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Talking with SB Board of Education Candidate Monie de Wit: "Literacy is a Human Right"

Photographer and education advocate Monie de Wit is clear about what she wants to achieve if elected to the Santa Barbara Unified School District Board of Education:

"I'd want to accomplish a change in our culture around literacy," de Wit told Newsmakers. "Literacy is a human right."

Wading into a complex and long-running pedagogic argument, de Wit traces the low test scores of local students and the nagging achievement gap between White and Latino students to the ways and means the district teaches reading, saying its curriculum and approach is guaranteed to fail English language learners, kids with dyslexia and others with learning differences.

Pointing to political hostilities between parent groups that emerged under departed Superintendent Cary Matsuoka, de Wit also promises to improve communications between the district and the community, and criticizes expenditures for what she calls "real estate deals" like Peabody Stadium and the Armory that might better be spent on classroom needs.

In the Nov. 3 election, eight candidates are seeking three seats on the SBUSD board, amid an extraordinary political atmosphere shaped by the pandemic, 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.

Here are some key quotes from our talk with Monie de Wit.

Key issue. "We need a higher priority on literacy (and) I’d want to be accomplishing a change in our culture around literacy...(I)t impacts the achievement gap and also is responsible for the disparity. And I don’t think I could change that without changing communication – it’s gotten a little political, and I actually think I could be a unifying force, I could understand a lot of different viewpoints and I think can get people to focus on the unmet needs of students who are wounded and not getting the access and the education in the way that they can succeed."

Test scores and the achievement gap. "We need to come at it from a different understanding...(T)he board does sometimes talk about 'incremental change' or 'pockets of hope' but that’s not going to cut it because the averages you’re (citing) out are not the lowest of the low. You’ve got to go to students…with (learning) differences, the English language learners and then the foster youth and those who are way behind.

They’re kind of misunderstanding the problem. You can look at the brains of dyslexics - they’ve taken MRIs - there’s a certain area, which matches the sound to a letter, is not as active as it is in other brains -- there’s a neurological difference...There’s a whole lot of brains out there, about 20 percent, that aren’t going to be able to (learn reading) the way you keep expecting them to, so the system needs to adjust and the adjustment is simple...

We need to get rid of the Whole Language approach and that would immediately get kids up to speed, it would help with self-esteem and all the other grades would improve."

The pandemic and classrooms. "I would feel very confident if I walked down the street, no matter where I walked, and people were wearing their masks…we just have to do it, because that’s the way to nip this thing in the bud. If I clearly saw that, went in random places and saw that high level of care among our fellow citizens, I would feel safe as a parent and a teacher and then we (could) do all the other buffer stuff...And also I would be using the outdoor spaces and looking at each site. I think we should be able to do this outside until we feel that we have enough confidence to go inside...

"(On distance learning) I know they had glitches with their pass codes and their systems -- I think they’re doing their best and we should not pick on everything and we should give them some support. It’s a difficult situation."

Just Communities. "I think implicit bias training is very important but I personally would like to see that (contract) go to someone of color or a Latinx educator here locally, so we can hear their local experience and we can also fund a local person, rather than what I see is a contract going to one affluent white male who is interpreting an experience...

"There was no competition. Those high contracts are too complicated, they leave out people who don’t have that big of a setup... I would rather stay local and express it locally but it’s an important thing to have...

"I've gone to talk to them about neurodiversity – a lot of the people...have this overlay that they’re not succeeding in school but (the executive director of Just Communities) didn’t want to hear about it...Cultural proficiency is never going to make up for decoding (in teaching literacy."

Finances. "The priority isn’t on the unmet needs of the students, it’s on real estate deals. That Armory needs to go. We are not a realtor, and our scores are in the suck zone so what are we doing with that lead-ridden monstrosity? We could sell it to the police, we could sell it it to anybody, but we've got to unload it and make some money and then we could get these scores up, and we could get the class sizes smaller we could even pay the teachers more."

Governance. "Having a new superintendent is great. Because the former one did things like, didn’t do mandatory reporting when we had the bacchanal at the MAD Academy and then it came out that he wasn’t completely forthcoming around the Ed Behrens debacle, so each thing led to another. So I don’t think we’re going to have a replay of that...Ms. Maldondo seems refreshing and the style will have to have changed.

"Now my beef is the current board, (three of whom) are actually running against me, using this position that they didn’t get from the voters - they’re doing public service but they didn’t get there by any representation and they’re making more hurdles for other people to get through."

Click below to watch our entire interview with Monie de Wit.


(Editor's note. This is the third 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).

Previous conversations:

SBUSD board president and 2020 candidate Laura Capps is here.

SB realtor and candidate Brian Campbell is here.

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