Orcutt Union School District band members shouldn’t be surprised to see a high-level guest artist during their performances this year.
“I’ve been known to sit in with the bands in my district during a concert,” said Deborah Blow, new superintendent for the Orcutt Union School District and a music major. “I still have my French horn, obviously.”
Blow, 56, started July 1, coming to Orcutt after five years at the smaller Cambrian School District in San Jose.
The first day of school for most students in the Orcutt district is Wednesday, with seventh-graders at Orcutt and Lakeview Junior High schools set to show up the day before. Orcutt Academy kindergartners through eighth-graders also start Wednesday. However, Orcutt Academy High School kicked off its new school year Aug. 13.
“I’ll be excited,” Blow said about her first day of school in Orcutt.
The combination of the Orcutt district’s focus on students and strong support for arts programs lured Blow to apply for job to lead the district after former Superintendent Bob Bush retired.
“I think the first thing that attracted me to Orcutt was the logo on the website, ‘Where Kids Come First,” Blow said. “That is the most important thing to me. To have a district that puts that up front speaks to the district’s focus being where it should be.”
Her former district has five schools, with all but one being dependent charter schools, much like Orcutt Academy’s kindergarten through eighth-grade classes plus the high school. In addition to the charter schools, Orcutt has eight traditional schools.
Blow also appreciated the district’s focus on the whole child and support for arts education, including its relationship with the nonprofit Orcutt Children’s Arts Foundation.
“It’s very rare,” she said. “Unfortunately with budget cuts the arts are one of the first things to go ... I’ve been fortunate the districts in which I’ve worked have supported the arts.”
She added that she focuses giving students 21st-century skills, such as critical thinking, collaboration and innovation.
“There were some things that we were doing that we were doing with the integration of technology that I want to bring here,” Blow said.
For instance, her former district had a digital media academy in which teachers participated and then helped students make a digital video project.
One of the challenges facing expansion of the charter schools centers on the Orcutt district’s limited facilities. For instance, the charter high school uses a former elementary school campus so, along with limited space, it’s also a matter of having the right type of facility for the ninth- through 12-graders, according to Blow.
“That really is probably our No. 1 challenge,” she said.
The charter high school and charter elementary school both have waiting lists.
“They are both doing really well,” she said. “They provide a good program for the kids.”
Bush, Blow’s predecessor, spent his entire career at Orcutt schools as a teacher, principal and superintendent.
“We had an extensive search, hired a search firm to do it and they brought us several top-quality candidates so we were able to get the best of the best,” said Bob Hatch, an Orcutt school board member.
The trustees interviewed a handful of candidates for the job.
“It became apparent about midway through that she was going to be the one,” Hatch added.
Joe Dana, district director of charter programs and principal of Olga Reed Elementary School, said the new superintendent is attuned to the needs to the district.
“Her experience has her poised and ready to do a great job for all of us,” Dana said. “She is passionate about the arts and about student learning, and she has experience in so many different areas that are going to be applicable for the Orcutt Union School District.”
Blow grew up on a Wyoming cattle ranch — “that’s another thing that attracted me to Orcutt,” she said.
She and her husband, Keith, have been married 34 years. He is a consultant involved in land acquisition for energy projects.
Since arriving on the Central Coast, Blow has been busy meeting with staff and community members, especially important since she strongly believes in community partnerships.
Her former district developed partnerships with businesses, such as a semiconductor company, and she hopes to do the same in Orcutt.
“There’s a lot of opportunities,” she said.
In her month on the job, Blow said she has learned that her new district has extremely dedicated staff on the classified, certificated, administrative levels.
“I do feel Orcutt walks the talk of where kids come first,” she said. “There’s a great deal of pride in the district.”