By Jerry Roberts of Newsmakers
Physical Education teacher Christy Lozano has mounted a conservative electoral challenge against Santa Barbara County’s incumbent Superintendent of Schools, a local microcosm of national battles over racial, LGBTQ and pandemic policies and programs in public education.
The stakes of her insurgent effort to defeat County Superintendent Susan Salcido are considerable and consequential.
As a political matter. Lozano’s message aligns with national conservative and right-wing attempts to win control of public school systems around the country.
In Santa Barbara, she is supported by a loose coalition of parents and critics who often publicly lambaste school boards and leaders with multiple agendas: foes of public health guidelines and mandates about Covid vaccines, masks and school shutdowns; opponents of “woke” instruction focused on racial identity; evangelical Christians unhappy with classroom discussions about sex and gender identification; families impatient with declining test scores; political partisans seeking to curb domination of public education policy by liberal and left-wing Democrats.
As a practical matter, Lozano is seeking to make an immense leap up the career ladder for professional educators. A teacher with no administrative experience, she is running to become the overseer of the County Education Office, a complex, $104 million-a-year bureaucracy with 550 employees and an abundance of duties — not least of which is to serve as a critical interface between state government in Sacramento, where public school funding and policy are broadly shaped, and the 20 school districts in the county, within which the day-to-day teaching of 70,000 students takes place.
In a Newsmakers interview, however, she cited her success as a soccer and track coach, among other activities, to reject the notion that her lack of administrative experience is daunting:
“I’m a coach, and I build teams and I build successful teams, I build successful programs. That’s one of my big strengths…
“Experience is one thing (but) I think there’s an ingredient that’s missing, to be able to bring people together, and to be able to bring the best out of people, to be able to position people in places, and allow people to work together, bring people together to work other on things. The quality of a good coach is somebody who can do that.
“And so, I think there’s an ingredient missing because there’s a lot of experience and there’s a lot of education at the top (of the County Education Office) and it hasn’t produced the results. And so, we have to look at that and go, ‘Something is missing.’ And I think I provide the ingredient that’s missing to the recipe of success.”
Our story to date. A longtime, outspoken critic of the superintendent, administration and Board of Trustees of the Santa Barbara Unified School District (the canidate works for the SBUSD — not to be confused with the Santa Barbara County Education Office), Lozano has a reputation for aggressive remarks during the public comment portion of school board meetings.
A Kinesiology major who graduated from Cal Poly, she holds a master’s degree in educational leadership, and a Preliminary Administrative Service credential from Cal Lutheran University, according to her LinkedIn page.. She also served in the US Air Force Air National Guard from 2002 to 2007, performing security duty at LAX after 9/11 and later deploying to Germany with the Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron of the 146th Channel Island guard unit.
During her 18 years in the SBUSD, Lozano has been assigned or transferred to six schools — McKinley and Cleveland elementary schools, La Cumbre and Santa Barbara junior highs; San Marcos, and most recently, Dos Pueblos High. After speaking out against the district’s Covid vaccine mandate for teachers, she has been on leave from teaching for several months.
In January, she carried her critique of the school district to social media, posting a YouTube video which offered viewers a glimpse at SBUSD’s “Culturally Responsive Curriculum,” one section of a website used by the district’s 600 teachers for matters both education and employment related.
Organized around holidays and celebrations of historically marginalized groups — i.e. Martin Luther King Day, Black History Month, Women’s History Month, Cesar Chavez Day, LGBTQIA+ Pride Month — the “curriculum” is a series of links to reading lists, videos and other resources curated as aids for teachers in discussing the topics with students.
Each teacher has a password to sign into the site — neither surprising nor unusual, in that the site also includes content such as information about their health benefits.
In describing the site as “password protected,” however, Lozano put a sinister cast on the cultural content, portraying it as top-secret information. She did not note that using any of the linked material is optional for teachers, while intimating that it is employed to force feed students left-wing indoctrination.
She began the video by stating that the material is “being concealed from parents,” then impugned a batch of articles about anti-Black racism, using air quotes and a scornful tone while reading titles — “What White Teachers Need to Know,” “How to be a Good White Ally” “How to Talk to White Folks about Race” as if they were self-evidently toxic.
In the same manner, she next focused on readings about LGBTQ matters — “12 LGBTQ People Who Changed History,” “LGBTQ Heritage,” “The Youth Advocate Tool Kit” — which she denounced as “grooming.”
