By Ann K. Williams
November 3 -- Choosing from the many candidates crowding next
Tuesday’s ballot was made a little easier when voters got
a chance to hear five School Board candidates answer questions
at district headquarters last month.
The forum, which is airing on CityTV, was sponsored by the League
of Women Voters of Santa Monica Education Fund.
Here is some of what the candidates, who are listed in random
order, had to say.
Barry Snell: A single father of three, CPA Barry Snell is a ubiquitous
parent volunteer at Santa Monica High School, where he is co-chair
of the school’s African-American parents’ group.
Snell’s outsider’s eye and knack for independent
thinking showed up in a number of his answers.
He came up with an original use for the standardized test scores.
If a student’s test scores coming into a classroom were
compared with his end-of-the-year scores, a teacher’s ability
to “teach all children, connect to each one” could
Snell was the only candidate who thought of adding “a full-time
grant-writer” to the district’s arsenal of funding
strategies, at least at this forum.
As “a parent of color,” Snell said he understands
the importance of getting others to buy into the culture of public
education, even though it will be “tough.”
He cited studies that have shown a positive correlation between
the involvement of fathers in the later grades and college success
for their children.
The district has a responsibility to “build trust with
those individuals who aren’t being successful.”
The compromises along the way “may not be the solutions
that we all agree with but they’re the ones that will be
the best for all our students,” he said.
Emily Bloomfield: Incumbent Emily Bloomfield holds degrees in
economics and public administration, and her faith in education
and data were evident in her answers.
Under her watch, Bloomfield said, there’s been “a
substantial increase in student achievement,” borne out
by standardized test scores.
“Tests do provide… accountability for every one of
our socioeconomic and ethnic groups,” Bloomfield said.
And they give empiric proof to the claims of an achievement gap
between haves and have nots and serve as a rational starting point
to “conversations” about “why are there inequities,
(and) what should we be doing to remedy (them).”
Information flow and education were fixes that appealed to Bloomfield.
When asked about parent involvement, she said the schools could
“do a better job of educating them on what they can do to
support their child’s learning.”
At the same time, the schools still have the responsibility to
“provide every support. We need to hold ourselves accountable
for every child succeeding at a very high level.”
And school site governance could be improved, Bloomfield said,
if the district provided centralized training and opportunities
for the various school governance committees to get together to
“share information, best practices, what works well.”
Oscar de la Torre: A former Santa Monica High School student,
and later a counselor on that campus, Oscar de la Torre is running
for reelection to the board.
Equity is his banner issue -- “the biggest civil rights
issue that our nation faces,” -- and de la Torre was ready
to illustrate the concept with a metaphor.
“You have two young men who are hungry, one has a refrigerator
full of food, the other doesn’t have refrigerator or even
a home to live in.
“You can’t split the bread 50-50; you have to bring
a little bit more to the young man who has nothing at home.”
The achievements and goals de la Torre listed all seemed to derive
from this belief.
Protesting outside the State Capitol building to get money promised
to the schools, advocating for parent centers on school sites,
urging the district to develop alternatives to “high-stakes
tests” that limit opportunity and calling for uniform discipline
policies that all students understand – these were some
of the examples of his leadership de la Torre worked into his
De la Torre said he reinforces the district’s work by counseling
minority youth at his Pico Youth and Family Center.
Shane McCloud: Incumbent Shane McCloud is the only teacher on
the board, and the only one who’s running, and his answers
showed the pragmatism of an education insider.
Reducing class sizes, adding resources like after school programs
and pull-out programs, while budgeting wisely, were his recommendations
of choice to bring the best opportunities to those who need them
“We have a lot, exceptionally high passing rate for the
California High School Exit Exam, strong test scores for our students,
but we also have a big gap between the haves and the have nots
that we need to continue to work on,” McCloud said.
While acknowledging that California’s education budget
is “one of the lowest,” McCloud said the district
needs to tighten up its own budget.
“It’s not just a matter of we don’t have enough
money, it’s how we spend that money,” he said. “We
can do better with the money we have.”
Though he said the district has “done a good job,”
McCloud said there’d been “some waste, some inefficiency,
some programs could be made better, some policies where we don’t
always put the best person in the best job.”
Kelly McMahon Pye: Former PTA President and parent Kelly McMahon
Pye used words like “unwavering” and “wholehearted”
as she described the beliefs and feelings that have led her to
enter the political fray.
Calling herself “a community builder,” Pye said she
“think(s) there’s space to build more collaboration
and communication into our system… hear more voices.”
As a board member, Pye said she would push for more communication
between the schools and families.
In her vision, the schools would “link children and parents
to resources, become…a place where families can go to be
And that kind of family support should start early.
“We need to intervene early and often,” Pye said.
“We need to increase the number of our reading specialists,”
Pye said, and she promised that she would be an “advocate
for pre-K intervention and high quality pre-school.”
When asked about standardized testing, Pye’s answer showed
the same focus on the whole child.
While acknowledging that schools “must test their mastery,”
Pye cautioned, “there’s a limit.” The district
needs to “make sure to guard our children’s time and
She illustrated her point with an adage.
“We must be more concerned with feeding the cow, than weighing
The polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday, November 7.
For more information, go to www.smartvoter.org