In December of 1991, retired teacher Stephanie Stratford-Hoy was sworn in as the newest member of the Mendocino County Board of Education at a time when controversy was swirling around the Mendocino County Office of Education. The elected county superintendent of schools, Jack Ward, was accused of mismanagement and racism and this public crisis made the work of the board intense and difficult. With this, as with so many subsequent challenges, Hoy provided a steady, thoughtful perspective, one that would become her hallmark during the next 30 years.
In 1995, Jack Ward resigned and Paul Tichinin assumed the role of county superintendent. This began a 20-year tenure during which Tichinin and Hoy worked together. Tichinin shared his recollections about Hoy in a recent interview.
“She was a real advocate for special education and our Regional Occupational Program (ROP), now called Career Technical Education. During her tenure, MCOE was responsible for managing ROP (a duty that now resides with districts). Stephanie understood that college was not for everyone and that good vocational training enabled students to successfully enter the workforce.
“She served an important voice for education in general, and for education on the coast in particular. She represented the region that includes Fort Bragg, where she had been a teacher, and she brought a wealth of knowledge about the issues that were important to coastal residents.
“Although she was always reserved, Stephanie wasn’t shy about her positions. She was very committed to her beliefs and dedicated to helping students, especially those who were in some way disadvantaged. She was a creative problem solver who consistently worked to balance the needs of individuals with the needs of the greater whole. Her retirement from the board leaves a big void.”
Hoy’s colleague, current board president Don Cruser, agrees. Cruser served on the board with Hoy for years and said Hoy was a mentor to him when he first joined the board. “She taught me how to run a good meeting,” he said, and then smiled, “I think I liked working with her so much because we so often agreed.”
Cruser said Hoy was detail-oriented and thorough, but what impressed him the most was the way she dealt with controversy. Years ago, one polarizing issue the board faced was whether to introduce a plant-based diet into school lunches in the form of “Meatless Mondays.” At the time, this was highly controversial and people made strong, emotional arguments on both sides.
“But Stephanie just sat back and listened. She maintained an open mind and served as a balancing force during the discussion. I don’t actually know what her personal opinion was, and that tells you something about her. Throughout her tenure, her decisions were unbiased. She was often the swing vote and that was a good thing.”
There’s often confusion about what school districts and their boards do, as opposed to what the county office of education does or what the county board of education is responsible for. Cruser was eloquent in his description.
He explained that people are often skeptical of bureaucracies because they tend to feed themselves until they get too big. But in a county like ours, we have a lot of little school districts that simply don’t have the funds to provide their students with specialized services and resources. This is where the county office steps in. This is the best use of bureaucracy—to recognize the needs of all schools in the county and use economies of scale to make sure even the smallest districts can serve their students. For example, a one-school district cannot afford to hire a speech pathologist, but the county office of education can hire one and then coordinate the needs of all districts so every student has access to this critical service.
Cruser also mentioned a time when he was a teacher and had enthusiastically begun to organize a technology conference, only to find he was in over his head. He said, “I’ve always been grateful to MCOE for stepping in and taking it on. For years, MCOE hosted Technology in the Redwoods, and it was great.”
These are the kinds of endeavors Stephanie Stratford-Hoy supported for almost 30 years as a volunteer board member. We will miss her calm, rational presence and her deep knowledge and experience. I know I speak for all of us at MCOE and on the board when I wish her a happy retirement from the board. We look forward to honoring her legacy by continuing to advocate for educational excellence for all students in Mendocino County.
By Michelle Hutchins
Superintendent of Schools