Monday Morning Thoughts: How Should We Find the Right Superintendent?

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Superintendent Winfred Roberson at a 2014 press conference
Superintendent Winfred Roberson at a 2014 press conference

Superintendent Winfred Roberson probably lasted longer than many superintendents.  Like all human beings, he had his strengths and weaknesses.

From my perspective his biggest strength was he was a genuine person, well-meaning, and, for the most part, an honest broker.  His mistakes were honest ones, born out of the combination of inexperience and challenging times.

He saw the district through the last of the Great Recession and its aftermath, and its transition to better days.  On his watch, the community would step up three times to renew parcel taxes, a scandal led to the resignation of a board member, and a smooth process to appoint his replacement was set in place.

Despite the acrimony surrounding the AIM issue, he and his team would put forward a plan that gained five votes, even as many in the community felt that the district was undermining the program.

The district is now looking to replace Winfred Roberson after six years. While the budgetary challenges remain omnipresent, this is really a district in transition in a lot of ways.

As the district seeks input on the next superintendent, I wanted to give my thoughts on the challenges that that superintendent will need to face.

To me, the biggest issue facing the district is the Achievement Gap.  For many people, DJUSD is a strong school district and our schools are a reason many people, including myself, have made Davis their home.  But the district unfortunately does not equally serve every student.  The district is looking towards LCAP (Local Control and Accountability Plan) and Common Core as ways to help alleviate this gap.

But part of what we need to start to understand is that the district that we have is changing rapidly.  It may come as a surprise, but as the district looks to grow to 9000 students in the near future, the majority of those students may no longer be white.

There is increasing diversity in this district and, along with it, an increasing Title One population.

Along with the Achievement Gap, school climate for children of color has long been an issue.  I often point to the most visible sign of that, the parents who came forward in December 2012 at the Human Relation Commission’s Breaking the Silence of Racism to discuss the treatment of their kids in the schools.

Many people point to Winfred Roberson, an African American superintendent, and Will Brown, Principal of Davis High, another African American, and wonder how there can be a perceived race issue in the district.  My experience with Winfred Roberson is that he understandably was reluctant to carry the African American mantle. This isn’t a criticism, but he wanted to be seen as the superintendent, not the black superintendent.

I believe that the issue of the Achievement Gap is wrapped into the issue of school climate and bullying (which is not limited by any means to one race, ethnicity, or subgroup).  While I agree with an approach like LCAP that can allocate resources into these issues, I don’t think money and programs alone will solve these problems.

The second big issue is by no means limited to the school district and that is the trust issue.  The Nancy Peterson scandal and the poor handling of it by the school district and school board undermined community trust in the district.  For some, the handling of the AIM issue continues to undermine community trust in the district.

For me, the quote came from September 2014, as Alan Fernandes, a candidate for the school board, noted that rebuilding trust is critical because, without trust, the community is not going to continue to support parcel tax expenditures that enable the school district to fiscally stay afloat.

He would later tell the Vanguard, “The recent situation surrounding Nancy Peterson’s resignation brought to focus the issue of trust and conflicts of interest for school board trustees.”

The trust issue goes far deeper than one single issue or whether that school board member created a conflict of interest with her actions and interactions with a district employee.

The school district continues to heavily rely on parcel tax money for its operating expenses.  For reasons I don’t really understand, the numbers show that the district receives less than state average per pupil costs without the parcel tax and, with the parcel tax, the district merely gets up to average.  In a more ideal world, I would be advocating that we move toward doubling the parcel tax in order to get the district up to a financing level that exemplifies our community’s commitment to greatness in our schools.

The reality is that the district has to take a piece of the pie that is going to be increasingly strained with both city of Davis and Yolo County needs, and to get the voters to support a new parcel tax that at least renews current levels is going to take some work.

Despite the strong support of the community, margins of passage in the three elections shows the margins are alarmingly thin. Measure A in 2011, as we have noted, was beset with controversy and passed by only 89 votes. Both Measure C and Measure E were passed with greater margins. Measure C, in spring 2012, had a 972-vote margin while Measure E, in November 2012, had a 710-vote margin.

