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Gloria Grijalva, a former student and employee within Lompoc Unified School District, was appointed Friday morning as the newest member of the district’s board of education.

Grijalva, who currently works as an administrator for Guadalupe Union School District, will take over the board seat that was vacated following the Dec. 18 death of former board member Richard King. Although King’s term was set to expire in 2020, Grijalva’s appointment is only through November. The remaining two years of the term will be up for grabs — along with two other board seats — in the Nov. 6 general election.

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Lompoc Unified School District board members, from left, Jeff Carlovsky, Steve Straight, Bill Heath and Dick Barrett, debate on candidates to fill an open seat.

Grijalva was selected from a field of seven applicants. Each of the candidates was publicly interviewed by the four sitting board members Friday morning before the board ultimately decided on Grijalva to fill the position.

“This, for me, is basically a way to pay it forward and give back to the community and to the district that helped me to get where I am,” Grijalva said shortly after taking her oath and getting sworn in.

Grijalva was the first of the seven interviews for the early morning special session of the LUSD board. The interviews averaged about 12½ minutes each, with only one candidate using up all of the 20 minutes that were allotted for each interview. Each interview consisted of the same questions being asked by the same board members in the same order.

Candidates were not allowed to watch interviews prior to their own — so as not to have extra time to prepare — but they were welcome to stay and watch those that followed them, which several applicants did. Due to those stipulations, Grijalva was the lone candidate who was able to watch all of the interviews.

“I actually enjoy interviews, so I had no problem with the placement,” she said afterward. “I hope I was strong enough to come in and set the bar, but I don’t know that I did that because there were some really good candidates today. I just tried to remain confident and be who I am.”

Following the interviews, the members of the board spent about 10 minutes discussing the qualities they were looking for in a fellow board member.

Bill Heath, whose seat also will be up for re-election in November, noted that the appointee would only have nine months guaranteed on the board, so he said he wanted someone with insight and who would be ready to go.

“I don’t think we can make a bad decision,” he said, “but one thing that comes to mind for me in my decision-making process here … is who can come in and help us now without going through a huge learning curve.”

Board member Dick Barrett agreed with that assessment, adding that he, too, wanted someone ready “to hit the ground running.”

“My decision is gonna be based mostly on that — someone who is familiar with the workings of the school board and our school district,” he said.

Grijalva seemed to fit those qualifications. During her 13 years as an LUSD employee, she went from working as a truancy clerk to holding other clerical positions before becoming a budget analyst for the district. Now in Guadalupe, she works closely with that district’s board and often sits in on closed session meetings related to budget items.

The other applicants, in addition to Grijalva, were Ken Main, Douglas Dunlap, Megan Bowker, Ronald Lischka, Janet Valenzuela and Amanda Ochoa.

Barrett initially nominated Grijalva for the position, while Heath nominated Dunlap, and board member Jeff Carlovsky nominated Main. The four board members then took votes on each of those three candidates.

Grijalva was approved 3-1, with Heath providing the lone dissenting vote; Dunlap was voted down 1-3, again with Heath providing the lone vote of dissent; and Main received a split 2-2 vote with support from Heath and Carlovsky.

Following Grijalva’s selection as the victor, Heath offered her his support.

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Grijalva is now the first woman to serve on the LUSD board since 2016, when former board member Carmela Kessler’s term expired. Kessler did not seek re-election that year.

Grijalva said her gender did not play a role in her decision to apply for the vacated seat.

“For me, it was just wanting to give back and having the people who know me and know my journey say, ‘Hey, wait a minute — if she can do it, so can I,’” she said.

Barrett said afterward that Grijalva's experience was paramount in his support for her, but he added that he believes it is important to have a woman back on the board, as well as a person of Hispanic descent, particularly since a majority of the students in LUSD have Hispanic backgrounds.

“I think all of that is really healthy for the LUSD and the board,” he said.

Grijalva said she was excited to move forward. Her first regular meeting as a member of the board will be Feb. 13.

“I’m looking forward to seeing the people I used to work with and where we are as a district — things that are coming up and going on,” she said. “I absolutely look forward to that.”

Before closing Friday’s meeting, members of the board encouraged those applicants who weren’t selected to stay involved and consider running for a seat in November.

“If you’re really interested in the board and you don’t make it this time, don’t get discouraged,” Carlovsky said. “We’ve got an election coming up. ... Please, by all means, try to get your stuff together and try to get on the ballot here.”

Willis Jacobson covers the city of Lompoc for Lee Central Coast Newspapers. Follow him on Twitter @WJacobsonLR.