Meet the candidates: Barstow School Board Area 5, Michael Watson vs. Latrina Wallace
Two seats on Barstow Unified School District’s Board of Trustees are up for election on the Nov. 8 ballot with early voting having already begun. The race for BUSD Board Area 5 pits Michael Shane Watson — an incumbent seeking his first election victory who was appointed in January 2021 to fill the seat of former school board president Barbara Rose after her election to the City Council — against Latrina Wallace, a first-time candidate pitching change for K-12 schooling in Barstow.
The Daily Press asked each candidate for their perspective on a few points of interest to local parents, students and residents more broadly. Here are their responses, with minor edits in the name of length.
- Daily Press: Explain your personal philosophy on the job of a Barstow Unified School District trustee, and the relationship that should exist between the Board of Trustees and school administrators and staff, the general public, and peer agencies such as the county and City Council. In what ways are you the best candidate to fulfill this role?
Michael Watson: “The job of a Board member is to have a vision for our school district and make sure the superintendent is implementing that vision. I believe I am the best candidate for that job because I know how to listen to people and to get things done. Having good relationships with our staff, the general public, and local city agencies [is] our key to success.
I am endorsed by the Barstow education union [officially named the Barstow Education Association,] so teachers in Barstow believe I am the best candidate to further our district. I also currently serve on the Barstow Chamber of Commerce board of directors and have personal relationships with all the City Council members and business owners in Barstow. I am also a parent of two young boys […] and I will bring that experience to better serve our children and parents.”
Latrina Wallace: “The job of a Barstow Unified School District trustee is to link the school system and the public. They should interpret the public's views of the schools and be committed to improving the quality of education in their community. The board members should have the willingness to support and defend local students and the ability to integrate the consensus, needs, and priorities of the community into solid policies.
The vision and actions of the school board members will determine whether the superintendent can effectively lead their schools' improvement. The board members are responsible for creating the conditions that allow the superintendent […] to improve teacher effectiveness and student performance in K-12. When a superintendent has a highly supportive Board of Trustees that allows them autonomy, a clear picture of improving the quality of education is exhibited.”
- DP: To what degree do you feel in-person restrictions, schooling changes and social pressures in response to Covid-19 have been vindicated and/or discredited as health measures for K-12 students and staff? Please include your specific stance on the idea of mandating masks and/or emergency-authorized vaccines for students to access some aspects of school.
Watson: “I came onto the board during the COVID-19 pandemic mostly because I was frustrated with my child going through kindergarten on Zoom. I definitely feel you need to be cautious about our children’s health. But I personally think that the response to this has set our kids’ education back years.
Once we had hard facts that COVID-19 does not affect children they should have been back to school. I also support a parent’s right to choose what is best for their child. If you feel it is best to have them wear a mask and take a vaccine that's your choice, but I think that choice should not be given to federal, state, or local governments to make. I don’t believe in any type of mask or vaccine mandate. I believe parents are smart enough to make that choice for their children.”
Wallace: “As I see it, isolation and quarantine public health measures date back to the 14th century and are still being practiced. Our public health system has been critical in handling significant public health threats, such as our kids’ vaccination.
Since my kids attended school in the ‘90s, there have been mandatory childhood immunizations regardless of religious, medical, or other reasons. If a child did not have a required shot(s) for their age, they could not attend public school or enroll in childcare programs. The child would be and still is subject to homeschooling or a learn-from-home option offered by the state.
I trust the science and evidence and see no reason not to add COVID-19 to the longstanding list of other vaccinations required for in-person school attendance. I do not rely on the mandatory wearing a mask to keep our kids safe. Kids do not keep their masks on or fully cover their mouths or nose. Kids get to remove their masks while eating and drinking, which defeats the purpose. Schools should consider adding prevention strategies, guidance, and policies if another pandemic occurs.”
- DP: The 2022 Best High Schools list from U.S. News & World Report placed Barstow High School near the bottom quarter of nearly 18,000 schools in the U.S., primarily based on a poor “college-readiness rating” that countered its strong graduation rate. What do you think is the driver of these marks, specifically as it may or may not relate to the Board of Trustees?
