Sylvester and Gill are elected to the school board

Following the results of the 2020 election, candidates Karen Sylvester and Lauren Gill were elected to the CVUSD school board in place of trustee Sandee Everett, who lost re-election, and trustee Dr. Betsy Connolly, who stated intentions to step down in 2018. 

Connolly, who has served on the board since 2008, has high hopes for the newcomers, having previously endorsed Gill. “We were hearing a campaign of criticism [before], and a lack of civility and decorum that didn’t advance anyone’s views,” Connolly explained. “Without the attacks from one dissenting board member, we’re actually going to see more daylight between different board members on different issues with productive discussions, challenging discussions and better decisions because of that.”

As such, Connolly expects the new board’s attention to go towards solving budgeting complications for the next years to come and meaningfully impacting student programs. “We need to make sure that we don’t lose ground in other areas [besides the pandemic], and that we give our students the best possible education under those circumstances,” Connolly said. 

“If I was going to offer any piece of insight that I’ve gleaned over these 12 years is to listen to the superintendent, [especially] if the superintendent says we have the capacity to do [something],” Connolly said. Oftentimes, Connolly says, board members must say no to new and great ideas as they are presented due to a lack of accommodations or resources. “I hope that this new school board keeps the dreams alive, but does so in a way that is realistic, that is sustainable, and that is within the capacity of the school district to deliver,” Connolly advised. “That doesn’t mean giving up on great ideas. It means finding ways to make them happen that doesn’t cost a lot of money or time when those two commodities are in such a short supply.”

Confident in her self-described “succession plan,” Connolly welcomes the changes. “I leave the board feeling comfortable that they are going to be able to focus on the important work,” Connolly said. “I think that they are a capable group, and I have a great deal of confidence in them.”

On Dec. 3, the Ventura County clerk reporter announced the official final results of the election, which showed that Gill had in fact defeated Everett, garnering 51.5 percent of the votes compared to Everett’s 48.4 percent.

Everett did not respond to the Prowler’s requests for comment. As of Dec. 3, Everett has not made any comments publicly regarding the election results. 

Karen Sylvester:

Sylvester was elected to represent Area 1, which encompasses Westlake Village, taking Connolly’s place on the board.

Sylvester had intended to run for the school board very early on. “I felt like I could add value to the school board, that I was the right person at the right time, and that my background would benefit and I think mesh well with the existing trustees,” Sylvester said. “It felt like the time was right, and that I could give back to a school system that served my own kids really, really well.”

Sylvester believes that the school board trustees all have different backgrounds and experiences which can bring in different perspectives into important discussions. “I think we’re on the same page on a lot of things, but have very different ways of looking at circumstances,” Sylvester said. “I really think that the collective group can make some really good changes for the school… and I look forward to making a difference and to being able to work with what I consider really a top notch team of trustees as well as administrators.”

As Sylvester developed her platform, she made inclusivity as one of her highest priorities. “I think every student should feel safe on campus, they should feel celebrated, they should feel welcomed, they should share their differences so that the students around them can also learn about the diversity out there,” Sylvester said.

Campaigning during the middle of a pandemic was a challenge for Sylvester, as life was changing drastically. “I’ve had experience with political campaigns before, but this was definitely unexpected, as it was for everybody in all walks of life. Adjusting a campaign, to meeting people, to raising money, has impacted every aspect of the campaign,” Sylvester said.

During Sylvester’s journey, she had come across students who had changed her perspective on certain matters. “What I’ve learned is there’s so many different assets, and so many different viewpoints. I’ve really appreciated getting to hear those viewpoints… From pretty early on, [I] was really impressed with all the students I met,” Sylvester said. “I love the give and take, and hearing from students.”

There are a lot of responsibilities that come along with being a school board trustee, and that is something Sylvester embraces. “I’m really looking forward to what is really the hard work, which is being a trustee on the board and looking forward to working with my fellow trustees,” Sylvester said. “I’m looking forward to making things better. So, I’m optimistic about everything. I feel good.” 

Lauren Gill

Gill is the Area 5 school board trustee-elect, which includes Newbury Park and Dos Vientos, defeating incumbent school board trustee Everett.

In recent years there has been an increase in the divide between the de facto factions in the school board. Although the positions on the school board are nonpartisan, there is a clear divide between Everett and the rest of the board members. As the years have progressed, these tensions seem to have only increased. “I do think that we’re going to heal those divisions, I think that we are going to rebuild the trust that has been damaged in this community, and repair those bonds,” Gill said.

Campaigning across area 5  has provided Gill with different opportunities to hear from all different constituents. “I have learned so much. I’m really grateful to all the people who shared with me their hopes and their concerns and their worries about our great district and how we could keep it strong and make it better,” Gill said.

The future trustee has already formed strong relationships with members of the current school board and has started a dialogue with them about pressing issues to CVUSD. “I have great relationships with all of the four who will be my fellow board members, I have worked with each and every one of them,” Gill said. “I like them very, very much as people, and I’m very respectful of the skill sets and the backgrounds and experiences that they bring to their roles.”

With the implementation of distance learning continuing throughout the semester for high school students, many are concerned over the impacts this will have on students and teachers. “The first thing is, I’m going to join with my fellow board members and the district leadership and the superintendent and our teachers to make sure that everyone is learning, to make sure that the remote models that we’ve developed are the best they can possibly be, that our blended models are working,” Gill said.

Gill narrowly won the election for school board. Over 40 percent of people in Area 5 voted for her opponent, Everett. “Those folks are my constituents, and I am here to serve them and to represent them to the absolute best of my ability. So I want to talk with them. I want to listen to their concerns. And I pledge to do my absolute best to represent their needs and the needs of their children and families as a member of the board,” Gill said.