But in both cases, if just 1000 people switched their votes in those elections, the measures would have failed. One thousand people is a lot, but not insurmountable.

Restoring trust will be crucial to passing future parcel taxes. And while board members rightly point out that threats to the parcel tax are self-defeating to parents, frustrated parents see at least the threat of opposition as their own leverage on the district.

With a two-thirds vote requirement it doesn’t take a lot of parental anger to put a new parcel tax in real jeopardy.

Those are the issues I see as paramount.

What am I looking for in a superintendent?

With due respect to the current employees in the district, I was relieved that the board has put forth the money to do a full search for the next superintendent rather than simply hiring from within.  I would prefer we hire from outside of the district as I believe the district would benefit from new thinking and a new approach.

I recognize that we may not get our choice in this regard, but I would prefer that we hire someone who has some experience as a superintendent.  DJUSD is a difficult place to cut your teeth on as a superintendent, as there are a lot of community-based demands and scrutiny.  I thought Winfred Roberson at times had a difficult transition.

Third, as good as James Hammond was, he was always a short-termer – in fact, his family never moved to Davis.  Having a superintendent for two or three years really is less than ideal.  Winfred Roberson was here for six years, and while that too seems short, understand that not only is that longer than most superintendents, the city of Davis went through three city managers and two interim city managers during Mr. Roberson’s tenure.

Can DJUSD hire an outside superintendent who moves to Davis and commits to long-term, when they can’t afford the kind of compensation that either James Hammond or Winfred Roberson are making in larger districts down south?  That is the difficulty of this process, but the greatness of this district may rest on our district’s ability to thread the needle.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

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About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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35 thoughts on “Monday Morning Thoughts: How Should We Find the Right Superintendent?”

  1. ryankelly

    It may come as a surprise, but as the district looks to grow to 9000 students in the near future, the majority of those students may no longer be white.

    As the local school-age population grows, won’t that mean that we will accept fewer inter-District transfers from Woodland, Dixon, and Sacramento?

     

    1. hpierce

      Not if we adopt the UC/UCD model, which would give preference to non-residents… but wait!  UC gets a premium for tuition from non-residents… for DJUSD there not only is no premium, but the district residents essentially subsidize the non-resident students…  hmmm…

        1. South of Davis

          BP wrote:

          > You’ve hit on something there Hpierce, one of my

          > pet peeves.  We as school parcel tax payers end up

          > subsidizing out of town students.

          I read something around the time of the last school parcel tax vote that there are so many kids who don’t live in Davis going to Davis the schools that we could fill an entire elementary school with just kids from outside the city.

          We have friends that live in a ~4,000 sf mansion on a Woodland golf course that they bought for the price of a ~2,000 sf Central Davis dump. Every day they drive to work at UCD and drop their kids off at school in Davis.

          I know my friends in Woodland (and some other family friends that live on a ranch west of town with their horses) would pay “out of city” tuition before sending their kids to crappy Woodland schools.

          Is there any way that the Davis school district could get “out of city” fees from people the way UCD gets “out of state” money from the parents of kids that don’t live in CA?

          1. Don Shor

            Is there any way that the Davis school district could get “out of city” fees from people

            No. We asked repeatedly when they were throwing out our inter-district transfer students in the 1990s. There is no way to mandate it. People are free to donate if they so choose, but it can’t be taxed or levied on incoming transfer students.

        2. wdf1

          South of Davis:  there are so many kids who don’t live in Davis going to Davis the schools that we could fill an entire elementary school with just kids from outside the city

          They are spread out in grades K-12, so it’s not like you can necessarily close a school.

          It is California ed code law that work site location counts as residency status for purposes of traditional public school enrollment.  I understand that the largest percentage of out of town students attend Da Vinci Charter Academy, which by law can more readily enroll out-of-town students.

