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Monday, February 18 , 2019, 9:03 pm | Fair 49º


Montecito Union School District Hoping for Fresh Start Under New Administration

Three new leaders take the helm in the wake of a contentious reshuffling

Montecito Union School District students and parents will be introduced to a new administration as classes resume this week.

Superintendent Tammy Murphy, Chief Academic Officer Nick Bruski and Dean of Students Dave Williams took over the reigns of the one-school district this summer during a reshuffling that has left the Montecito community divided.

“This situation is incredibly painful for the whole community,” school board member Dr. Bob Nagy said. “Hopefully [the community] will give [Murphy] a fresh start. If people see her as someone picked by the evil board, I don’t see us moving forward.”

With the retirement of former Superintendent Dick Douglas, the school board hired consulting firm School Services of California to conduct a review of the district’s administrative structure. The consultant’s recommendation and the subsequent new strategic plan for the district led to the firing of Principal Kris Bergstrom.

Bergstrom received a show of support upon her departure, with students, parents, teachers and alumni presenting her with three awards for excellent service.

The principal’s former duties will be divided between the dean of students and the chief academic officer. Williams will handle student discipline and school logistics, and Bruski will work on curriculum and faculty development. Nagy said the school board made the decision to divide the duties because there were two people doing many duties instead of specializing in a few.

“It’s the urgent vs. the important,” Bruski said. “Those constantly distract you from being in the classroom and helping teachers master the craft.”

Principals usually handle Bruski’s new duties, but the day-to-day operations of the school have forced administrators to put them off to focus on things that need immediate attention, he said. Bruski is the former principal of Rio Roslaes Elementary in Oxnard, which was recognized as a California Distinguished School in 2006.

Williams, a former computer technology teacher, already has been handling ordering test booklets and textbooks for 20 years, so the decision to name him dean of students was natural, Nagy said.

“If you have three administrative people, it’s good to have someone with a historical background (of the school),” he said.

Murphy had no intention of leaving the Ross School District, also a one-school district, in Northern California after being superintendent for five years. Then she heard from two close friends, Douglas and former San Marcos High School Principal Bob Ferguson, that she’d be crazy not to apply for the job, she said.

Murphy said Montecito Union’s reputation drew her to consider the school, and after visiting the campus and recognizing her belief in the strategic plan’s principles, the decision wasn’t difficult.

She said the move from Ross to Montecito was not as jarring as when she moved to the Bay Area after being the superintendent of instruction at Cherry Hill Public Schools with 11,500 students in New Jersey.

“When you’re in a smaller district, you really learn all of the roles in the school because everyone chips in,” she said, adding that it was “shocking” for her to learn upon her arrival to Ross that the community didn’t support two bond measures that would have paid to rebuild the school after it was damaged in a flood.

Murphy worked to bring students, parents and the wider community together, and the measures passed the second time with 80 percent approval.

“I think the key to that is communication,” she said. “Keep circling back to why we are here — the children.”

Murphy said she thinks that some of the wounds created in Montecito can start to be healed by having the new administration be transparent and open with parents about their new duties.

During Bruski’s first week at Montecito Union, he, Murphy and 25 teachers attended a five-day educational summit at Harvard University with 300 professionals from around the world. The Montecito Educational Foundation paid for the trip.

Founders of the Harvard Graduate School of Education’s Project Zero, David Perkins and Howard Gardner, spoke about metacognition, the act of thinking about one’s own thinking, and how teachers can better do this and teach students to do it.

The institute’s goal is to prepare students to comprehend why they know what they know instead of reinforcing the industrial model of memorization, Murphy said.

The trip gave Murphy and Bruski a window before school year to get to know their new colleagues without the stress of preparing classes.

“For me, there was just as much to learn from my colleagues as there was at Harvard,” she said.

For Bruski, the trip removed the daily acts of being an administrator and allowed him to be an educator. He said he takes seriously practicing what he preaches to students about being a lifetime learner.

“We were just free from the distractions,” he said. “There weren’t e-mails pinging in the background or people walking into your office.”

Murphy believes the lessons learned at Harvard will allow teachers to help students become versatile and self-questioning thinkers, which she said is important to stay competitive in the 21st century.

Murphy’s 6-year-old son will be in the first grade at Montecito Union this year. She expects the transition to go smoothly because he is still young.

“He’s very excited about coming to school with his mom,” she said. “He thinks that is very cool. We are just excited about being a part of this learning community.”

Noozhawk intern Daniel Langhorne will be a junior at Chapman University in the fall. He can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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