Watson: “I don’t think you get the entire picture of a school district through what U.S. News & World Report says. I personally know our staff at [BUSD] does everything in their power to help kids go onto college. There is also not a problem with kids not wanting to go to college. I personally never went to college, and I have never regretted it.
I graduated high school in 2010 and everyone was pushed to go to college to the point that people just went because they were told to go. I don’t believe that is the correct way to teach children. I believe we need to find out what interests children and focus on what career path would best serve those interest. That’s why I am proud that our graduation rate has went from 74% to 89% in only five years. Improving all these metrics is a goal for everyone at [BUSD].”
Wallace: “Educational Inequalities in [BUSD] are why our kids have poor ‘college-readiness ratings.’ It is no secret that the socioeconomic level of students determines their academic performance. Furthermore, there is still evidence of implicit bias toward the race or ethnicity of students. An unfair student-teacher relationship can sabotage a student’s educational views. In addition, schools that serve a higher number of minority students tend to have less experienced, worse-paid, and less-qualified teachers […] teaching subjects out of their zones of expertise.
I have been at the [BUSD board] meetings and watched past and present virtual recorded sessions. I would love someone to prove me wrong; the current board has not advocated why high school students are unsuccessful after graduation. Suppose they would focus their attention on our students’ school performance the way they do with the high school football games. In that case, our kids may have a chance at being successful when applying to college and jobs.”
- DP: It’s been five years since BUSD began issuing debt to meet its Measure F promise of bonds totaling $39 million for sweeping repairs, upgrades and expansions of schools in old and unhealthy conditions. Explain how you believe Measure F is living up to its 2016 pitch and/or falling short of the potentially hefty costs for taxpayers to service its debt.
Watson: “I feel as if Measure F has lived up to its promise. We have built the Barstow Fine Arts Academy, we are in the process of modernizing Barstow Junior High School, we just replaced the old playground equipment at Cameron Elementary School – I could honestly keep going with projects that Measure F has given us the ability to accomplish. I do believe Measure F has given us the ability to better serve our students and [I’m] looking forward to more improvements being completed.”
Wallace: “Regarding the 2016 Measure F, I am not judging how this bond is handled. I still need to be given all the facts. The process has been slow. I have observed a new school being built instead of working on the schools that students were currently occupied with. The updates hoped to bring more teachers; instead, we are losing teachers. We have had one resource officer for the whole district. It was reported that we would be getting one more. There are still considerable safety concerns.” [note: board president Ben Rosenberg says BUSD currently has three police resource officers.]
- DP: With BUSD having paid $2.4 million late last year to settle one of seven lawsuits at the time alleging years of sexual abuse by staff and cover-ups by administrators in the high school, explain how you believe the board should and/or shouldn’t take action as trustees and engage parents as BUSD representatives when it comes to such sensitive issues?
Watson: “I believe no adult should ever take advantage of a child and any adult who does should be charged to the fullest extent of the law. That includes anyone who is trying to ‘cover-up’ the incident. There is zero tolerance to any child being hurt emotionally or physically by an adult. I will always make my choice with the best interest of the child in mind. I also call on the state of California to make the consequences harsher for people who hurt children.”
Wallace: “As a board, we should be proactive with sensitive issues. There should have been a special meeting to discuss publicly and vote on the necessary action, such as an independent investigation. Or any activity that will help drive greater transparency and accountability in our school systems. Also, to investigate any of the district’s possible wrongdoing. Our community and stakeholders trust that the board will ensure our kids’ well-being; if we lose that trust, it will likely be hard to regain.”
Charlie McGee covers California’s High Desert for the Daily Press, focusing on the city of Barstow and its surrounding communities. He is also a Report for America corps member with The GroundTruth Project, an independent, nonpartisan, nonprofit news organization dedicated to supporting the next generation of journalists in the U.S. and around the world. McGee may be reached at 760-955-5341 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @bycharliemcgee.