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Community weighs in on San Diego Unified’s future as school district opens search for new superintendent

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Mental health services, critical thinking skills and community feedback are among key issues raised during an online meeting for the Point Loma, Mission Bay and La Jolla school clusters.

A series of 30 town hall meetings intended to help build a profile of the ideal candidate for superintendent of the San Diego Unified School District and shape a vision of the district’s future is underway, including a July 30 online gathering for the district’s Point Loma, Mission Bay and La Jolla school clusters.

“In the first 10 meetings, we’re not asking specifics about the superintendent, we’re asking for basic information to have a foundation to build toward that,” said Janice Case, California director for the National Center on Education and the Economy, a not-for-profit group that advocates for education policy based on economic changes. NCEE representatives led the July 30 meeting in conjunction with the Superintendent Search Advisory Committee for SDUSD.

Organizers prompted participants with open-ended questions. The responses were then rated by all participants on a 10-point scale.

One participant called the platform “awesome.”

Another thought the process was valuable for community feedback, saying, “It feels like we don’t often get as much opportunity to provide input.”

Case, who attended the meeting, said the format was an efficient way of gathering a variety of ideas.

“There are 50 people in this [virtual] room right now, but of the people who are here, an additional 40 to 50 thoughts have been shared in the first 10-minute exchange,” Case said. “If we were just passing a mic around, there would be no chance to get all those ideas shared. With this platform, we’re able to hear from each and every one of you.”

The first of two prompts presented at the meeting was “What are some examples of things we should continue to do to support the students at SDUSD and what are some areas we need to improve?” The highest-rated response was “Need to improve in the area of providing mental health services.”

In early August, the highest-rated response to that question from all meetings was “Board of education needs to show how they are listening to parents during board meetings. Feels like change is not happening based on community feedback.”

The second prompt was “What are the most important characteristics and/or skills for students to have when they graduate from San Diego?”

The highest-rated responses to that were “Critical thinking and advocacy skills” and “Critical thinking/problem solving. Being an adult seems like putting out one fire after another, and sometimes you don’t have any water. Kids need to know how to figure it out.”

Between prompts, participants were organized into breakout sessions for supervised discussions about what SDUSD is doing well and what the district could improve on.

A parent whose child is in kindergarten said she’s interested in a child’s emotional well-being as well as academic well-being. Another participant who is studying to be certified as a high school math teacher said the most important thing a student needs to take away from school is critical thinking skill.

Other participants brought up issues of some school libraries not being open every day, disproportionate teacher-to-student ratios and the importance of reading and writing capabilities in elementary grades.

“The part you contributed today is a critical part of this process because you’re laying the foundation for the conversation that will lead to us understanding the characteristics and qualities of a superintendent that we should be looking for in order to ensure that we are on the right path for this district,” Case told the participants.

Former Superintendent Cindy Marten was confirmed in May as deputy secretary of the U.S. Department of Education. San Diego Unified educator Lamont Jackson was named interim superintendent through Dec. 31.

With the information gathered from all the districtwide town hall meetings, which continue through September, the 48-member Superintendent Search Advisory Committee will help develop the job posting for the superintendent position. It expects to list it by November.

The advisory committee then will screen applications and recommend about 10 candidates to be interviewed by the district board. After those interviews, the board will select three final candidates.

Community forums will be held to provide feedback, and the board plans to appoint a permanent superintendent in December.

For more information about the superintendent search, email superintendentsearch@sandi.net. ◆


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