The race for the San Benito High School board

In the past few years, San Benito High School District has
changed superintendents, changed principals and now will see a
change in its school board with the Nov. 2 election.
Hollister – In the past few years, San Benito High School District has changed superintendents, changed principals and now will see a change in its school board with the Nov. 2 election.

Board Trustee Stephen Hailstone will not run for re-election leaving one seat vacant. The other open seat presently belongs to Board President Shelley Donati, who is up for re-election. With two seats up for grabs, and three candidates, all with strong ties to the high school, Superintendent Jean Burns Slater said regardless of whose elected, she’s confident SBHSD will have a qualified board.

“These are all very knowledgeable individuals and all three have been very active at the school, including attending board meetings,” she said. “We’ll have a board member who is qualified, no question about it.”

Incumbent Donati, retired Human Resources director and 24 year veteran of SBHSD Evelyn Muro and Parent Ray Rodriguez each have different backgrounds and ideas for the future.

Shelly Donati

As the president of San Benito High School District’s board of trustees, Shelley Donati believes her work at the school isn’t done yet.

“My main thing is to really continue to look at what the needs of the community are,” she said.

Unlike her competitors, Donati, 30, doesn’t have children at SBHS and she’s never been an employee of the district. Her experience in education lies in being a programs coordinator for Stockton Unified School District, and in the past she worked with the San Benito County Office of Education. Born and raised in Hollister, Donati attended SBHS. After college and a few years of teaching English as a second language classes in Spain, Donati came back to her hometown and began working with grant programs.

Now at Stockton Unified, Donati commutes from her home in Hollister, and works on a program that focuses on students going to college. The program is geared toward students who are the first generation of their families to go to college. One of Donati’s goals for the future is to bring some of those ideas to SBHS.

“It’s very intimidating if you haven’t done it before,” Donati said about applying to college. “Sometimes there is a language barrier and the program we’re working with helps students and families build a comfort level.”

As a board member, Donati said she has also helped families and students at SBHS build better relationships with the school. During the past few years, the school has built teams that consist of a vice principal, a counselor and a discipline administrator that follow a class of students throughout the four years of high school.

“It’s a great team atmosphere,” she said. “By working with the same four people over time, they develop a good relationship.”

Two other programs Donati helped see through are the adult high school diploma program, and helping the school to add an independent studies, she said.

“By adding programs like these we’re acknowledging that not every student fits into the mold,” she said.

Donati believes you have to re-evaluate the school each year, and that things have to be taken one year at a time.

“High school is a challenging time for kids,” she said. “We need to continue to look at what we have that’s working well and what’s not, and take the opportunity to work on them.”

Watch for future stories on candidates in other school board races in San Benito County.

Evelyn Muro

Right after Evelyn Muro, former director of human resources for San Benito High School District, retired last June, she decided it was impossible for her to stay away.

“I realized right after that I still wanted to be a part of things, and now that I am retired, I have the time for the commitment,” she said. “I have a passion about helping students, and it has been such a pleasure working with all of them at the high school.”

Muro, 58, who has been in education for 30 years, 24 of which were at SBHS, has been a teacher, an administrator and everything in between. She is proud of the progress SBHS has made over the years, and if elected, Muro said she’d like to help develop a vision for the future of the school.

“The school is a reflection of the community, and as the community begins to grow again so will the high school,” she said. “We have a responsibility to the students today and those of the future, to make sure they get a quality education.”

And as the campus continues to grow, another concern for Muro is student safety.

“If you do not have a safe campus, your teachers can’t teach and your students can’t learn,” she said. “Safety on campus is something we have been working on over the past few years, and I think there is still a need to provide consistent consequences and timely, equitable enforcements.”

Muro feels she has a well-rounded background to be a board member, because of her long history in education and hands on experience in the classroom.

“It’s a tremendous advantage to have been a teacher,” she said. “Throughout the years, I have had the opportunity to observe teachers in the classroom, supervise dances and do brunch duty.”

Although board members are required to set goals and establish policy, Muro said no matter what a board member’s stance on the issues is, they should always be thinking about the student’s best interest.

“The students have to always remain our No. 1 priority,” she said. “There are very few of us who can’t say that sometime in our life when no one was there for us, a teacher was, or that a teacher didn’t encourage us in some way.”

Watch for future stories on candidates in other school board races in San Benito County.

Ray Rodriguez

A father of seven, with a freshman and a senior at San Benito High School, Ray Rodriguez, 43, deals with local school districts on a daily basis. But with two children presently attending the high school and two more to go, Rodriguez feels the timing is right to become a board member, and work on issues he feels go unnoticed.

“I think there is a group of people out there who are very pleased with the school and their child’s success, but I think there are also those who are not,” Rodriguez said. “Growing up in a family of educators, I always felt everyone was there for the good of the student and their education, but over time I’ve sort of lost faith in that myself.”

Rodriguez, hopes to be a conduit for members of the community who don’t feel like their voices are being heard at SBHS. Along with being a science and engineering associate at Stanford University, Rodriguez makes time to be at every board meeting, reinstated the Baler Education Foundation and has been on the superintendent’s advisory panel for two years.

“I want to make sure our school is serving all sectors of the population in a fair way,” he said.

One of the ways Rodriguez thinks this can be accomplished, is by putting resources where they’re needed most.

“We need to look at who is scoring low on testing, and put our resources in helping them,” he said. “We have a lot of AP classes, but those students aren’t the ones struggling.”

A major concern of Rodriguez’s is the success rate of the students. He believes the school is responsible for coming up with a plan to find students who fall through the cracks or leave SBHS for whatever reason, see what is causing it, and get them back on track.

“When you think about it, when the students get to the high school, they spend more time here then they do with their parents,” Rodriguez said. “Forty-two percent of Hispanic males who started at San Benito High School are lost by graduation, and I don’t think those numbers are acceptable. I have four boys, and that data tells me that two of them won’t graduate high school. The district needs to develop a long-term strategy to fix this.”

Rodriguez has been actively working with SBHSD Superintendent Jean Burns Slater to align SBHS curriculum with San Andreas Continuation High School, so that students have a chance to return and graduate.

“The success rate of our students is the No. 1 issue,” he said.

Watch for future stories on candidates in other school board races in San Benito County.

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