It has been a year of change for the Santa Barbara Unified School District, with Superintendent Dave Cash at the helm for its first year as a K-12 combined district.
When he was hired last year, Cash made it his mission to meet the needs of each student, streamline the district’s operations and bring the technology plan into the 21st century. Heading into his second year, he also presided over a balanced budget with minimal program cuts and helped hire new principals and administrators, with the vision to focus the district’s efforts on classroom instruction and each student’s education — with every other employee supporting that goal.
In his words: “Every child, every chance, every day.”
Cash and many others have embraced technology as a way to help move from lecture-based learning to individualized instruction.
“There’s no such thing as a homogenous classroom,” he said. “That’s probably the most important thing we can do as an organization — give our teachers the tools, the skills to be able to deliver that in the classroom so our kids get what they need.”
Alternative education programs have already figured this out, with multiple ways to teach the same subject, Cash said, and those teachers will make great teachers for comprehensive educators in the district.
Local schools offer online-only credit recovery for students trying to graduate on time and even a few online courses for electives that weren’t popular enough to fill an entire class.
The challenge lies in funding them. The state doesn’t pay for the alternative education programs the same way it does brick and mortar schools, according to Cash, who also sits on the California K-12 High-Speed Network Advisory Board.
“The state has made it not impossible, but very difficult for districts to do what everyone knows they need to do: offer more of them,” Cash said.
There is legislation in the works that would change the funding model, and Cash said he intends to move forward with a robust selection of core and elective classes next year, so students can learn in an online environment.
The infrastructure is mostly in place, as classroom technology has made a transformation in the past year, with wireless capabilities installed at every school — thanks to general obligation bond measure money — and flat screen TV-Apple/TV-iPad systems for teachers, replacing projectors and white boards. Installation has moved quickly, with about 100 classrooms done and 80 to 100 more put in over the summer.
“This will be really important for schools like Harding University Partnership School, which will hopefully get authorized as an International Baccalaureate school,” Cash said. “That access to the world is an integral part of the IB Primary Years Program.”
Cash said he expects a 1:1 computing roll-out program — a device for each student — to be under way within the next two years, though it’s unclear how it would be funded.
“It’s not necessarily about the device, what it can do or what it will be able to do, but the belief that everyone in the system is a learner,” he said.
Looking back on this year, Cash said the biggest challenge has been organization, or lack thereof. There aren’t comprehensive systems or protocols in place for many tasks, such as hiring, promoting, training and evaluating employees.
His team plans to streamline the operation and pursue a “grow your own” program to encourage young people with family in town to come back and teach in the district, with clear pathways for teachers who want to become administrators.
To help with that is Cash’s new administrative team, including McKinley Elementary Principal Emilio Handall and Clovis West High School Principal Ben Drati as assistant superintendents of the elementary and secondary schools, replacing three longtime administrators.
“I think it’s a better structure, not only as a cost-savings measure but for schools, because someone is intimately familiar with what’s happening in the classrooms,” Cash said.
Handall will oversee the 10 elementary and charter schools, while Drati will manage the eight junior high and high schools.
“Ben Drati is one of the most successful high school principals in California — look at the work he’s done there,” Cash said. “It’s the same with Emilio. He’s extraordinarily successful, he moved McKinley out of program improvement, and I think it’s poised to take the next step to be one of the highest academically achieving schools in our county.”
They both started moving into their offices and are ready to start work in July.
“Our personalities, philosophies and backgrounds mesh well,” said Handall, who grew up in Santa Barbara and is bicultural and bilingual. “We all have different perspectives at this level, and have a different eye we can bring to the education experience to ensure all children and all families feel the system is as robust and resourceful to them as it is to others.”
Handall said he wants to improve outreach and support to families and has been prepared for tough questions by his relatives, since family members have attended McKinley.
“At barbecues and parties, they ask hard questions and don’t let you blow smoke. … You can’t hide when you live in this community; you have to go to the grocery store, to Home Depot,” Handall said.
Drati, who moved his family from Fresno in late June, said he is grateful for more than the coast’s moderate temperatures. He and Cash worked together for the Clovis Unified School District before Cash came back to the Santa Barbara district last year.
“I’m excited to work here,” Drati said. “All the innovative ideas and the energy of the district is really contagious.”
Also joining the ranks is Margaret Christensen, the new assistant superintendent of human resources, who worked with Cash at Dos Pueblos High School when he was principal. Most recently, she worked in Green Bay, Wis., in the human resources department.
Six schools will welcome new principals in the fall, with many internal promotions or transfers:
» Cleveland Elementary School — Cynthia White, former director of curriculum and categorical programs, will replace Michael Vail, who is retiring.
» Harding University Partnership School — SBUSD is still searching for a replacement after Principal Sally Kingston left to become director of the Carpinteria Unified School District’s College Bound Program.
» McKinley Elementary — Tia Blickley, a Washington Elementary teacher, will replace Emilio Handall, who is becoming the assistant superintendent for elementary education.
» Peabody Charter School — Demian Barnett, Washington Elementary’s principal, will replace interim principal Dana Sadan.
» Washington Elementary — Anne Hubbard, a former assistant principal for Paso Robles and Cupertino middle schools, will become the new principal to replace Barnett.
» La Cuesta Continuation High School — Principal Kathy Abney is staying on to volunteer for two years while she helps the school, and assistant principal Frann Wageneck, prepare for the transition to a new leader.
» Open Alternative School — SBUSD is still searching for a new principal for OAS.