“Some of this material is grooming,” she said, echoing language that Republican politicians across the nation, most notably Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, have weaponized to attack materials and teachers that include discussion of LGBTQ and transgender issues,
“And grooming is not okay,” Lozano added.
Five minutes of Fox News fame. The video was a hit, garnering 13,000 views and, more significantly, coming to the attention of the Fox News Channel right-wing provocateur Laura Ingraham, who invited Lozano on her show in February.
Characteristically, Ingraham introduced the segment with peak hyperbole, describing the YouTube as “shocking undercover video,” stating that Lozano had “bravely brought to light this vile racializing of her school curricula,” which “the school district was trying to hide from the parents.”
At one point, Ingraham thundered that teachers were being told, “you have to teach basically woke activism” as Lozano smiled on the split screen and agreed — “Yeah, yeah” — then assailed teachers who might use the resources as “a self-selecting group of people who would want to teach this crap.”
“Yeah, they make you believe, it’s very manipulative, I call it psychological warfare and it’s hard to understand, it’s manipulation,” Lozano then said. “They’ll lie to your face, they’ll tell you it’s the right thing to do. You feel bad if you don’t do it, so people go along with it for fear of standing out for fear of being different but and there’s real fear, because there’s retaliation.”
In March, Lozano’s public profile got even higher, when Democratic political consultant Mollie Culver filed a misguided lawsuit, trying to get Lozano kicked off the June 7 ballot and arguing that, because her Cal Lutheran education administration credential had not been activated — she has not yet been hired to an administrative job — she is ineligible to become superintendent.
A Superior Court judge quickly tossed the undisguised partisan lawsuit (Nick Welsh ably documented the shaggy dog story behind it) leaving Lozano and Salcido in a two-way contest.
Doing the Lord’s work. In her viral video, Lozano also pronounced that she is an “ordained minister”; she holds a degree in ministry from The 300: A Ministry Training College.
Last month, Lozano appeared on “Liberty Station,” a Christian program produced on Rumble, an online video platform popular with right-wing figures (other programming on the platform includes debunked conspiracy promoter Alex Jones, Tulsi Gabbard, Newsmax and the Russian state-controlled international TV network RT).
In a half-hour conversation with Liberty Station host Bryce Eddy, she spoke expansively about how her religious faith is intertwined with her effort to “reform” education in Santa Barbara.
“I know I work for God, and as a teacher, He holds me highly responsible to protect kids and to be a good teacher and so I really feel a moral obligation,” she said in explaining her reasons for running.
She recounted how the reaction to her YouTube video led her to declare her candidacy.
“You know I prayed about it and had people praying for me. I’m kind of visionary and I know how to work with people,” she said,
“God is good,” she added. “I know that He is in the mix, I know I did not get in this position without the Lord bringing me to this place. and I always say, ‘all right Lord, you brought me here, you’ve got to get me through it’…Whatever happens…. I’m willing to be used by the Lord, and I trust Him.”
“God, He’s the God of the underdog,” Lozano stated. “We’ve seen it so many, many times in the Bible and He uses people.”
“I did my due diligence, kind of like Matthew 18 teaches,” she added. “Go to the people and talk to them.”
“Amen,” the host responded,
What Newsmakers asked. In our interview with Lozano, Newsmakers asked her to specify her objections to online material about racism, the LGBTQ community and transgender people.
We also sought her views — and proposed solutions — on key education policy issues and problems including: how best to teach reading and literacy; testing students for dyslexia; whether more charter schools should be certified; reasons behind the overall poor performance of county students on California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress tests.
We also asked her to outline her reasons for running; to describe her understanding of the duties and responsibilities of the County Education Office; to offer her thoughts about its $104 million budget; and to set forth her plans for a 30/60/90-day strategy to begin making change if she is elected.
“I taught six years at Cleveland and McKinley (elementary schools), those were my favorite years of my career… prior to getting moved to Dos Pueblos,” she said. “And I saw a love of learning. Kids love to learn, especially at the elementary age, it’s very foundational (to) carry the student through…. junior high and high school and into college years.
“And when I went to Dos Pueblos, instead of a love of learning and excitement, I (found) some of the most sad, discouraged, disruptive kids… And so, this transformation had happened over the course, I think, of their schooling. And so, I couldn’t stand by and watch the failing system. And I want…to bring solutions to the schools. And so, I decided to run.”
Tone and talking points. Politically, two things seemed notable about the interview.