          At these percentages, the school district benefits by receiving more ADA money (per student money) from the state, and taking advantage of operating at a better economy of scale, and with better efficiency, because school enrollment is supposed to occur on a space available basis.

          I like to put real names and faces to these issues.  Don Shor has openly said that his kids attended Davis schools, although he lives outside of the district boundaries.  He did so by virtue of his working in Davis.  It also happens that he pays school parcel tax revenue for his business site, according to him.  But even if he didn’t personally pay the school parcel tax, I see him as contributing to the value of this community by virtue of his employment here.  He adds value, and by having had his kids attend Davis schools, he has a more personal stake in his contribution to our community.

          I suppose in a certain conservative universe, critics of this policy, such as Barack Palin, might see Don as some kind of “moocher,” but in the bigger picture Don has a little more incentive to run his business in Davis as opposed to Dixon or some other nearby city.  So it is with other workers in Davis.

          This is also the law that allows DJUSD teachers who live outside of Davis to enroll their kids in the Davis schools.  DJUSD salaries don’t necessarily keep up to allow teachers to become homeowners in Davis as easily as in other cities.  Some argue that DJUSD salaries don’t keep up with many other neighboring school districts.  This benefit probably allows DJUSD to keep its salaries a little lower over the long term. Allowing out of town Davis employees to enroll their kids in Davis helps make more loyal and invested employees stay in Davis for longer.

          Another strategy that some DJUSD families follow who own homes outside of DJUSD attendance boundaries is to rent out their owned homes and move into a rental in Davis so as to allow their kids to enroll in DJUSD.

        3. Barack Palin

          I suppose in a certain conservative universe, critics of this policy, such as Barack Palin, might see Don as some kind of “moocher,” 

          There you go again, twice this week putting words in my mouth.  Why don’t you just speak for yourself and quit trying to project what others might see or think.

          I have no problem that Don Shor’s kids attended Davis schools because he’s paying Davis taxes and working in Davis.  I know of families that don’t live in Davis or work here but yet there kids attend Davis schools.  Just recently I attended a function at Spring Lake in Woodland where the mother bragged about how she got her kids into Davis schools but she doesn’t work and her husband works elsewhere.

          I often see the excuse that we receive ADA money for each student as a reason we should except out of town students.  Well if the ADA money covered all the costs of each student then we wouldn’t need parcel taxes would we?  Obviously each extra student creates and extra drain on the system which in turn creates a need for more parcel tax revenue.

        4. wdf1

          Barack Palin:  There you go again, twice this week putting words in my mouth.  Why don’t you just speak for yourself and quit trying to project what others might see or think.

          Fair enough.  I interpreted this comment of yours as an appreciation for Frankly’s terminology.  My apologies.  When was the other time?

          Barack Palin:  Just recently I attended a function at Spring Lake in Woodland where the mother bragged about how she got her kids into Davis schools but she doesn’t work and her husband works elsewhere.

          Families who don’t live or work in Davis can also enroll on a space available basis, after Davis resident families and Davis working families are accommodated.  Again, at the percentages that you would find such students in the district, it is a net positive for district revenue.  It would otherwise be an empty desk in a class room that is already staffed by a teacher.  Why staff public resources inefficiently?

          I also know a family who resides in Sacramento and doesn’t work in Davis who succeeded in getting one child in the Davis schools but not another child because space was unavailable at the grade level for the unsuccessful student.

          Barack Palin:   Well if the ADA money covered all the costs of each student then we wouldn’t need parcel taxes would we? 

          Do you think the state knows best how much it costs to educate a student in Davis, based on community expectations?  I don’t know about you, but I think the local voters, residents, parents would know better.

          Barack Palin:  Obviously each extra student creates and extra drain on the system which in turn creates a need for more parcel tax revenue.

          The extra students added on a space available basis are added because the current staffing/programs can already accommodate those students.  The number of students who don’t have families either living or working in Davis is a smaller subset of the students who don’t live in Davis but attend the schools.  The bigger portion is of those who work in Davis but don’t reside.

