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By Collin Breaux

After the local school board elections this fall, some new faces are expected to represent parents and make educational decisions in South Orange County.

Elections will be held on Nov. 8 for seats on the Capistrano Unified School District Board of Trustees representing areas 2, 4 and 7. Area 2 covers Ladera Ranch; Area 4 covers Laguna Niguel; and Area 7 includes Mission Viejo.

The race for Area 2 is a specially called election because of the resignation of former Trustee Pamela Braunstein earlier this year over what she said was harassment for her support of COVID-19 policies.

Three candidates—Michael Parham, Kira Davis and Jessica Hubbard—have filed to run for the seat and qualified for the ballot.

Parham lives in Rancho Mission Viejo and is a certified public accountant who advises businesses on mergers and previously served on the Irvine Unified School District Board of Education for 12 years.

He previously ran for the Orange County Board of Education in 2016, an election he lost. He moved to the Esencia neighborhood in 2018.

A major issue Parham points to is the need for the district to interact and work with parents, an issue he feels the district isn’t doing as good a job as it could. Parnham pointed to reported issues with the district’s online portal for parents and students to access school information such as report cards and teacher assignments.  

Capo Unified also needs to develop more credibility with the public if it wants to get support for bond measures that would fund facility upgrades at Dana Hills High School and other campuses, Parham said.

“Credibility takes a long time to build, and I don’t think we have any credibility with the public,” Parham said. “The idea of passing a bond is not realistic, given the lack of credibility. That’s something I fought hard for and worked for in Irvine, and I know I can do that here. It’s going to take years. It’s a necessary thing. These facilities are somewhat dilapidated.”

Parham is also advocating to let “teachers teach” instead focusing on testing, and said it’s important to prepare kids for the future job market that will revolve around technological data, coding and analysis. He is opposed to COVID-19 mandates, though he and his family are vaccinated.

Davis has made her mark as a staunchly anti-COVID restriction candidate and recently brought forth a citizen’s request at a Board of Trustees meeting for masks to be optional for students. The board did not extensively deliberate or vote on her proposal.

Masks are currently optional for students in California.

“After two years of uncertainty and chaos surrounding mandates and our children, we are exhausted,” said Davis, who lives in Ladera Ranch. “We feel it (is) necessary to the mental health of our students and the comfort of our parents for the Board of Trustees to officially adopt a resolution supporting mask choice in CUSD.”

Davis is a mother to two children, according to her campaign website. She works as a podcaster and editor-at-large for RedState, a conservative media outlet.

“As a trustee for CUSD, Kira will work to safeguard parental rights, enrich educational experiences for students and seek to enhance opportunities for all students,” Davis’ online bio said.

Davis also maintains an active Instagram account where she documents her opposition to pandemic restrictions in schools and live updates from Board of Trustees meetings.

 Jessica Hubbard is an education nonprofit executive and former public school teacher, according to her candidate statement.

“I have over 20 years of experience teaching children and leading schools, advocating for youth, serving career technical colleges, and motivating students,” Hubbard said. “But I’m also the parent of a Capo student, and like all parents, I want to ensure my children are receiving the best opportunities and experiences possible.”

Hubbard’s platform as documented on her campaign website includes wanting to strengthen learning opportunities for students in science, technology, engineering, the arts and mathematics.

She’s also promoting fiscal responsibility and mitigating wasteful spending, as well as reaching out to parents, students and teachers through public forums and task forces.

“I am running for the vacant seat on the Capistrano Unified School Board because extremist politics have no place in a nonpartisan elected position,” Hubbard said. “I am running because I have seen first-hand how students benefit from nurturing leadership that puts children first and empowers teachers to lead their classrooms with the support of informed parents.”

The Area 4 race also has three ballot-qualified candidates: Jim Glantz, Gary Pritchard and Darin Patel. Current Area 4 Trustee and Board President Martha McNicholas is not running for reelection.

Glantz describes himself as an education consultant and businessman and has experience as an English and government teacher. He is opposed to mask and vaccination mandates for students and will “push back against overreaching Sacramento bureaucrats trying to control our curriculum,” according to his candidate statement.

“School closures did not work for many of our children, and many students need additional attention after virtual learning to get back to where they need to be,” Glantz said. “The district needs to provide additional resources to students who fell behind by distance learning. In addition, the district must increase its attention on our school system’s finances, strengthen its curriculum, and focus on the mission of delivering a world-class education.”

Pritchard is an instructional dean at Cerritos College, as well as a Laguna Niguel homeowner, former school board president and father with children in local schools.

“I understand the concerns of parents, frustrated with the direction of our school board. As a homeowner who chose to raise my family right here in Laguna Niguel, I understand the strong link between good schools and property values and will protect taxpayers,” Pritchard said.

Darin Patel is a software developer who said he will advocate for parents and students, while also being cognizant of our fiscal responsibility to the taxpayers. Patel’s platform includes expanding learning opportunities and access to counselors for students in their college and technical studies.

“I have only attended and graduated from schools within Capistrano Unified and have family that still attends school in our district,” Patel said. “Therefore, I have a vested interest in providing a safe learning environment and quality education for all students.”

McNicholas has served as a trustee for eight years—three of them as board president—and for decades as a volunteer leader in local schools and the community. She said she provided leadership during “some very difficult times and some very inspiring times.”

“I turn 70 in December, and my nearly retired husband and I are looking forward to spending more time with our children and our Colorado grandchildren and planning some international travel,” McNicholas said. “I still plan to be involved in my local schools, especially Dana Hills High School, and to take a larger leadership role in the plans to rebuild it into the modern and safe 21st century school that our students and community deserve.”

Two candidates have qualified to run in Area 2: incumbent Trustee Judy Bullockus and challenger Jeanette Contreras.

Bullockus began serving on the board in 2017, was board president in 2021 and has frequently denounced state-imposed COVID mandates.

Current Trustee Gila Jones ran unopposed in Area 6, which represents portions of San Juan Capistrano. Jones was first elected to the board in 2014, and again in 2018. Jones has also spoken against state-imposed COVID restrictions.

Collin Breaux

Collin Breaux covers San Juan Capistrano and other South Orange County news as the City Editor for The Capistrano Dispatch. Before moving to California, he covered Hurricane Michael, politics and education in Panama City, Florida. He can be reached by email at cbreaux@picketfencemedia.com.                         

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