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Perez

Facing a challenge for one of three seats on the Santa Maria Joint Union High School District board of education, incumbent Diana Perez is hopeful voters will choose to send her back to the board on Nov. 6.

Appointed in 2014 after the departure of board member Dean Reece, a former educator who served on the board for 11 years, Perez successfully ran for a full term that November. Calling her first term "an extraordinary experience," Perez hopes voters select her to continue "building one of the best school districts in the community."

"The changes and improvements I initially ran for ... [happened,]" Perez said, pointing to construction projects at Righetti, Pioneer Valley and Santa Maria high schools, as well as curriculum and staffing advancements.

"Things are working and we're moving toward making all of our schools better, [but] there's still work that needs to be completed."

Perez said her employment with Hancock College gives her a unique insight into student needs — a valuable quality in a district where a majority of graduates head to Hancock. As director of Central Coast Cal-SOAP (Student Opportunity and Access Program) Consortium, she coordinates outreach efforts designed to get more first-generation and low-income students from K-12 schools and at the community college level into four-year colleges.

"When I sit here, I get to see all the parts [of local education,]" she said. "I get to see students [who] were at Santa Maria High School [that] are now here. I get to evaluate the needs of the students ... [and] am able to take them back to the school district."

Over the next four years, Perez said the district should focus on improving ties between the district and Hancock College and continue developing guided pathways that lead students to a successful academic future or well-paying career.

"We want to prepare our students to be college and career ready so they can transfer and earn those professional degrees that will prepare them for the future jobs," she said. "We also want to provide them ... with high-paying jobs if they decide they want careers that require high skills."

Perez did not say she was in favor of realigning the district's graduation requirements with the University of California's A-G subject requirements, a series of courses required to gain admission to a UC campus, but is "in favor of ensuring that the students who want to be in A-G [courses] ... are taking the [required courses.]"

"The courses are there; the students can take them," she said. "We have high standards [and] want to encourage students to choose that route to open up more choices for them."

Mathew Burciaga covers education in Santa Maria and the surrounding area for Lee Central Coast Newspapers. Follow him on Twitter @math_burciaga

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Education Reporter

Mathew Burciaga is a Santa Maria Times reporter who covers education, agriculture and public safety. Prior to joining the Times, Mathew ran a 114-year-old community newspaper in Wyoming. He owns more than 40 pairs of crazy socks from across the globe.