Speaking with more candor than usual, members of the Santa Barbara Unified School District’s Board of Education held a meeting Monday morning to evaluate themselves.
In the first year with the evaluation tool and a new superintendent, board members rated themselves generally well but had some areas of concern.
The workshop was moderated by education leader Rudy Castruita, who said the board is professional and presents a united front to the community.
“When boards stay together and have systemic, continual support, districts tend to do extremely well,” Castruita said.
There will be some changeover next year, though; board member Ed Heron is running for re-election, but Annette Cordero and Susan Deacon have said they don’t plan to run for another term. Members Kate Parker and Monique Limon have another two years left on their terms.
Board members said they want to keep their focus on student success and rated themselves well in that regard, but admitted there are a lot of distractions from the budget, facilities projects or other issues outside of the classroom. From a scale of one to five, board members rated themselves below a four only in a few categories, showing they want to improve.
Most of all, the board wants to work on communicating its vision and encouraging public engagement.
It’s something that’s often pointed out as an area for improvement in consultant reports, such as evaluations from the Fiscal Crisis & Management Assistance Team, and stakeholder group feedback.
Superintendent Dave Cash has told Noozhawk that he wants to create a comprehensive communication plan, with more public engagement events for parents and information available for the general public.
The district’s website is regularly updated, and schools have their own sites for distributing information, but board meetings and other district-organized events — such as the drug detection dog demonstrations — are often poorly attended or have the same handful of interested people come each time.
The strategic plan will be completed in a few months, which clearly states the district’s priorities, but Castruita urged board members to clearly articulate their goals without waiting for that.
Cash agreed, saying there is a lot of misinformation out there, pointing to the parcel tax campaign and the budgeting process in particular.
In the same vein, board members said they want to provide more opportunities for people to express their concerns, whether to the board, a principal or teacher. They all share concerns about disenfranchised people, those who are not being heard or are not willing to speak up. Limon noted that some opinions tend to carry more weight than others, especially in the past.
Cordero said that although district documents and meetings are translated into Spanish, the televised broadcasts of Board of Education meetings are not. She said translation may allow participation, but it doesn’t encourage it among Spanish-speaking parents or community members.
Holding meetings at schools more often, instead of the district office, could help with participation, members suggested.
Internal communication has been a problem as well, and board members reported a huge improvement since Cash took over. Since he was hired last year, the board has been involved in more professional development trainings and learned to delegate staff-related issues to Cash, as it should be, Castruita noted.
Cash’s evaluation was done in closed session after Monday morning’s meeting, but board members lauded his communication skills and involvement with staff members at every level. Notably, under Cash’s predecessor, Brian Sarvis, teachers were hired without being seen giving a lesson, while Cash interviews all new staff members and makes prospective teachers give demonstration lessons.
He has also hired an entirely new management team for next year, which includes assistant superintendent of secondary education Ben Drati, assistant superintendent of elementary education Emilio Handall and assistant superintendent of human resources Margaret Christensen.