Spending his whole life in Pescadero, 19-year-old Humberto Perez carved out a reputation as someone always willing to help out. When anyone around the school needed a Spanish translator, Perez was the go-to guy. When teachers needed someone for a quick errand, they trusted Perez. And when a coach needed an extra player to fill out a team, he was always willing to step up.
But last month school officials approached the teenager with a more serious request. Would he be willing to help run the La Honda-Pescadero Unified School District?
The South Coast school district has long faced difficulties attracting and retaining governing board members. In recent months, two board members resigned from their posts, leading the district to seek others in the community who could fill those seats. One of those resigned members, Andy LaGow, made a call to Perez - the kid he used to drive to soccer practice - suggesting the 19-year-old consider joining the governing board.
Perez wasn't sure what to think at first.
"I was trying to think of what it would encompass, what was included in the job," he said. "I thought maybe I could bring a different point of view."
Perez wrote a letter of interest to the school district last month, and as the only candidate for the position, the school board unanimously accepted him.
Now just one year after completing his K-12 education, the 19-year-old is in a newfound position of authority over his former teachers, principals and coaches. That means countless hours of meetings, balancing a $4.2 million district budget, and providing leadership for teachers who remember him sitting in their classrooms.
It's a big role, Perez admits, and he will have to learn the ropes as he goes.
"I haven't really gotten any training," he said, shrugging. "And it's a lot of info to take in at once."
Being a school board member is arguably the most difficult public role on the South Coast. The school district is the only governing body in the larger Pescadero area with actual political power, but elected school trustees have few easy decisions, particularly during budget season. Right now, the district is considering staffing and program pullbacks as it anticipates state education cuts.
Sitting in his third school board meeting on Thursday, Perez played the role of the new kid in class, tacitly listening as Superintendent Amy Wooliever delivered the latest numbers on the district budget. On one vote, he needed to be reminded to just say "aye" or "no."
School administrators say they're delighted that Perez is returning to help his old district, especially when many teenagers are anxious to get out of Pescadero upon graduation.
"He's always been such a helpful person," Wooliever said. "If I ever need anything, a translator, someone to run the sound system, he was there to help."
"He's young, but I don't care," seconded La Honda Elementary School Principal Kristen Lindstrom, who formerly taught Perez. "He's our success story."
Through his school years, Perez says he was a good, "but not great," student. He was better known for being active in a wide array of activities on campus and in the community. He was involved in student government, the Model U.N. club and he played baseball and soccer through all his years at Pescadero High School. His senior year, he also joined the basketball team. Coincidentally, his final project was done on philanthropy.
Taking on the duties of a school board member won't be easy for Perez. He is currently enrolled at San Francisco State University as a full-time student. As a business administration major, he hopes serving on the school board will complement his college education, and vice versa.
"I always enjoyed playing with numbers," he said, noting how different a high school economics course was from a real working organization budget.
Age isn't the only thing that separates Perez from his new colleagues on the school board. As the son of migrant farm workers, Perez could give a new perspective for the district's large Hispanic population, which constitutes about half its student body.
Perez is the first Hispanic school board member in years at the La Honda-Pescadero district, noted board president Andy Wilson.
"I've squirmed for years being at a district with five Anglos serving a district that's half Hispanic," he said.
He lives with his family in worker housing at Bianchi Farms, where his father is employed. His mother works at Bay City Flower Company and the Ritz-Carlton, Half Moon Bay.
Even though he is already swamped being a full-time college student and school board member, Perez also works about 20 hours a week as a clerk at Arcangeli Grocery in downtown Pescadero. He says he can handle the schedule.
Being on the school board, even just for a matter of weeks, has already given him a new appreciation for the tough choices involved with being in charge.
"It's a different perspective, being on the board than being a student," he said. "It's easy to criticize decisions, but not see what went into them."