Child welfare professional, and district parent, participated in his first board meeting on Oct. 4

ATASCADERO — On Wednesday, Sept. 28, the Atascadero Unified School District (AUSD) held a special Board of Trustees meeting to fill the vacancy left on the board when trustee Mary Kay Mills resigned. Her resignation took effect on Sept. 1, leaving a two-year term on her vacated seat. Mills’ term will expire in November 2024. On Sept. 28, Matthew Pennon was selected to fill the open two-year term as AUSD’s newest trustee.

“Only the four printed questions, which the candidates will see, will be asked by the trustees. And unlike possibly private interviews that people have gone through before, there’s not going to be follow-up questions,” said Superintendant Tom Butler at the start of the meeting.

All eight of the evening’s candidates then went up alphabetically to draw numbers and determine their order for the interviews. They were then escorted out of the room but told that once their interview was done, they could choose to stay and watch the remaining candidates.


“We will interview the candidates in open session. The candidates are: Dwayne Burbach, Chris Collins, Howard Gillingham, Matthew Pennon, Rebekah Koznek, Deborah McKrell, John Patrick, and Erin Stehli,” said Trustee President Terrie Switzer.

Each candidate had a total of 15 minutes to answer the four questions presented by the trustee board. 

The questions were:

  1. As a school board trustee, tell us how you would see yourself either philosophically or through your experiences contributing to the Atascadero Unified School District.
  2. What do you see as the strengths of the district, and what do you see as an area for improvement?
  3. What is your understanding of the role of the school board?
  4. If you could change one thing about Atascadero Unified School District, what would it be?

Collins brought 34 years of teaching experience. Pennon, a child welfare professional for the last eight years, said he would like to spend weekly time on each school campus getting to know students, teachers, and administrators.

“I feel very clearly that our students should have a voice in what is happening in their education,” added Pennon in his interview.

Patrick stated he had a Doctorate of Education and Organizational Leadership. Stehli, a mother in the district, presented her knowledge of Pre-K education. Burbach, who has been on multiple boards in the community, also put his hat in the ring. Koznek, an AUSD parent, complimented the board on how well they worked together and said she’d like to be a part of that. McKrell has volunteered for the last 13 years at five different AUSD schools. Gillingham, who has been a teacher, principal, and dean of discipline, also showed up to apply for the open seat.

The current trustee board stated their top two candidates, and Collins and Pennon collectively got the most votes. Every member of the board addressed the candidates, stating how difficult they had made the decision. 

Trustee George Shoemaker made a motion to accept Pennon as AUSD’s next board trustee, and he was appointed in a 4-2 vote and began his trustee duties at the Oct. 4 AUSD meeting after taking his trustee oath of office at 5:45 p.m., before the evening’s closed session.

“I’m extremely excited. I am really looking forward to the work that is to be done in the future,” stated Pennon. “I know my commitment to all the students within the district is solid, and I’m just excited that I have the opportunity to get to know more of the community, more of our students, more of our teachers, administrators, and I look forward to the next two years.”

Pennon and his husband moved to Atascadero two years ago with their three children, who all attend school within the AUSD.