As his first term on the Santa Maria-Bonita School District board of education nears completion, Ricky Lara hopes his contributions to the district will earn him a second term when voters cast their ballots Nov. 6.
Elected to a four-year term in 2014 after a fourth-place finish in 2012, Lara -- a Santa Maria native and graduate of local schools -- said if re-elected he plans to focus on providing enrichment opportunities and support for students with special needs.
He and fellow incumbent, Vedamarie Alvarez-Flores, face a re-election challenge from two district residents: first-time candidate and nonprofit community organizer Abraham Melendrez, and e-rate consultant Gary Michaels.
"We have a sound board and work well," Lara said. "It makes me feel really good that we can give a good outcome to our district — we have great kids, great teachers and great classified and administrative staff. I want to keep that going. "
Unlike a city council or county board of supervisors, Lara said the board must work in unison while keeping the interest of students at the forefront of every decision. He considers his strong communication skills among his biggest contributions to the board.
"I love to reach out to people when there are concerns and do school site visits when I have the chance," he said. "When concerns come up or not, I like to see how classes are running [for myself.]"
Though the main purpose is to educate local students, Lara said the district and board play a much larger role than that. Board members must balance their duties of providing accountability and oversight for hundreds of teachers, classified employees and the district superintendent with engaging community stakeholders and keeping them informed.
As part of his promise to support student enrichment, Lara would like to find a way to ensure students have access to regular music and art instruction, as well as physical education. "Music and arts really broadens a child's mind," he said, explaining that it promotes positive socialization, builds character and improves English and math performance.
Supporting the district's special need teachers and their students is also a focus for Lara if re-elected. "The 59 teachers that we have really are caring and giving — I see it when I'm there," he said.
Though Lara acknowledged the importance of hiring diverse certificated staff members, he said they are often "hard to come by." Cultural competence, he explained, should be sought in new hires and cultivated among current employees.
"If we can get them, that would be great to have in our district," he said. "But a lot of the teachers I've talked to try to make a point to communicate with the parents."