First, Lozano’s tone and rhetoric were more moderate and measured than in her Fox News interview or her past public comments to the school board.
For example, Lozano on Fox enthusiastically agreed with Laura Ingraham when the cable news personality trashed the disputed SBUSD cultural curriculum as “woke activism” — but ducked and dodged when Newsmakers asked if she vouches for that hostile characterization.
“I am running for a nonpartisan position. I am not a Democrat, I am not a Republican, I am a teacher,” she responded. “And so, the word ‘woke,’ it’s not got a good association…So we really need to stay in our lane with regards to that.”
Also, Lozano consistently returned to campaign talking points, framing the election with a generalized set of priorities and values that she embraces – and alleges are lacking under the current administration – such as “community engagement,” “non-partisanship,” an emphasis on “student safety” and, most of all, “transparency.”
“I think the big thing for me is going back to the transparency element,” she said, as she used the word more than half-a-dozen times during the interview. “Why can parents not see what curriculum the teachers are using to teach their kids?”
Transparency differential. Although transparency for schools is a central theme of her bid to unseat Salcido, Lozano personally refuses to answer even basic questions about herself and her campaign.
Previously, she’s refused to provide the name of her campaign strategist, claiming it was “internal information” (spoiler alert: it’s Central Coast Republican and corporate consulting impresario Chris Collier – secret memo to Christy: your payments to him are contained in your campaign finance report).
She’s even refused to tell us her age — and, more significantly, the specific reason she has been absent from Dos Pueblos duties for months.
The day after the interview, Newsmakers emailed two follow-up inquiries: “Forgot to ask two questions,” the email read.. “1-your age 2-best, most accurate way to describe your current situation at work — leave of absence? sick leave? disciplinary suspension? disability? or/…?”
Her answer: “Hi Jerry – Haha, I am old enough to vote and old enough to be superintendent of schools and I am employed by SBUSD.”
Transparency for thee, but not for me.
Images: Lozano on Laura Ingraham show (YouTube screen grab); Lozano speaks with host Bryce Eddy on “Liberty Station” (YouTube screen grab); Lozano appears in a Tracy Lehr report on KEYT during a protest against Covid vaccine mandates at SBUSD headquarters (YouTube screen grab).
Some key quotes.
On the role and responsibilities of the County Superintendent.
“So the county has a school, has its own school. It has 102 kids assigned to it, mostly special education, adjudicated youth. And they have a preschool. The 102 does not include the preschool.*
“It oversees the credentials of teachers and… making sure teachers are put into the correct positions. It oversees budgets, signs off on budgets, and facilities and things like that. And so it’s a very big role. I think it can be a very influential role. And I don’t know that it’s being as influential as it can be right now, but they’re the overseer of a lot. And I also think leading by example, they can lead by example for the 20 districts that fall underneath the county superintendent of schools.”
On the position being administrative.
“Well, I don’t know that I agree with that. I think there’s more that can be done. And leading by example is, as a coach, I’m a coach, and I build teams and I build successful teams. I build successful programs. That’s one of my big strengths. And so putting people into position that will set an example and influence, I think it’s a big position of influence. And so while there may not be some direct oversight, there’s a general oversight, and I think it’s underestimated right now. I think we underestimate the ability to affect the systems.”
On making a huge jump from teacher to County Superintendent.
“I’ve worked as a team teacher in charge over at McKinley and I had lots of experience working with parents and behavioral things with kids. I was trained in restorative approaches and dealing with behaviors. I’ve practiced doing schedules and those sorts of things. But I think there’s an ingredient that’s missing because experience is one thing, but to be able to bring people together and to be able to bring the best out of people, to be able to position people in places and allow people to work together, bring people together to work other on things. The quality of a good coach is somebody who can do that.
On her strategy for rolling out changes at the SBCEO:
“I think for starters, we need to bring transparency, curriculum that parents can see. And bringing teachers to the table and parents to the table and talking. They know their kids best. And so engaging leadership and engaging the community in solving these problems.
“Safety. Safety is an issue that needs to be addressed. And in order for kids to learn, environments have to be safe. It takes the vulnerability to learn and to make mistakes and different things like that. And so safety is paramount. And non-partisanship, we need to have kids focusing on things that are open-minded thinking, not close-minded, not this is how it is type of thinking. And so being nonpartisan in the materials that we’re focusing on is really important. And so that’s what we need to do.”
On the SBCEO budget.
