By Michelle Hutchins, Superintendent
Here at the Mendocino County Office of Education (MCOE), our primary job is to support all students within the county. We do this primarily by supporting school districts, because they are the ones providing most of the direct instruction. We spend much of our day facilitating, training, coaching, developing programs, solving problems, networking, collaborating, and advocating for the unique needs of the students and districts within our rural, geographically challenged county.
We work in partnership with local districts to provide students with a huge variety of services. We also help districts overcome challenging problems with extra support in areas such as infrastructure, technology, and other areas.
MCOE provides instructional programs for students with unique needs, including special education for severely disabled students, court and community schools for incarcerated and expelled youth, and programs for parenting students. We also operate child care and child development programs.
In addition to direct student services, one of our biggest responsibilities is examining and approving school district budgets and expenditures before they are sent to the California Department of Education. If budgets aren’t sound, teachers and administrators can’t afford the resources and professional development they need to be successful.
CURRICULUM AND INSTRUCTION
We also support districts’ efforts to continually improve by providing leadership and support that enhances classroom instruction, student assessment and teacher preparation. We spend a fair amount of time coaching new teachers and hosting professional development opportunities for teachers, classified (support) staff, administrators, and school board members.
ADMINISTRATIVE (TECHNOLOGY, FACILITIES & PERSONNEL) SERVICES
Another essential function of MCOE is our administrative support. Especially for our smaller districts, we help with technology and telecommunication infrastructure; staff recruitment and retention; and facilities issues like long-term planning and compliance with safety regulations.
MCOE also serves as a liaison between Mendocino County and state education leaders and lawmakers. We advocate for rural education to bring funding and other resources to local districts. As you can imagine, the needs of metropolitan districts are very different than ours, and they have the advantage of representing huge numbers of students. However, when we share some of our daily struggles—like transporting students from the most remote parts of our county, for example—we’re often able to garner the support we need.
UNDERSTANDING OUR “TOP-HEAVY” STRUCTURE
Originally, I subscribed to the idea that MCOE was top-heavy, that there were too many people in leadership positions and not enough worker bees. What I’ve learned since becoming the superintendent is that we have a high percentage of people in management because our most important functions require a high level of expertise. We cannot provide training to school districts unless we have the experts in-house. We cannot advocate for hundreds of thousands of dollars from state coffers unless we’re credible and well-informed. We cannot develop new programs and services unless we have the knowledge and experience to do so. So yes, we have lots of managers, but at least now you know why.
BUILDING FOR THE FUTURE
As we look to the future, we want to continue to build an organization full of dedicated, competent people. We know we’re often better off developing local talent than recruiting from afar, because people who are already embedded in our local communities are more likely to stay for the long-term and more likely to understand the unique needs and challenges our county faces. In the last few years, we’ve had some longstanding employees retire, and that can be tough on an organization. Working relationships developed over decades are currently being replaced by new relationships. The good news is that those employees who remain are sharing their commitment and drive with our new recruits, perpetuating the shared values and service-oriented mindset that make MCOE such a special place to work.
As superintendent, my goal is to clarify and solidify MCOE’s strategic goals, to foster relationships with educators near and far, and to do all I can to bring as many resources to our county as possible.