In June, I was elected county superintendent of schools. I campaigned on several issues: reducing chronic absenteeism, decentralizing services, providing more training for school boards, and encouraging innovation in education. I immediately began working with the wonderful interim superintendent, Damon Dickinson, who came out of retirement to hold down the fort until a new leader could step in.
Since Damon wanted to return to retirement (who wouldn’t?), the County Board of Education named me interim superintendent as of November 1, 2018 until my official term begins in January, allowing me to get right to work. Although I haven’t been at the Mendocino County Office of Education (MCOE) long, I have already discovered so much, and I’d like to share some of what I’ve learned.
MCOE employees faced tremendous turmoil last year, yet they did their best to work hard and accomplish their goals. Successes included having 27 graduates from the MCOE Institute of Career Education (Medical Assistant Program, Dental Assistant Program, Phlebotomy Program). They also had many former graduates complete the necessary coursework, testing and externships to begin working in the field, specifically 20 medical assistants, 16 dental assistants, and 20 phlebotomists.
In Special Education, MCOE provided direct services to approximately 450 students in Mendocino County. And the Talmage State Preschool graduated 11 children, giving them the skills to be successful in transitional kindergarten or kindergarten.
The MCOE Accounting Department began the process of replacing the 30-year-old Quintessential School Systems (QSS) software with a new countywide accounting system called ESCAPE. The yearlong transition affects 12 school districts, 8 charter schools, the County Office of Education, Mendocino Community College, and the Mendocino County Youth Project. Unfortunately, the transition isn’t going as smoothly as we hoped, but we’re learning as we go. On a positive note, we’ve rehired Becky Jeffries as our assistant superintendent of Business Services and she oversees an excellent team here at MCOE, so I am confident the process will improve.
As MCOE employees settle into a new school year, I am busy reaching out to district superintendents and other community partners all over the county to better understand the needs of our schools and how we can work in partnership with local law enforcement and other community partners to keep our students safe and productive.
One of the biggest challenges countywide is chronic absenteeism, which occurs when a student misses more than 10 percent of school (approximately 18 days a year). Students who are chronically absent, especially in grades K-3, are far less likely to graduate from high school. Part of chronic absenteeism includes truancy (unexcused absences). This is why I’m working with the Sheriff’s Office and District Attorney’s Office to come up with a School Attendance Review Board (SARB) process that doesn’t put undue burden on local law enforcement, but addresses the issues preventing students from attending school. SARBs are typically composed of representatives from various youth-serving agencies, and they are intended to help truant or recalcitrant students and their parents or guardians solve school attendance and behavior problems through the use of available school and community resources.
One of the ways we can maximize the benefit of school and community resources is to identify best practices and share them via technology like video conferencing, rather than requiring people to travel for hours to meet in person. I hope to decentralize services so people can get what they need where they are.
PROVIDING MORE TRAINING FOR SCHOOL BOARDS
Video conferencing is one of the tools we could use to provide additional training to local school boards. Dedicated volunteer school board members take on a huge responsibility when they agree to serve, and it’s incumbent upon MCOE to help districts train board members.
ENCOURAGING INNOVATION IN EDUCATION
Decentralization is only one of many innovations we should consider. In a county as diverse and spread out as ours, and with limited resources, we need to figure out how to do more with less. I’m interested in creative solutions to long-standing problems. I look forward to working with school districts and community partners to overcome challenges, so we can provide local students with the educations they deserve.