First published in Noozhawk on October 6, 2022.
Bert Haley, Christy Lozano and Emily Zacarias share about their priorities if elected
A rising progressive political star, a conservative with name recognition and a homegrown everyman are competing for an open seat on the Goleta Union School District board.
In an era when education is at the center of the latest wave of culture wars, the fight for the seat on the board has emerged as one of the most high-profile battles on the ballot. The election comes as the board and district have been working to improve social-emotional learning, increase equity efforts and provide a sense of inclusion for all students.
It’s the first year of district elections in Goleta, so three candidates — Bert Haley, Christy Lozano and Emily Zacarias — are competing for a spot. Voters living in eastern Goleta, Old Town Goleta, More Mesa and UC Santa Barbara on-campus residents will vote in District Area 3.
The Goleta Union School District serves about 3,700 students and has about 7,500 registered voters.
The K-6 district is dealing with many of the issues facing California schools — a persistent gap in test scores between white students and students of color, and how to recover from learning loss because of school closures and online learning during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Noozhawk interviewed the three candidates for District Area 3 and asked them questions about their priorities if elected.
Zacarias is a special-education teacher who works for the Santa Barbara County Education Office.
She grew up in Sherman Oaks and moved to Santa Barbara to go to UCSB in 1999, where she majored in psychology. After getting a master’s degree, she traveled the world and then received her teaching credential for special-ed students through the Los Angeles Unified School District.
She’s an admitted political novice, but points to her experience on the ground, along with a calling to teach to special-education students, as reasons why she is the best suited for the position.
Of the three candidates, Zacarias is working the beat the hardest. She’s knocking on doors and canvassing on the evenings and weekends, and has amassed a following of young activists backing her campaign. She has two children in the district, and is firmly rooted and invested in the direction of Goleta schools.
While Haley talks school infrastructure, Zacarias has focused her campaign on students.
“As a special-education teacher, I will be looking out for vulnerable students, and can represent their needs with a more authentic perspective,” Zacarias said. “There are so many issues right now in education, and for students with disabilities and their families, they have been dealing with a whole host of issues that many people do not even realize — from being identified for services, to creating an Individualized Education Program, working with a whole host of service providers, and ensuring that your child’s needs are met during the school day.”
Special-education services, Zacarias said, are mandated by federal law, but it is always a struggle to fully fund the programs.
“I know so many families within the special-education community, and so they will feel like they have an advocate to voice their concerns on the board,” she said.
More so than any other candidate, Zacarias also talks about equity, inclusion and the importance of socio-emotional learning.
She said one of her main priorities is ensuring inclusive school campuses that do not discriminate against any student, no matter their ability, ethnicity, gender identity, or cultural background or religion.
“This includes a robust anti-bullying policy and training for teachers to address incidents of bullying,” Zacarias said.
Her goal is to focus on the total student.
“The mental health and well-being of our students, including curriculum and resources designed to teach students valuable social and emotional skills (are a priority),” Zacarias said. “This also includes garden, music, art, and STEAM education).”
She has racked up an A-team list of endorsements and has raised about $6,500 as of the latest filing period, Sept. 24, and another $3,000 since.
“If elected, I would love to continue the current efforts of the board to address the achievement gap and how we raise test scores for our students of color,” she said.