Christopher Erik Mattson

Christopher Erik Mattson is one of nine candidates vying for three spots on the Bonita Unified School District Governing Board. Photo: Rommel Alcantara

What inspired you to run for School Board?
Primarily, for me, I think it’s a matter of timing and opportunity. I’ve always envisioned myself getting more involved, but it’s never really been practical until now. With COVID now, and being able to work from home, one, I’m realizing that my kids don’t really need me that much anymore, and, two, there are things I’ve always wanted to do, and now I have more time to do those things. When Matthew Lyons resigned from the board, that kind of planted a seed, and I thought “Oh, wow. That is something I feel like I can offer quite a bit to.” Then I learned that Diane Koach was retiring, and that was kind of the tipping point in terms of me getting interested in this role. Particularly Diane Koach–my kids have won awards with arts contests and festivals, so I’ve seen and met Diane many times through the arts. And obviously, I’ve seen Matthew Lyons in school board meetings. Those were the two I identified the most with, and I appreciated the work they did, so all of a sudden seeing that they were not going to be part of the board anymore, and seeing that I was going to have so much more time to do things with, that kind of inspired me to go for this. I now have the time to do it, and I have the knowledge, the experience, and the education. I’m well-versed in it and read a lot on my own as it is, and that’s really what inspired me to give this a shot.

What experience do you have that would make you a good board member?
I’m fluent and experienced when it comes to organizational change and leadership when it comes to education.

Ultimately in regards to being a board member for this district, I realize I’m not from this district; I didn’t grow up here. Very few people know me here because I haven’t been here that long. However, I’ve lived in many different places and I understand how education and organizations work. I also don’t have any biases or favorites, or favors that friends might be expecting. I don’t have any agendas. My only agenda is helping Bonita Unified become the best school district it can be. When it comes to the people who do know me, I trust that they know that I am able to do this. To that extent, with the district voting now on new voices in the school board, I have a lot to offer when it comes to different perspectives, and I am someone who is very versed in education. 

The purpose of our schools is to help students learn how to learn, become quality citizens, and prepare them for life after school. Far too often, people fail to see and connect things to the big picture. I’m experienced when it comes to analyzing and evaluating how practices and behaviors align with or deviate from the mission. When something can be done better, I detail why and how, and then push for it. As a board member, I would do my best to keep the board focused on our primary purposes.

What do you think we can do to keep our students safe and savvy in a more digital and technological environment?
Considering the aim to help students learn how to learn, becoming internet savvy is essential. Our students must learn how to identify trustworthy, fact-based, minimally-biased information. Our many technological devices have decreased our ability to sustain active reading and focus. Our students will need to learn how to manage their devices responsibly, while also understanding how to use them for learning, training, and retraining. Their adult lives will require these skills. If they do not learn how to control their technology, the technology will control them.

What milestones would need to be reached in order for you to be comfortable with schools reopening and staying open?
First of all, we need to accept that things can change quickly (for better and worse). We also typically know far less than we think we know. With this in mind, we must continue to gather and evaluate state and county guidelines. Ideally, we fully move from the purple to red tier, then orange, and then yellow. Aside from current plans for returning special needs students and waiver opportunities for TK-2 students, each progressive tier change will allow our district to consider more options.

In my opinion, every time more options approach availability (or the opposite), there should be communication with BUSD teachers and staff. From there, we should strive to identify possible options to share with families. I believe in flexibility and a reasonable array of choices. I realize some families and teachers will prefer to continue with online schooling. Each teacher, class/subject, and grade level deserve individual consideration. I will be perfectly fine with some classes continuing online longer than others. I also expect there might be pressure from the community, perhaps when it comes to opening elementary school classrooms. Prior to the end of the first trimester (at the latest), I hope our district seeks out updated feedback from families of elementary students (if not all students) to find out who is open to having their students return to a hybrid model, with aims for continuing to a more fully opened format. At the same time, it should be communicated that any type of opening (or the opposite) would be reliant on state and county guidelines, as well as local guidance that might emerge. This information could then be shared with teachers and staff as the district further examines possible options.

Essentially, each step forward (or back) requires communication, collaboration, critical thinking, a little bit of creativity, and a lot of consideration. Working together is the only way we get through this safely and responsibly. Throughout the entire process, I will push for methods that help people feel informed, supported, and valued.

What other top issues do you care about?
Critical thinking, communication, collaboration, creativity (the 4Cs), and consideration are all important to me. Rather than preparing students for the challenges we face as adults, we need to prepare students for the challenges they will face. 

I want to remain open to change and encourage others to do the same. Change is hard enough as it is, but I want to be open to listening to others who work in the district. I understand people are having and generating ideas that they feel they need to share. I definitely believe that we can help each other by collaborating, communicating, and sharing reasons for the changes that we want to make, while also creating flexible options when possible. I know that the pandemic is impacting so many people differently, that if we’re not developing options and flexibility where we can reasonably do it, we’re more likely to push people away, and have them feel that decisions are being made without them being considered – and that’s the last thing I want. I want people to understand why the decisions are made and that various options, when possible, are in consideration of everyone involved. 

What is an interesting fact about yourself that your supporters may not already know?
I’m very much an introvert. Related to that, even though I have experience with public speaking and the like, I want people to know that I typically do not stand up or speak up or draw any attention to myself, unless I feel very confident that I am doing it with purpose and with the goal of helping others. 

I’d also like to share that I had multiple operations as a very young child to remove a cholesteatoma from my left ear. This left me essentially deaf in that ear. As a result, I was told I would never be allowed to join the military or anything of the like. Detecting where sounds come from is a hassle (locating which smoke detector is beeping with a low battery in the middle of the night is torture), swimming was discouraged because of my risk of infection, and roller coasters and most all amusement park rides = Yuck! I also needed speech therapy. On the plus side though, all of this helped me learn how people perceive and understand the world differently based on ability, experiences, biases, and everything else. I also realized my disability was difficult for others to detect, and I tried to keep it hidden for the longest time. Occasionally, someone would whisper in my deaf ear or talk on my bad side. Instead of letting them know, I’d pretend I could hear. Pretending in real life is not sustainable though, and I finally accepted who I was, and that insight made it easier for me to help others. As an adult with many years of education and experience assisting college students, I’m very aware how people have various parts of their identity (some visible, some not, some conflicted). Opening up for a meaningful conversation requires vulnerability and trust. Within our district, I’d like to nurture a culture where meaningful conversations happen (no matter our differences).

Interviews were edited for clarity.

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