By Sarah Ford — On Wednesday night, around 40 people, mostly School District parents but also community members and District staff and Trustees, gathered at the Springs Community Hall to meet with the new Interim District Superintendent, Chuck Young.
Davin Cardenas, of North Bay Organizing, simultaneously translated the meeting into Spanish, with some of the many Latino parents in attendance gathered around him.
The meeting was arranged by Cardenas and some District parents, including Celeste Winders and Mario Castillo. They sought a forum where parents’ concerns and questions could be aired and discussed — something they felt the format of regular School Board discourages.
Winders said she had expected ten to twelve people, since there was no official notification, and was surprised by the high turnout. They chose the venue as a halfway point between Sonoma neighborhoods, and as a less intimidating place for many parents.
Some issues were raised several times. These included communication and transparency, meeting the needs of gifted and special needs students, helping English learners succeed, ensuring the civil rights of all students on campus, and changes to the math curriculum.
After the introductions, Castillo pointed out that of all of the concerns expressed by parents, no one mentioned the School Board dynamic, and he questioned the narrative that has been propagated since former Superintendent Carlomagno’s resignation about the need to “fix the board,” with specific reference to two school board members. He noted that it appeared that parents were, instead, focused on issues of concern to their kids.
Castillo also emphasized that it takes time to build community, and that the meeting was a good start.
Young expressed the hope that this type of meeting could continue, and pledged to hold regular town hall type meetings, perhaps once a month. He said that, after a month on the job and many individual meetings, he has found staff and board members to be capable and dedicated, and that they share parents’ concerns.
He also emphasized the need for parent involvement, and insisted that if parents had a problem that could not be solved elsewhere, to bring it to him. For example, if speaking to a teacher with whom your student has a problem yields no results, and going to the principal doesn’t work, that parents should let him know.
Because of the unexpected turnout, the organizers scrapped their original agenda, which was to go over the LCAP (which outlines District goals), the budget, special education, English language learners, and the Superintendent hiring process. Instead, they invited participants to introduce themselves, mention their affiliation with the District, if any, and share their areas of concern.
Young and Board President Dan Gustafson, who was in attendance, stressed that the role of the School Board was to set policy, hire and evaluate the Superintendent, and create four or five goals, with metrics for evaluating success in accomplishing them. He likened it to the board of a corporation. “Nose in, hands out,” Gustafson said. They are a “monitoring body,” he said, that gets input from the community and conveys it to the Superintendent.
Trustee Britta Johnson, also in attendance, emphasized that she looks forward to “more roundtable dialogues such as this, with parents and other stakeholders, to collaboratively address the significant challenges facing the district.”