Ben Romo: Welcome to Susan Salcido, Santa Barbara County’s superintendent of schools.

Susan Salcido: It’s nice to be working together again!

BR: Like me, you grew up in Santa Barbara County. I love the nearby photograph of you at Adam Elementary School in Santa Maria. This is county is your home.

What do you hope to accomplish as superintendent?

SS: I see our great county from many different perspectives, all which shape me as a person and a leader. I grew up in the Santa Maria Valley. I attended UC Santa Barbara, and was a teacher and administrator in Goleta and Santa Barbara.

Susan Salcido as a student at Adam School in Santa Maria.
Susan Salcido as a student at Adam School in Santa Maria. (Salcido family photo)

My work involves being present in every city and district in Santa Barbara County — there are tremendous differences from area to area — from rural to suburban, from low poverty to high wealth; cultures, languages and experiences are vastly different.

The greatest commonality and need is for ALL students, no matter the differences, to receive — not merely access — equitable instruction, programs, services, opportunities and open doors. The proverbial ceilings should be broken for each and every child. This is what we want for our own children, and it is our children whom we serve throughout Santa Barbara County.

BR: I appreciate your time serving as a First 5 commissioner.

SS: I have tremendous respect for the work of Santa Barbara County’s First 5 team — they have helped to identify and support ways to mitigate critical needs for children 0-5. I’m honored to join these leaders from around the county who are actively engaged with supporting the work of First 5, and who are accountable for helping shape decisions that affect children and their families.

I appreciate serving as a commissioner for First 5 as I know that we, together, are contributing to meaningful changes for children.

BR: The Santa Barbara County Education Office (SBCEO) is a critical piece of our 0-5 network. Your office provides a home for strong programs and collaboratives I’ve already profiled, like the Children’s Oral Health Collaborative and the Child Care Planning Council. Tell us more about your work focused on children 0-5 and their families.

SS: We are so proud of our eight state preschools and three Infant and Toddler Centers that we run throughout the county, serving more than 300 children every year.

We also administer the Welcome Every Baby (WEB) program — a home-visiting program for babies from birth through 18 months and their families. SBCEO WEB nurses provide a home visit, preferably within 48 hours post-release from the hospital to cover breastfeeding support, post-partum depression education and support, developmental screenings, and referrals to other community support agencies.

In addition to direct services such as those above, we administer a voucher program that offers subsidized child care for income-qualifying families with children ages 0-12. We also oversee the Quality Rating Improvement System and IMPACT Grants for Santa Barbara County, which are part of a vital statewide effort to ensure quality child care for children in both center- and home-based facilities.

Our Child Development Program has greatly appreciated its longstanding partnership with First 5 to meet the needs of young children and their families.

BR: Of course, SBCEO isn’t just a 0-5 organization. You have the mission of building on strong early foundations and preparing students for their next step after high school. What other programs do you offer?

SS: Our team provides direct classroom instruction and support to students with special needs from ages 0-22, professional learning and support to teachers and administrators countywide, and business and information technology services to the county’s 20 school districts.

Our Teacher Induction Program supports every new teacher in completing their credentials, and our Preliminary Administrative Program provides educators with an intensive program to earn their administrative credentials.

Additionally, SBCEO operates the Juvenile Court and Community School programs, arts education, child development and preschool programs, homeless education, and career technical education.

Beyond these special programs, SBCEO also administers Partners in Education and the Children’s Creative Project, which puts on the annual I Madonnari Italian street painting festival every May at the Santa Barbara Mission.

BR: When I worked at SBCEO, I learned that a lot of people are confused about the difference between SBCEO and individual districts. What are your distinct roles?

SS: There are 20 individual districts in our county, each serving students within a specific geographic or grade-level area. For example, the Goleta Union School District serves students in Goleta (K-6), while Guadalupe Union services students in Guadalupe (K-8).

SBCEO serves all 20 districts, as far north as Santa Maria, east to Cuyama, west to Guadalupe and south to Carpinteria. There are more than 69,000 students countywide, including all districts. Our programs are designed to reach and support students, educators and families throughout the county.

In many instances, our programs are located in particular geographic areas, like our special education program specifically for visually impaired students, or our eight state preschools.

In other instances, students from all around the county attend our programs, like the school in the juvenile hall or Los Robles High School at Los Prietos Boys Camp. Some of our programs bring students to the county education office, like the County Spelling Bee and Battle of the Books.

Finally, programs like the Children’s Creative Project, where we provide art in classrooms, reaches more than 50,000 students annually, in districts throughout the county.

SBCEO reviews and approves district budgets as well as their Local Control Accountability Plans, which are major and critical roles that distinguishes our office from a district.

BR: Do you have a “success story” in the early childhood arena that jumps out to you?

SS: In April 2015, all of the state preschools our office operated in Santa Barbara County were simultaneously awarded full accreditation by the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC), the regulatory and accreditation body based in Washington, D.C.

This is extraordinary, and we are so proud of the confirmation of the high-quality programs we provide. Trudy Adair-Verbais, our Child Development Program director, and her team started on that journey more than a decade earlier. It was their idea to seek the initial accreditation for all the county preschools in one initiative.

In the process, we became one of the first county education offices to put forward all schools at once — the industry standard at the time was to submit just a single school or site.

This effort was a collective commitment to excellence. NAEYC is known for applying intense scrutiny; it uses a very rigorous review process, and Trudy’s team was determined to achieve national accreditation — and they did it! Trudy is retiring after 40 years of extraordinary service and leadership to children and families in Santa Barbara County.

BR: Why are you personally committed to being a part of the strong network of support for children 0-5 and their families in Santa Barbara County?

SS: It has been said that the “first five years have so much to do with how the next 80 turn out.” That is so true.

Strong networks of support are vital to laying the academic, intellectual and emotional foundations our children need to thrive in school and beyond. And being part of that foundation building is something I take very seriously. I consider it an honor to play a role in that process.

SBCEO is an organization comprised of individuals who all strive toward a common goal: service and leadership, which is our mission. We care deeply for our community, and aim to provide the highest quality programs and services throughout the county.

Serving our youth well, by embracing cultures and experiences, and by providing equitable opportunities for each and every child, serves our youth, and serves our collective futures.

— Ben Romo is executive director of First 5 Santa Barbara County. Click here for previous columns. The opinions expressed are his own.