As I reflect on my first year as Superintendent of the 32nd largest district in the state, I am grateful to serve and support our over 4,000 employees and 32,000 preschool to adult students.
We have amazing people in our district and community whose priority is our students’ success. Our Board of Education mirrors that same priority, and I am proud of the work they have done as a unified governance team to set the conditions for each of our students to learn at their highest levels. These conditions have been set through the unanimous approval of foundational policies setting the direction for the district. These include our Core Beliefs and Commitments and our Theory of Action, which are critical because they declare what is important to us as a district and what we need to do to get there. This clarity is what you, the community, identified as needing to happen within the superintendent search survey. And our Board has delivered.
In addition to the need for clarity, I heard the community being clear that changes were expected in three areas: academics, staff and student safety, and communication. Led by our Board, we invested resources in all three areas, developing and/or enhancing systems, processes, and protocols to set successful conditions for our students, staff, and families. Some examples of these resource investments include:
- Academics: clarifying instructional expectations; providing more intentional support to schools and classroom teachers; three guaranteed admissions partnerships with CSU Fresno, Fresno Pacific University, and UC Merced; and 24/7 online tutoring services for students in 4th-12th grade.
- Safety: trained over 4,000 permanent and temporary employees in active shooter training; development of a new transportation app which allows parents to track their students’ bus locations; implementation of a new visitor and emergency notification management system for schools and district offices; enhancing our camera systems and a focus on additional supports for students who were struggling academically and behaviorally.
- Communications: development of a new team which has earned 17 state (the most in the state) and 15 national awards for their exemplary work; more proactive communications to keep our community informed; and a new website which will be launching this July 31, 2023.
We were also able to positively collaborate with both our certificated and classified labor partners to agree on their contracts in record time, with record approval, providing robust salary and benefits packages to honor their hard work and ensure stability.
These investments have been made possible, while the Board unanimously approved and sustained a balanced operating budget of over $600 million.
Although our Board and staff have worked hard to see these transformational changes occur in a short period of time, we still have a lot of work to do.
I heard from many of you through my visits to schools and classrooms, my advisories that included students, staff, and families from every grade level, as well as community meetings. The time I spent with each individual was invaluable, because it allowed me to guide our leaders and Board when making transformational decisions. Each person’s voice matters, and through these sometimes difficult conversations, I was able to see the needs of our district first hand. I will continue to engage in these conversations to stay informed on the health of our district at every level.
As the year progressed, we saw increased challenges in student engagement and behavior. We still have a ways to go to ensure that every student is receiving a high-quality academic and social experience. We need to continue to provide meaningful, engaging learning experiences for students, and ensure that our students are connected to meaningful activities. When we do this, research shows that students will rise to the expectations and excel.
Looking to next school year, we are taking what we learned this past year, and are providing immediate supports including:
- All teachers and administrators receiving training in Professional Learning Communities. A process which helps teachers focus on student learning in collaborative groups to provide high-quality learning experiences for each student.
- We are refining and developing strategies and systems to better enhance student learning by focusing on positive student behaviors. We are also providing staff with additional training and clarity on implementation of our Code of Conduct to support students who are negatively affecting student learning.
- Focusing on K-2 phonics and Math I instruction to ensure all students have a strong foundation.
- Continuing to build more partnerships through our One Visalia Connected initiative.
- Visalia Forward 2030: A community driven blueprint for the future – Finalizing our strategic plan and long range facilities master plan
I am very excited for the work ahead, and I take very seriously the responsibility to ensure each of our students achieve at the highest levels. I know we have the right people doing the right work. Join me in being a champion for our students. Onward to the 2023-24 school year!
I believe in, I belong in, I am VUSD.