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Nonprofit community organizer Abraham "Abe" Melendrez said his work with youth and experience as a graduate of Santa Maria schools inspired him to run for a seat on the Santa Maria-Bonita School District board of education.

The first-time candidate joins e-rate consultant Gary Michaels, who did not return multiple interview requests, in challenging incumbents Ricky Lara and Vedamarie Alvarez-Flores for a four-year seat on the district's board of education. Melendrez hopes his focus on student achievement, fiscal oversight and support of certificated staff land him a seat on the board when voters head to the polls Nov. 6.

"We all benefit from having public schools that are succeeding," he said. "Obviously the district has always had challenges given its [high population of] English learners ... but that's exactly why we need leadership that's willing to put themselves out there and work toward what we need to make changes."

A self-described "bridge builder," Melendrez promises to work with other board members and district administrators to advocate and provide for the needs of the student population despite their political or ideological differences. "At the end of the day, even if someone disagrees with me, I still know that ... they're trying to do what's best for their community," he said. "As a single member [of the board], I'm not going to be able to get everything done on my own."

Melendrez believes the district plays two important roles within the greater Santa Maria community. By virtue of elections the board must respond and represent the community's requests and interests, but members must also ensure the superintendent (and, by extension, district staff) uphold and work toward accomplishing those goals.

The district's high population of English learners introduces an additional level of difficulty to promote and achieve success, Melendrez said. While improving individual and collective student outcomes is a focus of his campaign, Melendrez said the district must expand the resources available to students and their families in order to do so.

"We've done a good job of [shifting away from] standardized testing to a more comprehensive picture of measuring student success," he said, "but with the challenges that [our] schools face ... the district can do more to providing [direct services] or improve our referrals to outside services."

Melendrez said that, as a member of the board, he would work with district staff to ensure new hires are culturally competent or bilingual.

"The staff we currently have are doing a good job, but as we hire new ones it's a good opportunity to bring on diverse staff," he said.

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


Education Reporter

Santa Maria Times reporter Mathew Burciaga covers education for Lee Central Coast Newspapers.