By ALICIA KRUEGER
With three seats up on the Carmel Unified School District’s governing school board, this year’s election would have already been a tight race, but with the addition of utilizing emergency funds, local natural disasters and the COVID-19 pandemic, candidates compete amid especially stressful times. Nine have announced their candidacy, all offering distinctive perspectives as a result of different connections to the district.
For governing board members, creating one voice representative of all community stakeholders falls upon their shoulders.
Voters are wide-eyed and actively searching for answers to their most urgent questions: When and how will students safely return to school? Does the deficit put students’ success in immediate jeopardy? And how will the district respond to it? What does a continued online learning situation, hybrid or in-person classroom look like?
Just as urgently, candidates hope to answer these questions and provide further opportunity for growth as a school district.
Alexis Delehanty – Former Teacher
Knowing she would return to education eventually, Alexis Delehanty wanted to run after her kids were out of the district to give back to the community through a unique perspective.
“Diversity is good, especially on a board,” Delehanty explains. “I can look at things from a perspective that isn’t directly involved, and I think that enables me to offer important insights.”
The mother of two, one CHS graduate, looks to ensure that all resources and programs voted on through the board are done so to benefit a broad range of students and that information is communicated effectively. She finds that by listening one is able to truly understand where people are struggling and how to better help them, which is how Delehanty hopes to be an active communicator with all stakeholders.
“You have to have a well-thought-out, detailed plan regarding all the factors, especially moving forward into hybrid,” she explains. “COVID-19, although highly disruptive, opens up the opportunity to innovate and maybe move forward and re-think some of the ways we were doing things previously.”
As someone who seeks silver linings, Delehanty strives to be an open-minded listener in hopes that she can be an unbiased, representative voice for the benefit of all CUSD students.
Kati Enea – Marketing Manager
As the previous Parent Teacher Association president at Carmel River School, Kati Enea is actively involved within the district as a result of her two daughters. It was through this that she saw her community members struggling and felt a responsibility to be of service.
“I come with the heart of a servant to help our community grow and to be what our students need us to be,” Enea explains. “My goal has always been for families to feel like they have a united base, so on a district level, I want to create opportunities for families to build community together.”
To do so, Enea emphasizes her responsibility to effectively prioritize funding and supporting administration to ensure access tools necessary to constructively educate students.
“Our little ones and special-ed students are struggling the most, so getting them back on campus is critical as it becomes safe,” Enea says. “We need to be innovative and creative in order to create a forward-thinking plan, which I can really help happen by fostering a collaborative environment.”
The importance of feeling supported and knowing there are people who are invested in the future and success of CUSD’s students is crucial for Enea. She places value in the academic excellence of the district and says that to continue such excellence, the district must move forward with confidence while maintaining the ability to shift and change as new scenarios arise.
Jill Lewis – Public Policy Professional
As a mother of Carmel River School students and policy maker, Jill Lewis looks to be the voice of parents and students. Her number-one goal is creating a policy of transparency. To Lewis, this means having a clear, easy-to-access website with any and all documents and announcements that could affect students available to the public.
“Democracy is transparency,” Lewis explains. “If the people do not have information, they have no power. Hiding or not mentioning things is keeping the power in a small select few. It is really important that parents and students have just as much access to information as the board does.”
Lewis aspires to make CUSD’s website more accessible and looks to initiate emails designed for working parents in order for such individuals to really understand what is going on behind the scenes before final decisions are made.
Recognizing that the current board members did not sign up for a crisis, Lewis believes there is a new opportunity to prove that the board can put the success of students and the representation of all community members above anything else.
“We have seen what we really need, so it is time to give the students and parents more access and more power,” she says. “I am the candidate for the students and parents. Teachers having a voice is really important on a board, but they are already represented.”
Samir Messiah – Civil Engineer
Because of the way the school board handled the COVID-19 pandemic, Samir Messiah decided he needed to step in and run for a position on the board.
“What happened was unfair,” Messiah says. “Parents need to be parents. Teachers need to be teachers.”
