Krystal Lomanto: A Resilient Force as Superintendent of San Benito County

Marisa Sachau reports on a county superintendent in Central Coast California, who has worked to adapt to the ever changing times of COVID-19.

Krystal Lomanto, Superintendent of Education in San Benito County, works tirelessly every day to ensure that students across rural San Benito County receive the best education in these trying times. Photo provided by Krystal Lomanto.

Hollister Native Born and Raised

Krystal Lomanto was born and raised in Hollister, California. To say that she is proud of where she is from would be an understatement. Krystal Lomanto said enthusiastically, “YES- I was born and raised here, I was educated in our local schools (Spring Grove and San Benito High School) and I am proud of that!”

Hollister is a tight knit community and really gives essence to the phrase “everybody knows everybody,” but this is what Krystal Lomanto loves. “Our community comes together during intense situations to support our own community which is incredible,” Lomanto said, a maxim which has been tested in recent months.

Mrs. Lomanto originally did not want to be an educator. Rather, she went to Fresno State to become a physical therapist. After interning in that field, she realized that she found more joy in tutoring students. “I took my science degree and added on a credential and decided to become a teacher because it was my passion,” she said. “Working with students, I got so much reward out of it.”

Lomanto has worked in education for 32 years, from being a teacher, coach, assistant principal, principal, club advisor, and eventually county superintendent.

“Education for our students is the key to our students transitioning into a successful life as an adult,” is another one of her mantras. “Supporting what students want to accomplish after high school is what we need to engage with our students for their success.”

The Next Step: County Superintendent

Lomanto decided to run for County Superintendent because she says she wanted to give help all students in San Benito County.

Currently, she is in her sixth year of being San Benito County Superintendent. and “works closely with federal legislators to ensure maximum gain for funds to provide additional service dollars for the children in San Benito County.”

Lomanto is in charge of 11 different districts in rural San Benito County with finance also under the umbrella of her job responsibilities.

Lomanto says she loves what she does because of the people, her “cabinet,” that she is surrounded by and works with every day. Photo provide by Krystal Lomanto.

An Educational System Turned Upside Down with a Gaping Digital Divide

Lomanto’s responsibilities suddenly got heavier and more chaotic with COVID-19. Schools were suddenly shut down in March with nearly 10,000 students at home with a computer as their teaching aid. Lomanto’s mind was reeling with questions of, “How do we best support our districts? How do we bring training for distance learning? How do we support the fiscal side of districts having to spend money for distance learning during now (with) a budget crisis?”

There were many unknowns and no guide book to follow. The work was constant and never-ending, such as day calls and night calls with the State Superintendent of California and with the other 57 County Superintendents.

“So, the normal work, the day in and day out that we normally engage in really shifted towards how we support the pandemic and COVID-19,” she said. “It’s actually been very intense. It’s been very emotional because we know what’s best for our students is to be in class.”

San Benito County is located in a rural part of Central Coast California. The biggest city in San Benito County is Hollister, which is where most of the public schools reside.

Connectivity became a huge issue as a result of the existing digital divide in her county.

“The county office had to figure out how we get connectivity to families that can’t afford it? And we live in a rural community, so even with hotspots that have been purchased and given to families to support them through our districts, there’re areas in San Benito County that you cannot get internet,” she said.

Internet access and connectivity has become an essential commodity that not all students can afford. “And in my opinion, it is a huge social injustice,” She said. “Every student should have connectivity. It should be a right, it shouldn’t be a privilege. And so distance learning really opened up that can of worms and realized that wow we have a huge gap.

Krystal Lomanto and her staff are still going above and beyond during COVID-19. They all worked on a booth for the annual county fair that takes place in the beginning of October. Photo provided by Krystal Lomanto.

Educators’ Work Gives Hope

Lomanto says she could not be prouder of the educators in San Benito County.

“Our teachers are doing a fantastic job and meeting the needs of our kids the best way they know how during this time,” Lomanto said.

Not only is it difficult for students to learn in a distance learning format, but for teachers to teach that way as well. The act of keeping students involved and engaged proves to be a real issue.

“It is difficult. It’s a lot of work for our teachers and our staff members,” Lomanto said.

Surprisingly, she said, some students and their families enjoy and even prefer the model of distance learning. It is safer for some families who may have family members that are more susceptible to contracting the virus and find it healthier for their children to stay at home.

Lomanto works with many other community officials in Public Health on calls each week to discuss a future plan of a safe and possible reopening of all public schools in San Benito County. This is to protect the students when they return and ensure the guidelines are up to date with the California Center for Disease Control and California Department of Public Health.

“We’re requiring six feet apart, we have staggered times so that not all of our staff is in the office at the same time, so we’re limiting the amount of people that can work at a given time. We make sure that people are wearing face coverings, (and) they sign that they are symptom free,” she said.

Employees are required to take their temperature every morning and fill out a form each week that states they do not have any symptoms of COVID-19. The number one priority is to ensure employee safety and if an employee is sick, that it will be easy to track if they were near anyone. There is also a handbook followed to ensure that all guidelines in place are followed.

“When they do walk into any one of our sites, they have to wash their hands immediately, we have cleaning supplies everywhere so every so often we do ask them if they need to wipe down their own stations. We have our custodians that are wiping down high touch areas throughout the day, so we’re following all of the guidelines that have been provided to us,” she said.

The joy on Mrs. Lomanto’s face is evident as she hopes for this type interaction with kids again soon. Photo provided by Krystal Lomanto.

Normality Far Away

When asked if she thinks she will return to her “normal” job again, she chuckled. “No, I don’t think it’s going to be soon. I am very optimistic and continue to say that we have to forge forward. I think it will take some time. I think people will feel more comfortable when there’s a vaccine. I think that, you know, the virus is still new.”

Lomanto wanted to end our interview on a hopeful note.

“San Benito County, our educational leaders, our teachers, our staff members, they’re pretty amazing and they care about kids. And we will get through it. It just may take longer than what we’d like, but I believe we’ll get through it,” she said.

Reporting by Marisa Sachau for the Reynolds Sandbox

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