Since being elected in 2018 as a trustee for the Newport-Mesa Unified School District, improving school safety and academic performance have been key concerns of Michelle Barto. But any advances in those areas, she said, were interrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Now that things are returning to normal, Barto, who has four children in the district’s schools, is seeking re-election to her seat in the upcoming November election in the hope she can restart those priorities.
“We started to do some good things and make some gains for academic achievement pre-COVID-19 … but got derailed in what we were doing in 2020. Recently, I feel like we’re finally able to continue those good things that we started to do four years ago,” Barto told The Epoch Times.
If re-elected, Barto said she would build on the initiatives she’s already begun, including improving school safety and expanding access to student technology.
Barto said one of her main priorities is to continue making academic improvements, which would include bringing advanced math and reading programs to classrooms.
School sites across the district have been conducting various pilot programs for math and for reading, Barto said, adding that she wants “students who are achieving at a high level to have knowledge that there are resources available for them, and students who are struggling to understand that there are resources for them and they’re not just working on their own.”
She said she began this endeavor in 2018 but was interrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic shutdowns, which then exacerbated learning loss in students.
“Let’s focus on [student performance] and get those [academic] gains that we were looking for,” previously, Barto said. “Having well-educated citizens is one of the most important things you can do for your community and for your country. And being able to improve on what we learned from COVID-19 is a chance I want to be part of for the future.”
Barto said when classrooms went remote during the COVID-19 pandemic, the district learned that a significant number of students did not have access to wi-fi.
“We knew about 41 percent of students were dependent on our school district for things like food, but it was eye-opening to discover how many students didn’t have access to resources at home to help them learn,” she said.
Barto said she’d like to improve communication and engagement with parents to better understand the issues students face at home, and then work to expand resources.
In addition, she said she would continue to improve student safety—a key promise she made in her 2018 campaign.
Going forward, Barto said she’d like to install security cameras on campuses, as well as redesign some school entrances to have a single entry point to “make sure that the people who are on campus are supposed to be there, and that the people who aren’t supposed to be on campus are not there.”
In addition, Barto said she’d like to negotiate with both Newport Beach and Costa Mesa police departments to allocate more student resource officers to campuses.
Currently, there are only six officers who rotate between the district’s 32 campuses.
Barto also sits on the board of Pretend City Children’s Museum, the Coastline Regional Occupation Program, Orange County School Board’s Association, Harbor Council PTA, National Charity League Newport Chapter, and the Balboa Bay Club Board of Governors.
Her endorsements include Orange County Sheriff Don Barnes, the Republican Party of Orange County, former state Assemblyman Scott Baugh, and a majority of the Newport Beach city council.
She is running against Reina Shebesta for Trustee Area 5, which represents the communities of Newport Beach’s peninsula and Newport Heights.