        5. Barack Palin

          Do you think the state knows best how much it costs to educate a student in Davis, 

          You just proved my point, the ADA doesn’t cover all the costs to educate each student in Davis, so we as taxpayers have bridge the gap.  So why take in more out of town students if we aren’t getting their costs covered.

        6. wdf1

          Barack Palin:  You just proved my point, the ADA doesn’t cover all the costs to educate each student in Davis, so we as taxpayers have bridge the gap.  So why take in more out of town students if we aren’t getting their costs covered.

          Probably we will have to agree to disagree.  At the current scale, I believe that it is a net positive for the district and the community, and the numbers you refer to are small enough that I can’t justify buying your argument.

          If you were talking about 1000 plus students who came from families who neither lived nor worked in Davis, then I think there would definitely be questionable economics in play.

        7. Mark West

          wdf1: ” It would otherwise be an empty desk in a class room that is already staffed by a teacher.”

          It also means a larger class size than would otherwise be necessary.  Depending on the age group, that one or two additional kids may make a difference in the quality and quantity of time and attention each kid gets from their teacher.

          No matter how you slice it, residents (and business owners) pay more to educate their children in Davis than do those who do not pay the parcel taxes.  That difference becomes more significant as the percentage of out of district students increases.

        8. South of Davis

          wdf1 wrote:

          > If you were talking about 1000 plus students who

          > came from families who neither lived nor worked

          > in Davis, then I think there would definitely be

          > questionable economics in play.

          Davis also has a lot of kids that attend Davis schools “on the down low”.  The best I could find was this article from a few years back in Palo Alto, but with so many friends with kids in good public schools on the Peninsula it seems like the “using a fake address” problems keeps getting worse and worse every year.  If I lived in Woodland the fake address method of getting my kids in to Davis schools seems to be the easiest way to do it.

          http://www.paloaltoonline.com/news/2010/10/13/thirty-teens-dropped-from-palo-alto-school-rolls

        9. wdf1

          Mark West:  No matter how you slice it, residents (and business owners) pay more to educate their children in Davis than do those who do not pay the parcel taxes.  That difference becomes more significant as the percentage of out of district students increases.

          So are you against non-resident Davis workers (like many DJUSD staff and teachers) enrolling their kids in Davis schools because it would create an unjustified burden on you as a taxpayer?  Former Superintendent James Hammond lived outside of Davis while employed at DJUSD but had one of his kids enrolled in Davis schools for a bit.  Unfair?  Were Don Shor’s kids justified because he is a business owner in Davis?

          As I have stated before, my position on this, apart from the fact that it is permissible under state law, is that there are intangible benefits to community, such as greater employee loyalty.

        10. Mark West

          wdf1: “So are you against non-resident Davis workers (like many DJUSD staff and teachers) enrolling their kids in Davis schools because it would create an unjustified burden on you as a taxpayer?”

          I don’t believe I was making a judgement. I am just emphasizing a fact which you are attempting to minimize, that residents and business owners pay more than non-residents to educate the children in Davis schools and that the difference increases in concert with the percentage of non-resident children

          “Were Don Shor’s kids justified because he is a business owner in Davis?”

          I specifically mentioned business owners as also paying the extra tax.

           

          Unlike you, I don’t see any particular benefit to the community in having these extra students in our schools. In fact, I would argue that the community would benefit from having less crowding at the school sites and lower expenses as we would need to employ fewer teachers. The benefits really only accrue to the parents of the non-resident children, and of course, to the teachers who have been hired in order to meet the needs of these extra students.

        11. wdf1

          South of Davis: Davis also has a lot of kids that attend Davis schools “on the down low”. 

          I think that would be hard to quantify and might be a small number if it existed.  We have years of student directories from several campuses that we consulted at times to help organize school activities, and I remember addresses checking out at a very high percentage.  Maybe you’re observing campuses where I never hung out?

        12. wdf1

          Mark West:   I don’t see any particular benefit to the community in having these extra students in our schools.

