Better Education: School District Candidates
By Dianne Anderson
Heather Johnson San Bernardino Schools Candidate
It’s not so much that Heather Johnson holds a master’s degree in education while working on her doctorate in education that gives her the edge in her run for the San Bernardino City Unified School Board.
It’s probably more like education is in her DNA.
Her grandmother, Bonnie Johnson, helped desegregate San Bernardino city schools back in 1965. Her mother was an educator within the school district for 36 years.
Growing up, nearly every day of family life involved lifelong lessons around the kitchen table. But one of her biggest career motivators was watching how little has changed from her mother and grandmother’s day.
“If we look at achievement, our Black and Brown students still have the same achievement gaps,” said Johnson, who is now the lead counselor of the First Year Experience program at San Bernardino Valley College.
She watches high school students entering community college lagging so far behind because of deep systemic problems.
“If you think about it we still have discrimination with redlining, the way our districts are [set up]. The more property income you have, the better the schools have in the surrounding [areas]. It’s pervasive, it’s still going on,” she said.
As a millennial, she hopes to bring a fresh vision to the board, especially around her work within the community college system.
The digital divide is another challenge that must be dealt with soon because it is hitting Black and Brown communities harder, particularly the rural areas, she said. Hotspots in some parts of Devore are still not accessible.
She feels the district should work to ensure guaranteed internet access.
“Compare that to L.A. Unified, which created WiFi spots using old buses, and it reaches three blocks,” she said. “We can also work with our cities to ensure that we have great internet.”
She said peer-reviewed studies show the benefit of early close connections with students and parents from the first grade. Using community organizers and activities to support students through high school helps them get into and complete college.
A lot of local parents didn’t go to college and they’re surprised when she tells them it’s like a full-time job for their student. She hopes to clear up the misconceptions.
If elected, she wants to increase support for parents and students to reach their full potential.
“It’s meeting their support systems where they’re at. I’m talking to parents in this campaign. They don’t feel like they’re being heard, they don’t feel like their needs are met, so they retreat,” she said.
Her interests also include establishing a secondary to post-secondary program to bridge the gap for many students that are entering the community college at a sixth-grade reading level.
“I want to make for these students that by the time they graduate from high school they are college and career ready to go into a trade school, a community college or a four year, so they’re not like a deer in the headlights,” she said.
Incumbent Barbara Dew Victor Valley Union High School District
Maintaining stability for the district and progress for students is the top priority for Victor Valley Union High School District Board Member Barbara Dew.
These days, educators are rightfully concerned about how distance learning is playing out through COVID-19, but Dew said now is not the time to take a chance on board members that are new to the seat.
Dew is homegrown, sits on numerous boards, associations, works on education legislation, and was a teacher for 32 years.
She has been a school board member for 20 years, and re-elected to the board of trustees in 2016. She also serves on several federal, state and county associations, including the San Bernardino County District Advocates for Better Schools Executive Committee.
“Right now, experience counts. We don’t need someone on the job trying to learn, not in this pandemic,” she said.
At the state level, she serves as a California School Boards Association Delegate Assembly Member. At the federal level, she serves on the Federal Network Advocacy Lobby Group of the National School Boards Association.
“We have 95% of students graduate, that’s our average. It was really much lower. We make sure that our kids have pathways to achieve what they need to do,” she said.
Dew was part of the 10-year modernization plan that saved taxpayers $10 million, implemented and built three schools on a grant, including Lakeview, Cobalt and CIMS. Another successful project was their university prep school, which she said is within the top 20 schools in the state of California.
As part of CSBA, she crafts and pushes education legislation. Since March, she has been working to ensure that all 33 schools in San Bernardino County receive funding and waivers needed from Gov. Newsom and State Superintendent Tony Thurmond to reopen schools without taking a financial hit.
Along those lines, the concern is the risk of lawsuits to come if someone gets sick from COVID and sues the district. AB 1384 (O’Donnell) offers Limited Liability Protection for K-12 Schools.
It didn’t pass, but she said there is still hope.
“We asked the Governor to review the bill, and he has till September 30 to try to pass that liability bill,” she said.
For her, the connection to the community is a culmination of decades-long strong roots in the education system.
“It is my Alma mater. I am a graduate of this school, and I’m deeply involved, not because of anything else other than to make sure that those students have a high-quality education in a safe environment just like I did,” she said.
To see more on the candidates:
See Barbara Dew https://sites.google.com/view/barbara-dew/