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Sunday, December 9 , 2018, 8:30 pm | Fair 56º


Cary Matsuoka Outlines His Priorities as Superintendent of Santa Barbara School District

He wants to nurture the arts and higher-ed opportunities as well as provide strong support for immigrant families and foster youths

Cary Matsuoka plans to begin his new role as superintendent of the Santa Barbara Unified School District by visiting each of the district’s 22 campuses. “My job in the first few weeks is to listen to what is happening in the district and the frustrations,” he says.
Cary Matsuoka plans to begin his new role as superintendent of the Santa Barbara Unified School District by visiting each of the district’s 22 campuses. “My job in the first few weeks is to listen to what is happening in the district and the frustrations,” he says. (Brooke Holland / Noozhawk photo)

Cary Matsuoka, the new superintendent of the Santa Barbara Unified School District, plans to get acquainted with the district's 22 schools before the fall K-12 education year kicks off and to listen carefully as he sorts out how learning can be improved.

“My job in the first few weeks is to listen to what is happening in the district and the frustrations,” said Matsuoka, who began his position in mid-July.

His arrival as superintendent of the second-largest school district in the county, with more than 15,000 students, comes after the school board selected Matsuoka in June from 39 candidates following a lengthy national search. 

He replaces Dave Cash, who announced his retirement after five years in the position. He will receive a $260,164 annual base salary, the same as Cash.

Matsuoka studied nutrition science at UC Davis and earned a master’s degree in educational administration from San Jose State University.

The 59-year-old credits his lifetime spent working in education for his experiences. He has dedicated more than 35 years to education and held leadership positions.

In addition, Matsuoka has 10 years of experience as superintendent between two districts, the Los Gatos-Saratoga High School District and the Milpitas Unified School District. He has worked for 17 years as a teacher and as a high school principal in the Silicon Valley. 

“Teaching and being a principal are great foundations to lead a school district,” Matsuoka said. “I understand their world and have empathy.”

He plans to tour each school site to see the campuses firsthand and to learn about the employees and students.

Matsuoka acknowledges the merge of technology in the education system and wants to make learning personalized for children with the guidance of teachers. 

“How we teach a generation surrounded by technology is important,” he said. “There’s a need for instructional materials for teachers and its tension with online textbooks and technology tools.”

Cheryl Jordan, Milpitas Unified's interim superintendent, said Matsuoka’s best qualities are his thirst for new ideas and drive for innovation. Jordan worked with Matsuoka for five years.

“He was instrumental in securing board support for the opportunity to make mistakes in order to achieve exceptional success in moving toward personalized learning for every student in MUSD,” Jordan said. “He brought a fresh perspective that elevated our staff's performance through collaboration with organizations that were not the norm prior to his arrival.”

Matsuoka said the diverse mix of ethnicities and income while working up north has brought knowledge about a sense of urgency for English-language learners. He said Milpitas included a population of only 7 percent white students, with the largest group being Filipino, followed by Vietnamese, Latino, Chinese, Asian and Indian. 

“The immigrant experience in Milpitas is going to have overlays here,” he said. “Almost every ethnicity in the world was represented.”

In Santa Barbara, he seeks to provide a strong system for immigrant families and foster youths. Matsuoka also hopes to connect with and nurture the success of those who are underserved — in particular, Latino families and students.

“Santa Barbara has a population that needs a lot of advocacy and support that the average person doesn't see,” he said. “That’s the most important work, figuring out how to support those families who are struggling with poverty and learning English.”

He also wants to support higher education programs and opportunities for high school students.

Matsuoka praises the Advancement Via Individual Determination (AVID) program and Equal Opportunity Schools partnership for merging the gap that helps Santa Barbara students prepare for college.

“We probably don’t need to launch new programs,” Matsuoka said. “The resources are tremendous. We are the ones who have to manage the execution of the programs.”

Matsuoka said in addition to assisting core concepts such as math, he supports the arts and creative design. 

“The arts are a core value of Santa Barbara,” he said. “Funding and leading it is always a challenge for a school district, but I look forward to nurturing the arts.”

Santa Barbara City College President Lori Gaskin, who will retire Aug.1, said Matsuoka demonstrates an authenticity in his dedication to educational opportunities for all and embraces equity with clarity, purpose and genuineness. 

Gaskin was president at West Valley College in Saratoga, when Matsuoka was superintendent of the Los Gatos-Saratoga Joint Union High School District.

“Working closely with him to serve his students' educational needs, I found an academic leader who understands students from a multifaceted cognitive, developmental and social level,” Gaskin said.

With the terms of three of five members from the board of education set to expire in November, Matsuoka plans to invest time to each new person. He said he has experienced board member transitions in the past. 

“What I learned from experience is that I have to slow down as a superintendent and invest in the individual board members,” he said. “It’s a complex role, and even one new board member changes the team dynamics.”

Noozhawk staff writer Brooke Holland can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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