          I am certain that there are teachers who wouldn’t bother working in Davis if they couldn’t enroll their kids.  And I’m not sure that it would be possible to find teachers as good as them.

        13. Barack Palin

          If as wdf1 states having students in enrollment is such a benefit to the school districts then how about the schools these out of town students should be attending.  Aren’t these other school districts suffering from the leakage to Davis schools?

        14. Mark West

          wdf1: “I am certain that there are teachers who wouldn’t bother working in Davis if they couldn’t enroll their kids.”

          I have not heard about a shortage of applicants for teaching jobs in Davis.

          That said, I am not opposed to allowing teachers to bring their children to the Davis schools, I just don’t see a general benefit as you have proclaimed. I suspect your motivation has more to do with increasing the number of teaching jobs in Davis, but I could be wrong.

        15. wdf1

          Mark West:  I have not heard about a shortage of applicants for teaching jobs in Davis.

          I haven’t followed hiring issues as closely this year in the district, but I am aware of ongoing challenges to finding math teachers, special ed. teachers, and Spanish language teachers for Spanish Immersion.  Statewide there is a documented teacher shortage. (source1, source2, source3, there are plenty more sources)

          Mark West:   I suspect your motivation has more to do with increasing the number of teaching jobs in Davis, but I could be wrong.

          Personally, I would like most to see the district have a healthy hiring pool.  I have sat in on several hiring committees, and it’s possible to get a sense for how deep the hiring pool is based on the quality of the interviews.  Less desirable teachers end up getting hired when the hiring pool is thin, and that happens in significant part when there isn’t adequate incentive to apply.

  2. wdf1

    It may come as a surprise, but as the district looks to grow to 9000 students in the near future, the majority of those students may no longer be white.

    There is increasing diversity in this district and, along with it, an increasing Title One population.

    I agree that it is likely that the white population will decrease in percentage over time.  But rather than focus this much on race, I think it would be productive to focus more on income level, ELL status, and family education level. I think those are bigger specific barriers to social mobility.  For instance, Barack Obama’s, Jay Z’s/Beyonce’s, and Jennifer Lopez’ families would probably integrate quite well in Davis if they chose to move here, and we might point to them with pride as examples of diversity in our community.  But families specifically with lower income, lower education level, and who primarily speak a language other than English at home can have real disadvantages in Davis. The norm in Davis is to have a college education, and the income level that usually comes with it.

    Being in a community with a public university (UCD), and given that UCD has a high priority in attracting a diverse population, it is very likely that Davis’ future diverse population will include a very high incidence of college education, and with it a higher level of English proficiency and income level.  That’s definitely a great thing to see, but my discomfort with discussions of racial diversity is that discussions of income level, family education level, and ELL status tend to become secondary.

  3. MrsW

    There have been 3 superintendents since our children starting attending DJUSD, David Murphy, James Hammond and Winfred Roberson.  David Murphy was a reactive manager.  I always thought he was spineless, but I now think that he was a product of his time–it seems that nationwide, everyone has been trying to grab public money to bunker up with like-minded people.  Murphy’s solution to any issue was to create another special program, dividing the community and school resources (human and capital) further and further.  His legacy lives on, in a number of our current administrators.  James Hammond had a vision of the minimum level our school community needed to work together, to be an effective Public institution and was proactive in leading us towards a functional place.  But he left before realizing his vision. Winfred Roberson kept us poised to be on James Hammond’s course, but we haven’t moved forward or backward.  This is an achievement given all of the financial uncertainty and fear that he could not control, but nevertheless had to negotiate DJUSD through.

    DJUSD is ready for a leader with vision, who can pull the community towards common collective educational and civic goals, without sacrificing the individualization that necessary to be effective at the individual student level.  How do we find that person?  We state our values.  We communicate that DJUSD is ready for a Superintendent for whom being an educator is a calling.  We need a Superintendent who is people-smart, recognizes all of the kinds of diversity that affect, promote, or impede achievement, and who will lead a crusade to make DJUSD a great place to learn and work for every single child and adult within its 9.9 square mile district.  That’s all.

