Incumbent trustees Susan Clarabut and Louise Benicoff Johnson, and newcomer Peggy Delgado Fava, are running for two Area 1 trustee positions on the Nevada County Board of Education.
Clarabut was appointed to the board last year, and Johnson was appointed earlier this year, each filling a position after it had been left vacant while a term was in progress.
Area 1 represents Chicago Park, Nevada City, Penn Valley, Twin Ridges, Union Hill, and Camptonville Union School Districts.
Susan Clarabut, who has served on the Board of Education since her December appointment, said she originally applied for the position because it was “an opportunity to give back to (her) community.”
She has worked as a Chicago Park School teacher and then superintendent-principal, Pleasant Ridge School principal, county assistant superintendent, and assistant superintendent of special education and curriculum at Grass Valley School District. She retired in 2015 from that district.
She is currently the Nevada County coordinator for the North Coast Teacher Induction Program, which helps beginning teachers finish fulfilling their California Clear Credential.
“I continue in retirement to support new teachers,” she said. “It feels like I still teach.”
Clarabut said it has been helpful for her as a trustee to hear a variety of perspectives as many families navigate their students through the current school year in a distance learning format.
“I don’t know anyone who doesn’t want to go back to face-to-face instruction,” she said. “Listening to the impacts COVID-19 has had on families, students, and schools has been powerful.”
“One thing that has been made abundantly clear is I’d like to help prepare for getting Wi-Fi access for the students who are remote,” said Clarabut.
Concerning how she hopes to support local districts if elected, she said that while decisions about returning to in-person instruction are made by the districts, the board can offer resources for whichever instructional model it chooses. For example, she said, they could assist districts in acquiring Wi-Fi hotspots to facilitate distance learning, and provide personal protective equipment to districts that need it.
Peggy Delgado Fava, the newcomer in this race, was motivated by her experience as executive director of youth nonprofit Bridge Network to get more involved in representing the communities she works with.
“We need to have a little bit more responsive (of a) school board,” said Fava.
She said the Nevada County Board of Education, as well as boards in other counties, with whom she has interacted through her work, have been slow to respond to the needs and concerns of students and their families.
Fava said that, during the pandemic, many of these boards have continued to operate at their traditional pace. If elected, she said she would push to respond to a crisis such as COVID-19 with more urgency, helping the community “keep some sense of normalcy in a period where there’s a lot of fear, (and) there’s a lot of uncertainty.”
In order to achieve this, Fava said she would make herself available to constituents, both virtually and in person, and would work to accelerate the board’s outreach by pushing for more frequent meetings, if needed.
On how her nonprofit experience has prepared her for a role on this board, Fava said she has developed a “solutions-oriented perspective” as innovation has become necessary through the organization of various programs in her organization, including efforts to help teach youth reading skills.
She said teaching reading skills can be frustrating, in particular if following rigid methodology despite the students having varied needs. This has taught her to be adaptable to the individual strengths and needs of students.
The only candidate for this position without a professional background in the education system, Fava said her “outsider” status would make her a positive addition to the board.
“I live in the community, so I’m not really an outsider, but (I’m) an outsider … of the educational format,” she said. “It’s good to have a diverse board membership.”
Louise Benicoff Johnson, who was appointed to the Board of Education this summer, has 34 years of experience in high school education.
“I’m a career educator, and I think I still have a little bit to give back,” she said.
“Having worked with so many different kinds of students, I think education is the great equalizer and the one force of equity for all people,” said Johnson. She recounted having worked as a teacher in Southern California and the state’s Central Valley, and then as superintendent of Nevada Joint Union High School District. She retired from this position in 2018.
She said this year has been a hectic time for the local school system due to the difficult decisions made necessary by the COVID-19 pandemic. “We don’t have authority over that on the county board, but it’s a time to really be reflective,” she said.
Johnson said overseeing the budget is one of the most important roles of the Board of Education, and that this is a function she is highly qualified to perform.
She described herself as fiscally conservative and responsible. “I was able to navigate the (Nevada Joint Union High School District) through the Great Recession, so I pay attention to those kinds of things,” she said.
Johnson said, if elected, she would prioritize ensuring fiscal solvency for schools as well as acting as an advocate of rural schools to state lawmakers.
“Very often, they have a one-size-fits-all approach, and having worked in an urban area of Southern California versus the rural areas of Northern California, our schools … and needs are very different,” she said. “So I think it’s an important role for board members to pay attention to pending legislation and make sure it makes sense.”
In particular, Johnson said she is a firm advocate of a “full education” — including arts, academics, and athletics — and would like to “support students in all those venues.”