<strong>WORDS OF WISDOM:</strong> Current Santa Barbara School District superintendent Brian Sarvis (right) — who’s retiring at the end of this school year — spoke to the school board during its discussion this week on finding a replacement after feedback on candidate criteria was gathered from online surveys and recent focus group meetings attended by administrators, boardmembers, faculty and staff, parents, and students.
Paul Wellman

The school board moved one small step closer to finding a new superintendent at a special meeting on Tuesday night. Rudy Castruita and Carolyn McKennan — consultants from the headhunting firm Hazard, Young, Attea & Associates who are conducting the search — presented what they call a Leadership Profile Report. This document compiles feedback gathered from online surveys and focus group meetings filled out and attended by administrators, boardmembers, parents, faculty and staff, and students.

Castruita said that the report should help the board form its own selection criteria, help him choose candidates, and help the candidates get a sense of the district.

All the stakeholder groups surveyed agreed that they most desire a superintendent who will bring a sense of “vision and values.” This speaks to a current sense of disorganization in the districts. According to the report, “There is no plan that provides a road map to direct the activities of the sites; thus, it appears that many are operating independently. Without an action plan with measures and targets for full implementation, it is difficult to hold people accountable.”

The lack of vision in the districts also makes it tricky, according to the report, to close the gap between not only low- and high-achieving students but also Latino and white students. Latino parents reported that they felt marginalized from the school community.

The community’s list of desired characteristics included someone who is “culturally sensitive, preferably bilingual and/or bicultural.” The board deliberated on whether they would use the word “preferably” in their own wish list. Kate Parker said that while she did prefer a bilingual candidate, she worried that the wording may scare off other qualified applicants.

She also wanted to include other underrepresented groups along with the Latino community as targets of the new superintendent’s outreach efforts. Annette Cordero felt it necessary to single out Latinos since a majority of the students in the district are Latino. “I really want it to be a significant focus,” she said.

Ed Heron said that he agrees with the need for more outreach to the Latino community but that he wouldn’t base his agreement on the surveys, which included responses from only five Spanish-speaking parents. Other boardmembers seemed a bit underwhelmed with the Leadership Profile Report, produced by a firm they are paying around $30,000. Monique Limón said that the list of desired characteristics “was not as informative as I thought it would be,” and Susan Deacon added, “To me a lot of these seem a little less specific than I had expected.”

Boardmember Deacon then listed some of her own criteria. She said she was looking for someone with experience, someone who can “balance vision and management,” who has “demonstrated experience with career technical education,” and who has the “ability to build coalitions while implementing reform.” She also wanted someone who has a finger on the pulse of current educational trends. “This is a watershed time in education right now, and I want someone who is riding that wave,” she said.

Current superintendent Brian Sarvis did not attend the meeting, but he had Deacon pass on his wish for candidates with experience fostering public/private partnerships and working with nonprofits.

Boardmembers disagreed with the community about the need for “political savvy” in their next superintendent, or at least the need to publicly state it. Other sought-after qualities by the community were “accessible, visible, sense of humor,” “builds trust and positive relationships with all stakeholder groups,” and “manage a complex agency through effective delegation, supervision, and accountability.” Annette Cordero pointed out the lack of parallel structure in this list, a grammatical faux pas the community can be sure the board will not commit in its own list of criteria, the formulation of which will be the next step in the search process.

On May 21, Castruita and McKennan will present a slate of 10-15 candidates to the board who will narrow it down and conduct interviews the last week of May.

Castruita claims that he already has 28 names in his candidate pool, but not all of them will necessarily apply for the job. “We are not going to have a problem attracting top candidates to this district,” said Castruita, himself a former superintendent in San Diego. Based on Hazard, Young’s data, community stakeholders perceive several strengths in the districts to balance out their lack of coordination and direction. They include strong community involvement, a “positive relationship with unions,” and “strong, cohesive, engaged board.”


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