Education / Schools

Election 2020: Hollister School District, Trustee Area 4

Robert Bernosky and Lisa Marks campaign during switch to district representation.

Watch candidates for HSD Trustee Area 4 answer questions from the BenitoLink 2020 Virtual Election Forum.

The Hollister School District Board of Trustees voted last year to switch from at-large to district representation. The Nov. 3 election will be the first time in HSD history that each trustee must live in the area that they want to represent, and voting for the seat will be limited to residents who live in that trustee area.

The two candidates running to represent Trustee Area 4 are incumbent Robert Bernosky and challenger Lisa Marks.

Robert Bernosky, 57, is rounding out his first term on the HSD Board of Trustees. His life in politics began as a member of the board of the North County Joint Union School District (Spring Grove School) where his wife of 31 years, Jennifer Bernosky, is currently the superintendent/principal. A resident of San Benito County for 27 years, Bernosky has three adult children, all of whom attended San Benito County public schools. Two of them are now teachers and one is in college.

Although surrounded by a family of educators, Bernosky is a special situations chief financial officer which, he said, “brings not only business acumen, financial knowledge, an understanding of contracts.” And because he is also typically the human resources officer, “it brings the experience of dealing with people and employment.”

Bernosky has not shied away from running for public office, having run for state Assembly twice, as well as for the San Benito County Board of Supervisors in 2018.

Robert Bernosky. Photo courtesy of Rob Bernosky.
Robert Bernosky. Photo courtesy of Rob Bernosky.

BENITOLINK: Why are you running to represent Trustee Area 4?

BERNOSKY: As a community, we need the Hollister School District to do a better job of preparing the children for high school. I want all the children to have the same experience and outcomes that my three children had.

What issues are most important to your district?

Student Success: We want all of our students in school, every day. Education is the great equalizer and keeps kids out of trouble. Hiring Superintendent Ochoa who has a keen understanding of diverse populations will help greatly.

Special Education: We need to devote more time and resources to this area, while still working on overall success of our schools.

Are there issues you feel are important to your district that the public may not know about?

Hiring employees: Public schools as a whole have the horrible situation of bad actors being able to move from district to district, as a school district cannot rely on references from previous employers and district offices are typically under-resourced to do their jobs adequately. The Hollister School District is not exempt from this situation.

Behind the scenes politics: If one does not toe the established line, they are treated very badly. This leads to bad decisions being made and good information being ignored. I have been told very strongly and many times not to reference what another particular successful school district does, and to not speak to the press, even as an individual. I follow the former, but not the latter, as I believe I have the Constitutional right to speak to the press, and it is otherwise bad policy for the public not to hear from its elected officials.

What obstacles and challenges does the district face? How do you plan to address those issues?

COVID-19: This represents the single largest educational deficit schoolchildren and their parents will face in their lifetime. By and large, what we are doing today with distance learning is not working overall. I as a school board member am and will attempt to highlight that distance learning is not working for many (that is a big step as no one else wants to admit it), and that we are going to have to make up for what children are losing today in the coming years. I will advocate for extending the school year, the school day, or otherwise have programs that restore what is being lost, especially for families that cannot afford private tutoring and similar tools.

Budget: The state of California’s revenues are significantly lower and costs are being driven up by COVID-19 mitigation. I will advocate for education to be the highest priority in the state budget and will be supportive of extraordinary measures to get through the COVID-19 crisis.

Educational Effectiveness: The Hollister School District continues to struggle with providing a high-quality academic outcome for most of its students, and I will continue to press for academic results presented at every school board meeting. We are making significant efforts to engage more of the community, which is a good start, but we must not confuse efforts with results. Doing things like replacing school resource (police) officers with social workers is a huge step, as we help those who need help coping with life’s difficulties in positive ways. Having your entity’s support in these endeavors to get actual academic results would be greatly appreciated.

How do you intend to communicate and stay in touch with the constituents you’d represent?

I typically publish articles in BenitoLink and post on Facebook on pages such as “What’s Going on in Hollister,” and that typically spurs a lot of discussion. I post my email and telephone number on the Hollister School District website, which generates communications activity. I tend to be out in public a lot in our many events, and people seem to know they can approach me for conversations.

In regards to distance learning, what is one thing you think is working? What is one thing you think could be improved?

The one thing that is working in distance learning for sure is our efforts to continue to feed students so that their nutritional needs are being met. While I am never going to be disappointed in any of our successes, I am quite sad that while we (as a district) can rattle off how many meals we are serving each week, we cannot express with any confidence any statistics on how our kids are doing academically. One thing we could improve is measuring how our kids are doing academically. It is one thing to note how many students are logged in, but has there been any reading and/or math skill lost between where the kids were pre-COVID-19 and today?

Trustee Area 4 is a segment of the population that tends to get district attention. How will you balance representing your area and the general district population?

I can say with certainty that we have never intentionally done anything just because it benefits a particular trustee or geographical area. By way of example, we have refurbished all of our schools. We do things based on where the greatest needs are, i.e., where we have growth, balanced with where we have resources available, i.e., land. We have so many students that transfer from their traditional “home school” to other schools within our district, that looking at just one particular trustee area as a focal point does not make sense. For example, a student can live right next to one school, but be attending the Hollister Dual Language Academy on another side of town or the Accelerated Achievement Academy on another side of town. When appropriate and if there is space, we traditionally have allowed children to be placed at another school because they have siblings there. I believe that residency decisions are typically based on school district performance, which is why I intend to focus on the entire Hollister School District, not just that in which I live. Everyone in Hollister benefits when the Hollister School District is doing a good job overall. 