In preparation for candidacy, Messiah has developed a budgeting plan which prioritizes the education of students by providing the fundamental tools and resources to teachers for the optimal learning both online and in-person. He believes that it is through the teachers that students will receive a quality education; therefore, creating a safe and healthy classroom is essential and can be achieved through careful budgeting. Messiah explains that once teachers have the means to be effective, the board can look to second- or third-tier priorities like extracurriculars or after-school programs.
“I think the school teachers were worried about the budget, in terms of how much we have, and if it was enough for their privilege, retirement plan and benefits, but in my eyes you cannot just ask for this and that and not produce,” he says. “We need to be competitive in our benefit package to allow for the best teachers to gain.”
With considerable thought, Messiah expresses that he believes each dollar spent on students can and should be spent knowing that maximum mileage will be gained from it.
“Community opinions have important values that only benefit the student, which is why I plan to have an open-door time every week and why my email and phone number is public,” Messiah says. “Things will be better if parents, teachers and administrators work together for the benefit of our students.”
Seaberry Nachbar – Environmental Educator
As the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration Education Coordinator and an advocate for students, Seaberry Nachbar stresses the importance of having an active student representative, of never guessing or assuming anything and of incorporating all community voices before finalizing a decision.
“I work for the public and believe in transparency, listening to others and creating equal access to information and knowledge,” she explains. “We need to address misinformation by ensuring that there is a reliable source of two-way communication that provides guidance, answers questions and creates a space for discussion from all stakeholders.”
In discussion of her goals, Nachbar takes an approach for consistent growth and improvement within the district as social norms and student expectations change by asking questions such as “Are we guiding our children on the right path to success?” or “How are we as a district defining success?” With a focus on social-emotional learning through the encouragement of limiting screen time, exercise and outdoor activity and the prioritization of environmental and climate literacy, Nachbar looks to prepare students with the tools, techniques and knowledge necessary for life after CUSD.
“We need to start exploring out-of-the-box options and the science will show if such creative alternatives will work,” says Nachbar, returning to her faith of relying on the experts and the data via the Monterey County Health Department and the teachers. “With thoughtful consideration to options in compliance with the COVID-19 pandemic, I believe the District and Board would be open to suggestions. I am already looking into solutions that I will be presenting to the superintendent.”
Through focus groups, online community forums and surveys for both students and parents, Nachbar knows improvements can and will be made to the district.
Jacob Odello – Food Safety Director
After graduating from Carmel High School in 2009, Jacob Odello has developed his own “four pillar platform” to explain his strategy as a prospective board member.
His first pillar emphasizes creating one collective voice representative of all stakeholders through the five individual perspectives available on a school board. Odello believes he has an ability to provide a unique perspective that’s different from other board members as a result of being a young candidate and a generational Carmel Valley resident.
Odello’s second pillar represents fostering a cohesive government structure to create an environment of collaboration through the relationships between the board members and stakeholders.
“The quality of a CUSD education is strengthened when our teachers, staff, students and administrators are on our campus working together,” Odello explains. “Ultimately we have to have the buy-in from the stakeholder groups to efficiently and correctly allocate funding and focus. I would be a champion for that.”
Odello’s third pillar signifies representation of all types of persons within the district, from Cachagua to Big Sur, and his fourth represents his goal to redesign the definition of student success. To Odello, this means creating public partnerships with local industries so that every child can find the trade that interests them.
“My leadership style is consensus building,” Odello explains. “The quality of education needs to remain the same no matter what the conditions, but we cannot just flip a switch. We have to take the time to do it right so that we can reach the high bar and maintain the high quality education that CUSD represents.”
Karl V. Pallastrini – Incumbent
After serving on the board for nine years and working within the district for 24, Karl Pallastrini hopes to return for his 10th year on the board. Tess Aurthur and Sarah Hinds, the remaining board members, encouraged his stay in order to smoothen the transition and provide insight into protocols. Feeling the responsibility to help teachers understand new learning models and help solve COVID-19 related district issues, Pallastrini is motivated to return.
