Newsmakers with JR
SBUSD Hopeful Elrawd MacLearn Pans "Disconnected" Board - "Parents Are Not Being Heard"
At 27, Elrawd MacLearn is the youngest candidate running for the Santa Barbara Unified School District board of education, but he is the most vocal in proposing greater focus on traditional goals and values of learning.
Growing up poor in the San Fernando Valley, he told Newsmakers, his perspective on education largely was formed by his own bootstrapping experience -- helping support his family, working his way through college and home schooling some of the younger siblings in his family of 11 children.
"As an educational institution we have lost sight of what really matters and what really matters is someone being able to read and write," said MacLearn, who works as a health inspector for the county.
"I'm a person of color myself and I have come from a very disadvantaged background," he added. "But starting with the fundamentals of writing, reading comprehension, critical thinking, I was able to become successful in what I've done. And I didn’t have any implicit bias training or anything like that, and no one told me, 'oh there's somebody who's oppressing you.'"
In the Nov. 3 election, eight candidates are seeking three seats on the Santa Barbara Unified School District board of education, amid an extraordinary political atmosphere shaped by the pandemic, widespread unemployment, anti-racism protests and the arrival of a new Superintendent.
To provide a platform for the contenders to share their views, and a venue for voters to learn more about them, we've invited each of the hopefuls for a socially distanced, one-on-one interview about some of the major issues facing the district.
MacLearn said he has followed closely the multiple controversies that have arisen at the school board in recent years and believes there is a "disconnect" between board members and district administrators on one side and parents on the other.
"Parents are not being heard, not at all," he said. "They're not being heard about the finances, they're not being heard about the curriculum.
"This Ethnic Studies that just came through...and this current (Black Lives Matter) resolution that the board passed and agreed to -- no parent was asked what they thought about that. And whether you like it or you don't, you still should ask the parents, 'hey, this is what we're going to teach your child - what do you think about it, are you okay with this?'"
Here are quotes from our interview with Elrawd MacLearn.
Key issue: "I believe that literacy is a basic fundamental human right that has not been afforded to the children in the Santa Barbara Unified District..
"The children not only have been denied this fundamental right, but they also have been set up for failure from the onset -- with a lack of transparency, a lack of parental involvement and a kind of instruction that teaches the minority students...that they are oppressed, that they are not able to succeed unless these oppressors are removed from their position. Those are the reasons and the issues that I seek to redress and correct."
Achievement gap. "Yes there's an achievement gap, and no, it has nothing to do with a person being a minority... it has nothing to do with their cultural status or anything like that.
"I would say specifically why there is a gap...is because the parents don’t have, being low income, they don't have the time and the ability to make sure that their children are doing their homework, make sure that they’re getting these extra supplemental things which, in all honesty, are the responsibility of the district.
"If a child is struggling, if they need some extra help, the school, the teachers, the faculty, need to be the ones who are coming alongside the student when the parent cannot be there."
Test scores. "As an educational institution we have lost sight of what really matters and what really matters is someone being able to read and write...
"We need to first be able to tell children how to read, how to write, how to computate. If a child cannot even read or write, how are they going to be successful, if a child can't think critically, how are they going to be able to assuage any kind of racial bias or anything else? We have to know how to read, write and think in order to be successful in what we do...
"I've seen just how disconnected the board is from the desires of the people (and) it is this idea that the board knows best, not the parent...As a board member you have to be willing to have this dialogue with parents."
Just Communities. "This implicit bias training is great (but) I would say that’s kind of a secondary issue...
"I'm a person of color myself and I have come from a very disadvantaged background...but I was able to -- starting with the fundamentals of writing, reading comprehension, critical thinking -- I was able to become successful in what I've done. And I didn’t have any implicit bias training or anything like that, and no one told me, 'oh there's somebody who's oppressing you.'
"What I was taught was, I have the mind and I have the capacity and the ability to succeed. And so I took that and I was able to rise, to become the successful person that I am today. And I think that to tell a child, 'you’re oppressed,' it in a sense cuts the legs out from under them. Because they’re not relying on their own selves and they’re thinking, 'oh I can't do it because I'm oppressed.' No, we need to empower our children, we need to teach them that they can do it."
Pandemic. "I think the local community needs to make that decision, going back to the parents...The schools needs to be reopened in a safe manner...
The criteria has been set, but the board has not been willing to do that, much to the chagrin of parents, and what we see is a lot of parents are taking their kids out of school. And we see pods on the rise, we see home schooling on the rise, other types of private schooling, things that parents are turning to, because they see this lack of engagement with the board and parents."
Finances. "Number one - transparency. If you went to the average parent and asked them how much the board is spending on their child, they wouldn't know, they would have no idea.
"We throw out several million dollars that the board spent on the Armory, or that they spent on the football stadium and we're like, 'wow, the board is spending a lot of money'...it needs to be very clear on how much money is allocated for their students, and how much is being allocated for facilities and things of that nature."
(Editor's note. This is the fifth in our series of one-on-one conversations with candidates for the Santa Barbara Unified School District Board of Education. We post our discussions with candidates as we connect with them).
SBUSD board president and 2020 candidate Laura Capps is here.
SB realtor and candidate Brian Campbell is here.
Photographer and literacy advocate Monie de Wit is here.
School administrator Virginia Alvarez is here.