Meeting the candidates: Panama-Buena Vista Union School District

Damian Lopez, Digital Media Manager

As Election Day gets closer, it is critical that voters take the time to educate themselves on each of the candidates on this year’s ballots. Although the presidential election is receiving the vast majority of the public’s attention, there are multiple local school board positions will be on the ballot also.

The Runner sent out a questionnaire to each Panama-Buena Vista Union School District (PBVUSD) school board candidate. Here’s what the responding candidates had to say:

Board Member #2 

Photo contributed by Bryan Easter.

Bryan Easter, 36  

Job title: Assistant Principal of Instruction at Frontier High School  

College: Masters in Educational Administration from PLNU  

Why are you running for school board?   

As an educator and parent of a student in the district, I feel that I am personally invested in the future of the district and have a perspective on School Board decisions that may be different than others being that my career is in education.  Strong and experienced leadership is more critical in schools now more than ever.  As a listener and visionary, I will listen to parents, staff and students and provide guidance on decisions and ensure those decisions will have the best possible outcome for the future of PBVUSD.  

What is one thing you hope to change and how? 

  “15 years as a classroom teacher and school administratorTeaching experience at all 3 levels (elementary, Jr high, High school) A desire to have equitable education across the district. A passion to see students succeed. A heart to listen and serve others. Invested Parent of a PBVUSD Student  

What experience do you bring to the role? 

  “Since March 18th, I have remained most worried about our special populations of students with the distance learning model (SPED, EL, SED and also Kinder/TK…)I have always advocated for Parent Choice and teacher choice in regards to in 3 models (full distance, hybrid, full in person). 

  If elected (under current regulations), I will continue the current push for exemptions with recommended safety measures in place starting with our special populations and then into 1st/2nd and up through Jr High.  I personally believe this needs to start happening faster rather than slower because distance learning is creating gaps for all students especially our youngest grades and inequity is rampant.  And the choice I spoke of earlier should be a part of it as some families will make the decision to keep their student home because they know what is best for their family. 

J.P. Lake42  

Job title: Managing Partner, Kern Venture Group  

Why are you running for school board?  

  “I am running for re-election because quality public education is critical to the future vitality of our city. Our schools need to prepare students for college or careers and that foundation starts in our elementary schools. For too long our community has not acknowledged the challenges that we face in addressing inequality of student achievement and academics. We are now making progress but there is much more to do and I remain excited to serve. 

What is one thing you hope to change and how?  

  “Last year under my leadership as President of the Board we formed the first Committee on Equity. Now that the Committee is formed and starting its work I want to see tangible investments and programs put in place to address the achievement gap of our minority students and english language learners. We can do this by redirecting and reallocating existing funds away from programs that are not producing results. 

What experience do you bring to the role?  

  “I have served on the Board since 2016 and by using my business and governance experience we accomplished some notable achievements, including launching the STEAM Academy at Castle Elementary and an innovative professional development program for teachers that is helping us attract and hire the best teachers. Most importantly, student academic achievement in English/language arts and mathematics have improved by more than twice as much compared to the state as a whole since 2016 (+14 points and +11.8 points respectively for Panama students, compared to +5.4 points and +5 points across the state). 

Photo contributed by Kelly Youngstrom.

Kelly Youngstrom, 37 

Job title: AltaOne Federal Credit Union Supervisory Committee Member  

Why are you running for school board?  

  “Strong schools make for strong communities, with better job opportunities and a brighter future.  As a Kern County native, I wish to serve my community by ensuring our schools meet the needs of students and families.  My mother was a public school teacher who taught for almost 40 years, and my father was a civil service employee for our government.  I have four sisters, three of whom work in public education.  My family has instilled in me a passion for public service and education.  In addition, I am the proud mother to four young children.  I hope through my work with PBVUSD I can improve our community for them and all the other children growing up in our community. 

What is one thing you hope to change and how?  

  “I believe it is important to increase transparency in our district.  It is critical for students, parents, staff, and the general community to have access to information about all major components of the district including, but not limited to, financials, health and safety, curriculum, future district growth plans, academic results, and technology. 

What experience do you bring to the role?  

  “I have an extensive background in business and finance, beginning with my degree from the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania. In managerial roles for multiple Fortune 500 companies I was responsible for budgets in the millions of dollars.    