Pallastrini has firsthand knowledge of how COVID-19 caught the district off-guard and wishes to use that experience to guide CUSD down the unpredictable road ahead. His ability to work with Governor Newsom’s state-wide restraints will prove effective as the district explores alternative options while prioritizing safety. He also emphasizes that the Teachers’ Association has every right to argue for safe working conditions, and the definition of “safe” is one that will only benefit and protect the children.
“We need to make a commitment to follow every option available to us. We need to follow through with all options. We will follow COVID-19 like a hawk and try to find anything that is going to allow us to move forward,” he says.
Pallastrini explains his philosophy within education as one stressing his duty to listen to all stakeholders and act on their concerns by asking what the students think about their environment and what the teachers need to be most effective.
“If we don’t look at the program through the students’ eyes, then we aren’t doing it right,” he says. “Not every student fits in the ‘box’ CUSD offers and that means we need to do better by creating more options for more students to succeed. The students who feel disconnected need to be accommodated, and we need to figure out how they can become engaged.”
Pallastrini notes that communication has always been his strength and will continue to be within the upcoming term. He wants people to ask the hard questions and assures that he will answer them honestly.
Anne-Marie Rosen – Educator & Agriculturalist
Anne-Marie Rosen previously worked as an educator within the district, and due to her love of children, education and how the community has centered itself around both, she has continued to volunteer locally within education through the Cachagua “little school.”
The Carmel Valley native looks to encourage community involvement, and through such encouragement she hopes to produce capable students able to tackle real-word experiences. Rosen believes that there are just as many educational opportunities in the outside world as there are inside the classroom and plans to act on such beliefs through the development of providing professional, local resources within the curriculum.
“One of my main goals is to create a comprehensive disaster plan,” Rosen says. “We need to have a plan because this area is so prone to disaster. We need to have a point person for such issues and an effective way to communicate.”
As a result of experiencing the effects of natural disasters through her students, Rosen sees online learning as an opportunity to provide consistent education no matter the circumstance. By continuing to have lectures online as the district moves into a hybrid or even full-time, in-person school, she believes that students can be accommodated if and when needed.
“Coming from a business background, I want the community to understand why we spend money in regards to every situation,” she explains. “Sometimes money is spent without putting a lot of thought into why are we doing it that way, and I want to have reasons for all of it. For example, we pay for North County High School to write an independent study program for us when, clearly, we can do it in house.”
After going fully online due to COVID-19, Rosen makes it a goal to maintain an online presence for students who really benefit from the independent environment.
Todd Weaver – Appointed Incumbent
Incumbent board member Todd Weaver approaches this upcoming term with a mindset of investing, iterating and improving.
“That looks like making sure that everyone has enough information to execute on that plan and then learn from the changes that are needed to improve on them,” Weaver explains. “This approach recognizes what we’ve been presented with, that being an extremely difficult time, and it recognizes that we can’t just wish it away. We need to address it full on.”
To Weaver, this means relying on the science and abiding by the federal, state and local government’s regulations for a safe learning environment. Because the Monterey County Health Department has verified epidemiologists to curate their decision, Weaver will trust their recommendations regarding returning to school.
He recognizes that one size does not fit all, especially from a district standpoint and uses that as justification to prioritize addressing young students’ constraints in regards to the pandemic. This means establishing socially distanced cohorts at the elementary level first due to the crucial nature of social interaction at these ages and the inability of parents to act as constant caretakers. Middle and high school comes second due to the age range that allows for independence and less of a need for parental involvement.
“Once on-site schooling is deemed safe, the issue becomes ensuring that we can provide the best possible education in regards to transitioning out of the budget issues around the pandemic,” Weaver says. “You can measure that by making sure that every student at every level has the same education that was provided when we didn’t have a pandemic. Our district should be one without a reduction in education–a plateau or better is the only thing that will do. I am striving to ensure this.”