    1. David Greenwald Post author

      I agree we are ready for such a Superintendent, but I question whether we will get one. One factor in that is our budget and willingness to pay the going rate for such a leader.

      1. MrsW

        DJUSD needs only one Superintendent of the 1000’s in the workforce.  There are a myriad of things that motivate, inspire and excite vast numbers of people other than money. There are also a myriad of other things that go into any personal decision, like proximity to family or living in a small town.  For those people who are motivated by other things, to make a decision based solely on money, is not fulfilling.  The Davis community has a lot to offer the right leader. If there is a Superintendent out there who would relish working with a community [college grads and not college grads] who value school-based education above almost everything else, then Davis is the right place to be. There is untapped and unfocused human energy for education here.  If there is a Superintendent who is ready to finesse a post-silos-of-excellence era, DJUSD might be ready; it would certainly be worth looking at us.

        1. wdf1

          For superintendents (for that matter for most school employees) at the moment, I think it’s an employees market.  There was a great comment in an Enterprise article that highlights Davis’ challenge in bringing the right superintendent candidate:

          Student representative Eli Inkelas asked if there were particular challenges that Davis would be facing. Brown paused, then mentioned the high cost of housing in Davis, the lower state school funding level compared to some nearby districts and the possible challenge in finding a suitable job nearby for a superintendent’s spouse. source

          The upside, I think, is that we have shown that DJUSD can weather fiscal challenges better than many school districts.  I think that helps a good administrator follow through with an agenda.

        2. South of Davis

          > Brown paused, then mentioned the high

          > cost of housing in Davis

          You can get more home for your money in Mississippi, but compared to most of California Davis housing is not that high (below is from Zillow):

          The median home value in Davis is $587,700 

          The median home value in Santa Cruz is $775,800

          The median home value in San Francisco is $1,130,400

          The median home value in Palo Alto is $2,535,800

        3. wdf1

          South of Davis: You can get more home for your money in Mississippi, but compared to most of California Davis housing is not that high (below is from Zillow):

          You’re cherry picking your communities.  Palo Alto, Santa Cruz, and San Francisco would predictably have some of the higher or highest housing prices in California.

          On the other hand, current Zillow shows median prices for other communities in the area:

          Davis:  $587,700

          Woodland: $310,900

          West Sacramento: $306,100

          Dixon: $361,900

          Winters: $358,000

          Esparto: $265,100

          Vacaville: $376,100

          Folsom: $464,000

          Roseville: $391,100

          Palo Alto, SF, and Santa Cruz also get a higher rate of ADA funding from the state, in part based on the local/regional cost of living.  DJUSD rarely comes out very well in state funding formulas.

        4. MrsW

          Like a lot teachers, she wants to be a vital part of the community where she works.

          I grew up with a number of teachers and administrators who liked and recommended living in a different town from where they worked.   Their commute was not two hours, as described in the article, but was more typical like 30-45 minutes each way. The reasons given were  that they needed to be “off” when they were home, to re-charge and prepare for a highly interactive job.  Also, they viewed themselves as being political leaders.  That can be hard on the family.  A spouse’s or child’s behavior or job can affect/reflect on the teacher or administrator’s career. When they live in a different town, the spouse and children are freer to be themselves because they are not in a fishbowl.

          There are a number of teachers leaving and coming to Davis each day.

        5. wdf1

          MrsW:  Their commute was not two hours, as described in the article, but was more typical like 30-45 minutes each way.

          In 2000 I had a one year work assignment in Silicon Valley, two hours from here in normal traffic.  I was not going to make that daily commute.  It was very tough work, but we found an affordable home to rent in the area.  That year we learned of K-12 teachers who made two hour commutes to teach in Silicon Valley.  This issue has been around a while.

          I can appreciate why a teacher or administrator might like to live elsewhere from where she/he worked.  But I think it’s beneficial to have both options open — living within the community where one works or within reasonable commuting distance.

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