Monday, October 15 , 2018, 3:35 pm | Fair 74º

 
 
 
 

Superintendent Gerrie Fausett to Retire from Hope School District

Fausett, at the helm during a painful restructuring phase, says the district is in 'a good place.'

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Gerrie Fausett, superintendent of the Hope Elementary School District, plans to retire at the end of the school year. She said there’s no “hidden reason” behind her decision, and that the timing is right for her to pursue other interests: attending Los Angeles Angels games and playing the cello. (Colin Macfadyen / Noozhawk photo)

Gerrie Fausett, the superintendent of the tiny but high-performing Hope Elementary School District in Santa Barbara, announced Monday that she will retire at the end of the school year.

Fausett arrived at the district in January 2005, but for decades has been a prominent educator in the Santa Barbara area. At Hope, she was charged with the high-profile task of steering the three-school system through a painful period of downsizing to ensure its fiscal solvency.

It was a rough road, one that involved shedding all of the students who transferred to the Outer-State-Street-area district from outside its boundaries. Since Fausett took the job, the district’s enrollment has fallen from 1,425 to 980.

But school board President Tony Winterbauer said the district is financially better off for it.

“Having to go down the path, and face the challenges she has had to face — it’s very tough,” he said. “She did a fantastic job. I’m definitely sorry to see her go.”

Fausett, who turns 61 this month, said she thought long and hard about her decision, but ultimately concluded that retiring this year would mean leaving on a good note.

“We’re in such a good place in the district,” she said Monday. “We finally reached that place we wanted to reach.”

For many years, the Hope district accepted transfer students with open arms because doing so was financially beneficial — California paid the district on a per-child basis. Families from Santa Barbara and Goleta flocked to the Hope district, attracted by its high test scores and strong PTAs.

By 2006, things had changed. The district’s rising property values and shrinking student base helped it generate enough money in property taxes to pay for its operations without state assistance. Put another way, Hope — owing largely to its proximity to the ultra-wealthy Hope Ranch neighborhood — now benefits financially from serving fewer students. The funding framework is known as “basic aid.”

For the district, made up of three schools — Monte Vista, Vieja Valley and the namesake Hope — last year’s switch to basic aid couldn’t have come at a better time. The enviable financial status largely insulates it from the gouging many local school districts are expecting from the state, which is trying to come to grips with a historic $40 billion budget deficit.

Fausett said she has no immediate plans for the future, other than to find more time to enjoy two of her favorite pastimes: attending Los Angeles Angels games and playing the cello.

“There’s ballparks to visit, there’s music to play, there’s islands to explore,” she said. “I’d also like to spend more time with my family, and maybe do some volunteering here and there.”

A resident of the San Roque neighborhood, Fausett was infected by a desire to teach as early as junior high school in her native Wichita, Kan. After attending Wichita State University, she landed her first teaching job in Gulf Port, Miss., where her husband, Larry, had been stationed in the Coast Guard, and “where segregation was rampant.”

The powers that be, she said, had purposefully drawn up the school district’s boundaries so that nearly all of the students at one school were white, and nearly all of the students at the other school were black.

Fausett was sent to the latter school. In the eighth-grade history class she taught, all of the students were black, save for one white boy — the son of a minister.

On one of her first days, the school was finally getting around to replacing its old sign, which read: “Gulf Port Negro School.” (She made sure to get a photo.)

“Walking into the South in the 1970s was like being in the South in the 1950s,” she said. “There were separate facilities, they just weren’t marked.”

Fausett and her husband later lit off for California, where he pursued his Ph.D. in biology and she continued her schooling in education at UCLA, and later Cal-State Northridge. (Larry Fausett eventually landed a job as the operations and maintenance manager of the Santa Barbara County Flood Control District, from which he recently retired.)

In 1982, Fausett went to work for the Santa Barbara School District, where she remained for 21 years.

From her first day in Santa Barbara, her star was ascendant. Her tenure in the Santa Barbara district included stints as a kindergarten teacher at Washington Elementary, an assistant principal at La Colina Junior High, the principal at Washington Elementary, and then the principal at Santa Barbara Junior High. When Fausett accepted the position at the Hope district in late 2004, she was serving as one of the Santa Barbara district’s three assistant superintendents.

As for her musical prowess, that started early, too. Fausett began playing the cello in third grade, at the public school she attended. The notion sounds quaint these days in California, where music education has become a luxury.

“In Kansas, they figured out that that really is a part of developing an individual,” she said. “I wish I’d been able to put in some sort of an instrumental music program. That would really have been a ‘wow’ kind of thing to have.”

Fausett used to play in the Santa Barbara City College orchestra, but the rigors of her career eventually robbed her of that outlet. Once retired — her last official day will be June 30 — she hopes to regain it.

During her four-year stay at the Hope district, her salary increased from $122,000 to $132,000.

In addition to bringing the district into basic aid, Fausett said she’s proud of the improvement shown by the district’s relatively small proportion of poor students, the majority of them Latino. Had any of the schools failed to boost the scores of that demographic, they would have been labeled a failing school by the federal government under the No Child Left Behind law, stellar overall test scores notwithstanding.

Fausett said she’s also proud of a new program spearheaded by faculty and parents at Hope school, in which every student in grades four through six receives a laptop computer to take home for the year, with an option to purchase it.

“All of our students need to be ready for the 21st century, given the wealth of information out there,” she said.

Because of the tasks she faced, Fausett was sometimes a controversial leader. During her first few months on the job, she rotated the school’s three principals, sparking fervent protests from parents. She also took heat from parents who were upset about having to leave the district. Through it all, she was supported by the school board.

Looking back, Fausett said the dirty jobs needed to be done, although she added that it wasn’t easy. “We miss those families, but we had to do it — I had to do it,” she said.

Asked whether her departure has anything to do with how the board recently swore in two new members (Chad Prentice and Chris Gallo), both Fausett and Winterbauer gave an emphatic no.

“I think Gerrie is truly a professional,” said Winterbauer, who was elected to the board in November 2006. “She understood what needed to be done. … It’s tough to see her go. It wouldn’t have been our choice, but we definitely know this is what she wants for her family, and we respect that.” 

Fausett, the mother of a 25-year-old son, said there is no “hidden reason” behind her decision.

“This is just taking a good, hard, long look at where is the district, what’s best for the district and where am I,” she said. “Like I said, I got ballparks to visit and music to play. Life is short.”

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