“It’s hard to find the budget. I found it…and I’ve looked at it. But to understand it is not that simple. And it doesn’t really give you a lot of detail. And so I think there needs to be more detail and more transparency, because transparency builds safety, and security and trust. And when you can’t see something, it’s hard to trust it. And so I think it’s very important, if people want to see, if taxpayers want to see, if parents want to see, transparency is huge. If parents want to see curriculum, if they want to see budgets. If people want to see where that is, we need to show that. And so it’s very hard to find.”
On dealing with state government complexities.
“Well, I think that, again, if it’s hard to read and hard to understand, we need to make it readable and understandable. And so if something is coming down to me and I can’t understand it, then I need to ask for that and I need it to be explained in terms that I can understand, that the people, whatever, paying taxes, or parents, or administrators, or the people working for me understand. It’s important for it to be understandable. This is education. We’re talking about education, which is a teaching system. And so if any system should be understandable, I would think education would be understandable.
“I think that while test scores are important, the CASPP tests or any of those tests are important. They’re like a thermometer. And when you can’t read how a kid is doing and you give them a test, you’re going to get an idea of where they’re actually at. They can’t really fake their way through a test, even if they can fake their way through in class learning. And so the tests are important for that reason. Not to compare kids to each other, not to put schools against each other as far as their results or anything like that, but as a thermometer to kind of find those markers……
On teaching reading and literacy.
“I don’t think it’s a one size fits all, but there is a part of it that’s a skill of teaching. Some of it’s curriculum. And so for those teachers who are very successful, and even with a pandemic have continued to be successful, because there are a lot of teachers that have continued to be successful, regardless of the things, when life gives you lemons, you try to make lemonade.
“And there’s a lot of teachers that do that. So again it’s looking at those methods and those specific things that they’re doing and modeling them across the districts. Everybody wants to be successful. Teachers want to be successful, administrators want to be successful with their schools. And so if we can look at some of the people that are having success and just start picking up and learning from them, we’re going to get there. That’s the train forward.”
On charter schools.
“I think that charter schools provide an opportunity of doing something maybe out of the ordinary. The school districts are bigger systems. Charter schools have the opportunity to kind of branch out and try some different things. I remember with … I’m forgetting the name. One of them had the gardening program and they would bring the garden into the cafeteria. It provided an opportunity for kids, not just to practice the science of growing, but then also taking it into the kitchen. So it kind of brings things full circle. They have the opportunity to bring things full circle.
“Like Heartland Charter School, it’s sort of a homeschool/charter school model. And so it provides opportunities to try school and in different ways. I think that’s kind of ingenious, it’s kind of out of the box for parents that maybe want to be more involved in their students education, but also have teachers that are providing support. It’s really a neat thing. And so I would like to see more of that. You can kind of try some different models and maybe there’s different models that would influence the school district..”
On the Culturally Responsive Curriculum.
“Well, it’s focused on in staff meetings. It’s highly focused on professional development in the summer. It’s focused on a lot. And so when that’s taking up a majority of the time, they’re not focusing on literacy and math and these different academic skills, but they’re focusing on something like that, then there’s a pressure. Again, agoing back to transparency. If it’s on the up and up, show it to the parents. Make it available for everybody to see and let the people decide…
“I am all for learning about each other, whether it’s cultural, whether it’s, I mean, there’s people in sports, there’s people that are very strong. There’s people that are very fast. As a coach, and if I’m running the track team, which I run track teams, each kid is developmentally different. They have different skills and abilities, and so it’s about celebrating those differences. Some kids are really strong, they’ll throw that shot put. Some kids are super fast and they’ll do the sprints. Some kids are built for endurance, they’ll be really good at the 800, even though there’s not a lot of kids that like the 800 because that’s a long distance sprint. And so I think I am all for distinguishing those differences, learning about those differences. What I’m not for is something that brings division and divisiveness, and so when curriculum brings division and divisiveness.”
On LGBTQ teaching materials.
“The hypersexuality or sexuality stuff, I don’t think we need to be teaching that to the young kids. And if we want to teach it to the older kids, then we can come together and have a conversation about, bringing all the parents to the table, bringing the teachers to the table and discussing what would be appropriate and what parents would like kids to be instructed in. We used to have curriculum like that way back when, and it went to the wayside. And so I think we can go back to that space and talk about it and discuss it, and then make a majority decision on what’s best for kids.”
On kids feeling misgendered.
