’t anticipate. … These people are really upset and I can’t make a decision that’s going to please everybody.

I have to always keep in mind what is best for the students even though that may make everybody unhappy. And so that has been the biggest challenge for me.

LD: There’s a vast difference in the resources that the different schools can bring with parent volunteers and fund raising, especially at the elementary level. Is the board involved in that?

KP: Right now it’s a site-level thing, but we certainly have been looking at it, and I think that is a discussion for the coming year.

Vital Stats: Kate Parker

Born: Clark Air Force Base, the Philippines; June 23, 1967

Family: Husband Ian, children Adam, 11, Simon, 7, and Nicola, 3

Civic Involvement: Former Adams School PTA president; Current school board member, Santa Barbara High School and Elementary Districts

Professional Accomplishments: Assistant librarian, Cate School

Little-Known Fact: Father was in the Air Force and Parker lived in Taiwan for five years when she was in elementary school

You’re starting to create these schools that have very different feels to them. … For me, personally, it’s starting to feel quite uncomfortable to see this developing and seeing situations where parents will say I’m going to choose that school because look at how much money that they raise. … I don’t like to see that kind of disparity in this community but I’m not sure what the solution is at this point. It’s time to start that discussion.

LD: It’s very challenging, and I can see as an administration not wanting to discourage the generosity of families.

KP: No, you don’t want to. What I would personally like to see is more going to the district level to be sure that students throughout Santa Barbara are able to have the same educational opportunities. It is hard enough for us to see because we have these Basic Aid districts (where school dollars are tied directly to property values) in the elementary level right next to us — Cold Spring, Montecito Union and Goleta, Hope District’s about to go. The interesting thing is Santa Barbara is also about to go, we’re probably about three years away from becoming Basic Aid, and that will be nice, but we’re never going to catch up to Montecito.

LD: What do you think are the biggest challenges right now for the district?

KP: For me I’m always trying to keep an eye on what are the goals of the district. The over-arching goal is an excellent education for students. The biggest issue that I see that we’re working with right now, and I feel like we’re working with it quite positively, is our budget. It’s hard enough to be in declining enrollment, but this has been an incredibly difficult year for me to come on the board and see that our business services department has a lot of problems and the budget was not accurate. I feel like I will feel so much better in January. Right now we’re going through a fiscal review with a company called School Services of California … I’m feeling so much better that this review is going on.

LD: What has been your biggest accomplishment on the board?

KP: Everything feels like it’s so in process right now. That’s one of the things I’ve learned is that it’s actually really slow to make reform happen. Pushing for the junior high electives to be restored once we knew that there was some money back … I really wanted to make sure that there were services in place for kids this year and not have them be completely eliminated and then we attempt to restore it the next year. I’m glad that I was able to work with the rest of the board to restore elementary music.

LD: If you could be invisible anywhere in Santa Barbara, where would you go and what would you do?

KP: I would love to be invisible in a closed session of the City Council, see what’s really going on behind the closed doors.

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