August 23, 2017
Dear Parents and Guardians,
It is with great pride I welcome you to the 2017-18 school year! It is my hope that you and your family enjoyed a summer that was both fun and relaxing. I am honored to be your new superintendent of schools, and excited to begin the new school year with you and your children.
With Great Thanks and Gratitude: As we start the new year, I first want to thank Dr. Hank Bangser for his leadership as superintendent for the past eight years. His steadfast management in leading the district from unprecedented declines in enrollment and financial uncertainty to successfully stabilizing our fiscal condition and guiding the district through many efforts including the passage of Measure J is appreciated beyond measure by me and so many others. I am grateful to have been advised and mentored by him. I consider Hank both a colleague and friend, and I look forward to seeing him enjoy the next part of his life journey with his wonderful family.
I also want to thank our extraordinary team of nearly 300 principals, teachers, administrators and staff members across our district, most of whom worked diligently over the summer to prepare for all of the 2,400+ student arrivals taking place across our campuses today. This includes several members of our leadership team who are excited to start their new role as I announced in the spring.
2017-18 and Beyond: In the twenty-seven months I served as your assistant superintendent, I am proud to have been part of a great team of individuals who are committed day-in-and-day out to ensuring your child receives the highest quality education that inspires and empowers them to become the “best version of themselves.” As we start the new year, we will continue that commitment, while also looking ahead to shaping public education in the Ojai Valley for future generations by thoughtfully and strategically focusing our resources so that we are not just another “district,” but an “Education Community” that serves as a model for other small districts. That means continuing to build Ojai Unified as a safe, inclusive, compassionate, modern, eco-friendly, health-conscious, conscientious, collaborative, and award-winning community that inspires active engagement and support from all members of the Ojai community, and where our students, teachers and families thrive.
As part of that effort, you will notice an enhancement to our own approach that is captured in a buzz-word we’ve used around the district office lately - “K-12ness.” We are seeking to enhance our “K-12ness” by building strong connections among and between all of our schools and grade levels by ensuring staff are working together strategically to create greater cohesion and increase achievement. So look to see references to our “K-12ness” throughout the year.
- Key Achievements we’re Building Upon: To get to where we want to go, we have to naturally reflect from where we’ve come. And what a difference a year makes! I am happy to kick-off the start of this school year with our attention focused on celebrating many of our key accomplishments that we will continue to build upon over the next 10 months and beyond including:
- Student achievement on state-testing increased last year relative to the prior year (2015-16).
- Our class sizes have decreased throughout the district. At our elementary schools, we have our smallest class sizes in a decade (26:1 this year compared to nearly 31:1 just four years ago).
- We have made critical progress on repairs and improvements to our infrastructure through “Measure J” funds including: roof replacements at Nordhoff and Meiners Oaks; campus painting at Nordhoff, Matilija, Mira Monte and the Chaparral auditorium; and a new cafeteria kitchen at Topa Topa.
- Our hard-working staff has received two consecutive years of much deserved salary increases following several years of no raises.
What’s Coming Up: Building on that momentum, we will continue to invest our resources in teacher development and enhancing our students’ learning experience. New initiatives starting this year include:
- A new curriculum (elementary English Language Arts),
- A discrete transitional-kindergarten program,
- Additional technology in the classroom,
- Increased access to technology and after school support for students, and
- New career technical education offerings at Nordhoff, Chaparral and Matilija.
Challenges Ahead: Although we have tremendous momentum and excitement going into the new year, we also must balance it with a healthy and realistic understanding of the critical issues the district continues to face. With student enrollment continuing to decline, federal, state and local dollars decreasing and becoming more uncertain, our schools need additional support to continue to deliver a superior education for all students, regardless of their background or economic status.
How You Can Help: Given these challenges, I am hopeful you will find opportunities throughout the year to support our schools in a way that works best for you and your family. Whether its volunteering inside or outside the classroom, joining your school PTA/PTO, or making a donation to your school PTO/PTA/Booster Club and the Ojai Education Foundation, every little bit you can give helps us maintain and enhance the education experience throughout all of our schools.
A specific way you can help is to participate in our districtwide Back-to-School campaign “Feed Our Kids, Fund Our Schools.” From now through September 29, we are encouraging families to enroll in our Free & Reduced Priced Meals program offered through our Nutrition Services department. Students who qualify for this program receive a nutritious meal for free or at a significantly reduced price. And for every student who qualifies for this program, the district receives an additional $1,400 in additional state funding, even if the child does not participate in the program. Please see the Nutrition Services brochure that was included in your child’s Back-To-School packet for more information. And be sure to enroll!
Yours Truly: My personal signature line is, “yours”. I say “yours” as a reminder to myself and others that we work for you! Building and enhancing our relationships with you, our parents, and our other key stakeholders, will become an even greater priority in our district and a defining trait moving forward. And I underline, “ours” to emphasize that together, we make up our Valley. In fact, for the first time in a long time, all of our school principals, assistant principals, the assistant superintendent and I actually live in the Ojai Valley, so you can say we’re “Valley Strong!”
As we start this new chapter in our district, we can expect this year to include great excitement and incredible achievements, along with its own set of challenges. Given we are all working together and focused on the same goal, to provide your child an enriching, inspiring and superior education, our entire district is committed to working in partnership with you throughout the year.