  Currently, I serve as the Vice-Chair of the PBVUSD Bond Oversight Committee. As a school board member, I will emphasize fiscal responsibility and transparency while increasing accountability of taxpayer money.  It is important to make every dollar count so our limited resources are spent educating our students and not on bureaucratic interests. 

3 Goals for my first term in office: Strengthen the greater community of Bakersfield by increasing literacy so that all children can read and comprehend, creation and maintenance of a safe, healthy environment, and strong fiscal management of the taxpayers’ money  

Michael “Mike” Tann58  

Job title: Dad, retired Associate Warden, Senior Program Manager Envisioning Justice Solutions  

Why are you running for school board?  

  “Prior to the pandemic, I did not get involved in district issues. All of the teachers, the principals and staff at Hart Elementary School and Tevis Junior High School have done an outstanding job educating my children. I assumed that any district with such high quality staff must be run well. When COVID-19 started to spread and to impact the school, I started to watch School Board meetings online. The more meetings I watched and the more parents and teachers that I talked to, the more it became apparent to me that the board was not making decisions in the best interest of the children in our district. After doing some research, I discovered that the Trustees in Area 1 and the Trustee in Area 2 running for reelection do not have children in our schools. When I researched the candidates running for board, I found that there was one other candidate that has a child at school in our district, but that the other candidates running with children of age to be in a PBVUSD school are either being home schooled or in private school. When I started to dig deeper, I found that my values are fundamentally different than the current board’s and thought that parents like me should have a voice. I am deeply committed to public education and I firmly believe that School Board Trustees need to be non-partisan.  

What is one thing you hope to change and how?  

  “I hope to change the outcomes of our students for the positive.  I plan on doing that by making the school district transparent and to change the way they look at the children and parents.  Too many parents feel they and their kids are viewed as a number.  I think that the focus needs to be changed from how we are doing in the aggregate to how we are doing with the individual students.  What some people don’t realize is that the school board has only one employee and that is the superintendent of the district.  I will make changes through the office of the superintendent.  The district needs to be more transparent, what this means is that the district website needs to be updated, searchable and user friendly. That we need to invest in all of our students.  The GATE program needs an outside evaluation as to whether or not it is effective. Our disadvantaged students need to be more than an after thought. 

What experience do you bring to the role?  

  It may seem strange that someone retired from the prison system has transferable skills that would benefit the school board. On the other hand, my entire adult life has been committed to public service. My work background includes running and training an employee peer counselling team, as well as planning and working with a large governmental budget. I also offer decades of proven leadership. I view the current board as being technocratic whereas I bring a servant-leader orientation. I talk and listen to people. As the Parent Club vice president at Hart last year, I was on campus helping out every day, talking to teachers, staff, and parents, and listening to their concerns.. I bring that kind of energy to all of my endeavors. It is who I am.

Photo contributed by Tom Webster.

Tom Webster45  

Job title: Technology Systems Analyst (Webmaster for City of Bakersfield)  

Why are you running for school board?  

  “In the past several years, I have seen our district continue to shy away from making the proper investments in technology that will prepare our children, engage our parent community, and secure the data our school system needs to operate. 

  In 2020 alone, our district’s financial system crashed, our entire system was infected by ransomware that wiped out years worth of lesson plans and delayed grades. All of that was before the schools were closed by the pandemic. Our teachers had no training and little preparation and guidance. 

  This board needs someone with a technology background. 

What is one thing you hope to change and how?  

  “I’d like to continue building the online capabilities of the district and create a permanent online academy within the district. There are a lot of students we don’t serve well by only providing service in classrooms and we’re acquiring expertise right now that has the potential to serve kids who cannot attend in-person classes for medical reasons both temporary and chronic. We also have an opportunity to create an offering for families that have left the district for online charters and homeschooling. 

What experience do you bring to the role?  

  “I was born and raised in Bakersfield and went to school in Panama – Buena Vista. I graduated from UC Berkeley and after working in the dot-com boom and bust, I worked in construction and property management for nearly a decade in the Bay Area. I returned to Bakersfield where I reconnected with my wife who I first met while attending Actis Jr. High. We have three kids (20, 12, and 8) who have all attended the district. I have 20 years of experience in managing projects both in technology and construction. I understand the work that needs to go in before the first decision is made and how having the right tools is a necessary component of success. I also know that tools don’t do the work, people do.