Search is off: Ravalin named Visalia Unified superintendent

As of February 1, Dr. Tamara Ravalin is the Visalia Unified School District’s (VUSD) new superintendent of public schools.

Following negotiations in a closed session on January 28, VUSD trustees voted unanimously to move Ravalin permanently into the top position. She began serving as interim superintendent in May. The new contract runs through June of 2022, and Ravalin will receive an annual base salary of $252,063.

At their previous meeting on January 13, trustees made a 6-1 split decision not to conduct a search for candidates for the superintendent position. They made clear their intent to promote Ravalin permanently following the announcement of the vote not to seek additional candidates.

Good Things to Say

Ravalin received high praise from the board following the January 28 announcement of their closed-door decision to offer her the job on a permanent basis.

“As a trustee, one of the most important roles we have is to pick a superintendent,” Trustee Niessen Foster (Area 5) said. “I’ve picked several. I have to say that I’m the most proud of this appointment. If I’m remembered for anything, it’ll be this appointment.”

Previously, Board President John Crabtree (Area 4) called Ravalin “a strong leader” with an acquity for “team-building and effective
collaboration.”

Ravalin served for six years as the district’s superintendent of human resources, and previously was dean of student services at the College of the Sequoias. Her temporary appointment as interim superintendent came in May, following the departure of her predecessor, Dr. Todd Oto.

Foster has high hopes for Ravalin’s future performance in her new job.

“I think this superintendent will be one of the greatest superintendents we’ve ever had,” he said. “Someone said if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you can move mountains. Well, I have that much faith in this superintendent, and I think she’ll do a great job.”

Keeping Their Own Counsel

The process of picking the district’s new superintendent did not pass without minor controversy. In November, a group of some 30 community leaders and notable area educators penned a letter calling on the VUSD Board of Trustees to conduct a nationwide search to find the best possible candidate for the job.

Those who signed the letter calling for a wider search said they were concerned about a lack of transparency in the selection process. They also expressed a desire to see members of the public more involved in picking the district’s new superintendent.

Those who opposed such a search framed the letter as an attack on the board’s right to make the decision, as well as deriding the cost of casting a wider net for prospective superintendents. They also pointed out searching beyond the district had led to the hiring of two superintendents who were ultimately a poor fit for the VUSD.

Before announcing the trustees would promote from within, Crabtree addressed the issue.

“I would first like to say that the board would like to thank the members of the community for offering their assistance in the selection process for the new superintendent and to the many others who have shown their support through this challenging time,” he said.

Crabtree also clarified the trustees’ thinking regarding their decision.

“A majority of the board has personally had the opportunity for over six years to see Dr. Ravalin’s professional conduct in the execution of her duties as superintendent of human resources,” Crabtree said. “Add to that her extensive education and her many accomplishments in the field, we are confident that she is the right choice for leading our district forward.”

Split Decision

Trustee Dr. Lucia Vazquez (Area 6) cast the lone no vote during the board’s January 13 vote on conducting a candidate search. Her no vote led to speculation Vazquez opposed hiring Ravalin. That, however, is not the case, Vazquez said.

“The vote was to extend the contract or do a search,” she said. “I voted to do a search and everybody else voted to extend her contract.”

The letter from community leaders and educators did play a role in her decision to vote no, Vazquez said.

“There were a lot of people who had gotten a letter that had asked about doing a search,” she said. “I figured if we did a search and if she was the best candidate, we’d find out.”

Still, she understands a search could have led to a “long, drawn-out process,” and that the public had other fears. Some, Vazquez said, were concerned the trustees might appear biased if they did not appoint Ravalin after her two predecessors, both men, had been selected that way. That, however, did not sway Vazquez, and her no vote did not reflect her opinion of Ravalin.

“It was not about Dr. Ravalin,” she said. “It was about the process.”

Ultimately, Vazquez voted to hire Ravalin as superintendent.

“This Tuesday, we voted about her contract, and it was unanimous,” Vazquez said.

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