“I can’t really answer that question, because I don’t know at what age kids would feel that way. But again, we have to go back to the academics, the positive educational outcomes. All kids need to feel safe, so if there is behaviors going on in a classroom that are making kids feel unsafe, those have to be addressed. And that could surround all kinds of different subject matter. Again, bringing parents, engaged leadership, teachers, parents to the table to discuss all these different topics, it’s important. Because we want kids to feel included, we want them to feel part of the system. We want parents to feel included, part of the system. Teachers, all the way up. And communication and coming to the table is the best way to do that.”
On systemic racism in schools.
“I think people have always had their own experience. I have had my own experience about things, you’ve had your experience about different things, children have had their experience. And I think it’s important to focus, like I said, on safety, on bringing safety. And if there are things that need to be discussed, if there are things that need to be worked on, we can address those things. I don’t think that children are racist. I do not think that when I have seen my children interact with each other, they want friends, and they want to be together, and they want to feel good. And so working through any of those kinds of problems, I know that kids will work through them.”
“Critical race theory, I mean, it’s just a close minded way of thinking. And with schools, we need to keep an open minded view, that we’re open minded and again, we’ve had this learning loss with the pandemic, and we’ve got to get back to focusing on things that are going to provide positive educational outcomes.”
“Well I like the word equality. I think equity, the way that I interpret it is just evening the playing field. Everybody just gets a equal amount, I guess. But equality is more like going forward and providing positive opportunities for those that would like, that are able to, that want to take advantage of them. It gives them the supports they need to achieve. And so I think equality is a better word to describe how kind of the culture that we would (want in schools). Equity, it kind of just, it doesn’t provide a lot of opportunities for people…
“I think to have equal outcomes as a goal would to be to take away from maybe somebody who has…had more invested in them…To have a goal where everything is equal would mean that nobody is really good at anything, that nobody can stand out, that nobody can be extraordinarily successful at anything. And so with kids, I think sometime, or people in general, they’re going to do different, amazing things in their life. Some of them are going to be amazing athletes, and they’re going to go to the pros in whatever sport.”
“To plant seeds in kids at too early of an age, it sets them up for a certain mindset. And I think we have to be very careful of what comes in at too early of an age, if kids are not developed mentally able to understand or process information. It goes back to when do we talk to our kids about the birds and the bees? Well, when they start asking questions. And so, with my own daughter, at the point that she started to come to me and ask questions, I would then start having those conversations. And I don’t think that you go too far into that stuff.
They’re going to come hear things at school and they’re going to want to know. And I think as a parent, we get to decide, and I understand there may be some parents that don’t do it and I think that’s what we can talk about as a school, how we support that. I think that’s important, but you take kids slowly through some of that stuff. And so if they are over-sexualizing kids at a young age in preschool, as a matter of fact, then to me, that’s grooming them for a certain, I don’t know, ideology, a way of thinking that’s not necessary.
On Covid shutdowns.
“I think that if we’re looking back, if we look at the big picture, we had to shut down, but did we have to shut for as long as we did? I mean, we want to go talk about the learning loss and that the county kept us shut down, but then there’s been this learning loss for kids. And not just learning loss, but rates of suicide and different things that have come up as a result of the shutdowns. I think we have to look at that and ask ourself if we did the right thing for as long as we were shut down.”
“I’m not an anti-vaxxer. I have my vaccines. My daughter has her vaccines. When they were going to take our jobs away because of being vaccinated, I had COVID-19 and it was advised to me that getting the vaccine would be harmful to my health. My doctor wrote a medical exemption. And so, I think people should have a choice…..I think that people should have a choice because there’s exceptions to the rule. And so that was my stance on that.”
* (For the record, in response to our questions, County Education Office Communications Director Camilla Barnwell sent us this breakdown of the direct schooling the county provides).
“SBCEO directly operates 10 nationally accredited preschools serving about 250 children from low-income families. We also run a program that serves 2,500 children in subsidized childcare programs.
We operate 17 special education classrooms for young learners who need special education support. We serve 812 special needs students countywide.
In partnership with County Probation, we operate two schools for incarcerated students. The schools are Los Robles High School at the Los Prietos Boys’ Camp in Santa Barbara, and Dos Puertas School at the Santa Maria Juvenile Justice Center. We also operate Peter B. FitzGerald Community School in Santa Maria for students experiencing expulsion, chronic absenteeism, or who benefit from an individualized school setting. On average, the three schools serve 150 students annually.”