 

Lisa Marks, 56, moved to Hollister from San Jose in 2001 with her husband looking for “a rural small-town atmosphere” to raise their three children. Since moving to San Benito County, Marks has volunteered her time and efforts to community organizations. Marks was among a group of new residents who collected signatures and worked to secure a grant for the water feature at Valley View Park, widely known as the whale park.

Marks said she made it a priority to volunteer in her children’s classrooms while they attended Hollister School District. “I was able to see, first-hand, various learning environments and how children can be motivated or not by various opportunities to engage with the curriculum,” she said.

Marks has also served as the secretary for the San Benito County Democratic Central Committee and currently holds a membership that will expire on Dec. 31, after which she plans to no longer be a member. She is currently a project manager for the company Living ROI and has work experience as an executive assistant in the Silicon Valley, and as a cashier, bookkeeper and tutor locally. 

Lisa Marks. Photo courtesy of Lisa Marks.
Lisa Marks. Photo courtesy of Lisa Marks.

BENITOLINK: Why are you running to represent Trustee Area 4?

MARKS: I am running because I believe passionately that public education is essential to our democracy and I want to ensure that the Hollister School District can provide the best opportunities for every child to thrive, both academically and socially. I understand that children are our potential future community members and that a community thrives when we create and nurture a love of learning that continues on to high school and into adulthood. Educational success can pave the way for community success. The pandemic brings its own challenges to our district. There will be budgetary constraints from the state. Health and safety measures need to be developed, based on the science, to set the stage for safely returning to the classroom. In the meantime, there is the challenge of a new distance learning paradigm from technology needs and management, teacher training and support, as well as student support, which means caregiver support as well. I would like to be part of developing solutions to these challenges.

What issues are most important to your district?

I believe that the No. 1 issue is to provide a quality educational experience for every HSD student. Right now, we also have health and safety issues with COVID-19 and will have increased fiscal challenges as our state deals with deficits because of COVID-19 and the fires that 2020 is suffering. As such, we will need to work together to identify, prioritize and evaluate ways we can best educate all our students. Housing growth will also be a challenge. We will need to have plans for an increase in new student enrollment.

How do you plan to address those issues?

Along with the rest of the board, I would work with our superintendent, teachers, and staff to develop action plans that address conditions where our staff and students would eventually be able to safely return to a classroom environment that are based on science. While students are working in a distance learning paradigm, we need to make sure students have the materials they need to keep learning and that we are providing tools/technology/training/support to staff and students. I would think that open communication will be more important than ever as we navigate these very new waters.

Are there issues you feel are important to your district that the public may not know about?

I am currently unaware of any such issues. I feel that our district is pretty transparent at the moment.

How do you intend to communicate and stay in touch with the constituents you’d represent?

I will make sure that any constituents will have the ability to reach me personally, either through email, phone, or social media. I want them to feel they can speak freely and be heard and considered. As far as outward communication, I will want to communicate through approved means what actions we are taking in the district. I will also want to look for and celebrate success whenever possible.

In regards to distance learning, what is one thing you think is working? What is one thing you think could be improved?

Distance learning is essential at the moment to keep our children’s education moving forward. I think that, overall, the presentation and use of technology is working well. It has been an adjustment for all involved, for sure, but I’ve heard a lot of success stories about students, so far, meeting the assessment standards. I know some students will and have struggled, as well as parents who are juggling either multiple students and/or working full-time. The overarching goal remains to safely return to a classroom environment. In the meantime, I think the district has handled distance learning well within current restrictions by providing hardware, hot spots, technical support, and adjusting, based on feedback, when and where needed.

I do not currently have students in the district but I believe one area we might be able to improve is building in some movement and/or mindfulness activities into the school day. We are all dealing with a lot of change and uncertainty. Children may not have the skills or words to identify any stress and anxiety they could be experiencing. Movement and mindfulness can help to mitigate stress and anxiety. The Centers for Disease Control has outlined some ways to help children cope. Keeping our students engaged scholastically, I believe, would only be enhanced if we can address sources of stress and anxiety and, proactively, provide students with activities that help them build coping skills. I see that as a potential win-win-win for students, teachers and parents. 

Trustee Area 4 is a segment of the population that tends to get district attention. How will you balance representing your area and the general district population?  

I am aware that I am running as a representative of the households in my trustee area but also a part of a full board of trustees for the district. If elected, I would seek and be open to feedback from my area on any issue presented to me or to the board for consideration. I would provide that voice to the group as a whole and, of course, listen to the voices of all the other board members as representatives of their areas but, ultimately, it is as a full board that we must come to a consensus on any action or decision. My hope is that this focus on area representation increases the ability to solicit and receive feedback from our area constituents so that each area feels that voice is present in the board meetings and decisions.

 

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Patty Lopez Day

Patty Lopez Day,  has been a reporter for Benitolink since August of 2019.  A journalist and writer by trade she's had work published in print and online media throughout the Bay Area most notably La Oferta, the longest running Bi-lingual, Latino owned media outlet based in San Jose California where she started her journalism career after  graduating from UC Santa Barbara in 2005.  Born and raised in San Jose, she is now a transplant to Hollister establishing roots alongside her husband and 2 school aged children in San Benito County. Lopez Day covers mostly education, local news and  features for Benitolink and remains open to new story ideas, sources and tips on any subject matter of interest to the community at large.