Mike Snellings has not been on the Yucaipa-Calimesa school board for very long. It’s been long enough, however, to earn the respect of his peers, who elected him to take over as board president for the next year.
“I was humbled by it, but also excited,” said Snellings, who was appointed to the board in July 2019 before winning his district seat for a four-year term in the November election. “It’s a new challenge for me. I have not been a board president before.”
Snellings became the board president at the monthly meeting in December, when the annual reorganization takes place. Longtime trustee Patty Ingram, who just completed a year as board president, was voted as clerk.
“It really didn’t matter to me whether I became board president or not because anybody on that board is capable of being board president,” said Snellings, who is the trustee for Area 2, which includes portions of middle and lower Yucaipa and most of the Chapman Heights area.
As with most things related to schools, the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic are Snellings’ biggest concerns right now.
“I think right now it is just helping navigate through the crisis that we are in, the pandemic. That is the primary thing that is on our plate right now,” Snellings said. “It is something that I think about every day because obviously there is nothing positive about students not being in school and there are a lot of ramifications about them being at home.”
Of course, students returning to in-person learning has to be balanced with health and safety concerns.
“We want to make sure that our staff and our students are safe and not everybody feels safe right now,” he said. “We have to reconcile that and recognize that and be thoughtful about our decisions.
“Obviously, our primary responsibility is to educate kids and we want them to be in classrooms with teachers and develop those relationships, but we have to be thoughtful about the safety of our staff and of our students.”
The Yucaipa-Calimesa Joint Unified School District did apply for a waiver to reopen campuses to elementary students in mid-November with the San Bernardino County Department of Public Health. However, positive cases in the county were rising and the waiver was denied a few weeks later.
In order to try to get some students back on campus, the board approved in December moving forward with the option of small cohorts for special needs students.
Small cohorts are groups of no more than 14 students and two adults who meet for targeted support and intervention services. They are in addition to distance learning. While many details remained to be worked out, the cohorts were targeted to begin at the end of January.
Besides the academic issues associated with distance learning, Snellings is worried about the emotional impact it is having on children.
“I am really concerned about our kids right now. I have nieces and nephews right now and a grandson, who are at home, and it is not easy,” he said. “They are not really being stimulated and socializing ... I am really concerned about the social-emotional piece, the fallout from where we are right now.”
Before his appointment to the school board, Snellings had a long career in education. He retired in 2018 from his position as assistant superintendent of Educational Services with the Colton Joint Unified School District. He remains an adjunct professor of Education at the University of Redlands.
However, he was familiar with the Yucaipa-Calimesa school district because all three of his children went through the district, from kindergarten to 12th grade.
“I have lived in the district 34 to 35 years,” he said. “I have a real sense of what the community represents and what it needs.”
His experience in education and his knowledge of the community gives Snellings a unique perspective that he brings to the board.
“I don’t believe that just because I am an educator that makes me a better board member,” he said. “I have been able to take those experiences, I think, and mold an attitude and an approach where I am supportive of the district, I will ask questions when necessary, but I know not to get involved in the day-to-day stuff. That is not my job.”
The district’s next board meeting is Jan. 26. For more information, visit yucaipaschools.com