County Superintendent, election, accessible, visible, responsible, diverse opinions, shared decision-making, inclusive charter schools

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CALIFORNIA SCHOOLS AND PUBLIC EDUCATION—ESSAYS • NEWS • RESEARCH • RESOURCES
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June 30, 2006

On electing a superintendent for Santa Cruz County

Sandra Nichols
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  "It is said that to be a successful politician you must develop thick skin. Unfortunately, this means that we don't get many sensitive people in positions of leadership."

I'm not happy that I finished "out of the money" in the race for County Superintendent of Schools, but I can assure you that I'm glad it's over. I am also flattered to be asked what I think of the two run-off candidates, and which one I plan to support in November. As I reflect on this choice, I consider the very nature of the job, and what the election tells us about our community's expectations for a Superintendent of Schools.

In considering the candidacies of Roland Baker and Michael Watkins, I first tip my sombrero to both of them. They have shown great dedication and service on behalf of public schools. They worked extremely hard during the campaigns, and both are decent men whom I have grown to like.

The vote tallies indicate that a significant segment of the county's population is interested in change at the County Office of Education, that nebulous entity known as the "COE." Although only a small subset of voters activated upon their right to vote, many of those who did apparently want the COE to reshape itself into a more accessible, more visible, and more responsive service provider.

My friends who reside within the boundaries of the Pajaro Valley Unified School District are united in their desire to have a County Superintendent who embraces diversity and believes deeply that public schools should bring people together rather than separate them. My supporters are united in their belief that efforts to divide districts along racial and socioeconomic lines should not be allowed to move forward. We believe that all students benefit from being educated in a culturally-rich mix. We also believe that speaking two languages is an asset and that English language learners deserve high quality programs. Pajaro Valley readers are invited to share further thoughts on this topic.

In Santa Cruz, my associates want a Superintendent who is flexible and open-mined. They wish to avoid the attitude of "It's my way or the highway," and they want a leader who will embrace diverse opinions and perspectives.

All over the county, people want a voice in what services the COE provides, and they want respect for district teachers, school workers, parents, and students. They believe shared decision-making is preferable to top-down management. Other voices add that they want charter schools only if they are inclusive and offer innovative programs, with some supporting dual language immersion programs.

Everywhere I go there is interest in seeing our schools supported by the funding necessary for a top quality of education for our sons and daughters and those of our neighbors. Our Superintendent must advocate for better school funding and must defend our schools from forces seeking to privatize education. And our next Superintendent must join the effort to fix the serious flaws in No Child Left Behind.

Nowhere is there disagreement that our schools must be healthy places in which everyone is safe, and no one is harassed. Our schools must become bastions of tolerance and non-violence.

Anyone who has ever run for office knows the roller coaster ride of emotions that is a huge part of this picture. There are new connections you make and long-standing friends, colleagues, and supporters that stand with you — an unbelievable network of people who share your vision and want it to become a reality. On the other hand, campaigns have unpleasant elements of nastiness and disappointment that politics seems to breed and that cause good people to wonder why anyone would ever run for anything.

I am very thankful for the support I received in my campaign for County Superintendent. To those who helped me and those who supported me on June 6 with your vote, thank you very much.

I am also grateful to the other candidates. There was dignity in this campaign. The candidates did not take pot shots at each other. Each argued the points and focused on making his or her candidacy worthy, rather than diminishing the campaigns of opponents.

One final thought. The bashing that goes on in politics — and we saw plenty in the June primary — is enough to make most mild-mannered people run away from the political arena rather than enter it. It is said that to be a successful politician you must develop thick skin. Unfortunately, this means that we don't get many sensitive people in positions of leadership. It is my hope that sensitivity will not forever be trumped by those whose thirst for power makes them oblivious to pain. We need some real heart in our leaders.

Sandra Nichols is a Speech and Language Specialist for Santa Cruz City Schools, the Vice-President of the Pajaro Valley Unified School District Governing Board, and the Coordinator of Special Education for Spreckels Union School District in Monterey County, Her opinions are not necessarily those of any school district.

© Sandra Nichols 2001 - 2006

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