Santa Barbara Unified School District’s new superintendent reflects on starting amid pandemic
Last week was Hilda Maldonado’s first week as Santa Barbara Unified School District’s superintendent, a position she enters at an uncertain time for the school district and for education at large.
That uncertainty, of course, surrounds when the COVID-19 pandemic will subside enough for schools to reopen with full in-person learning, which was suspended in favor of remote learning in the spring.
Under the circumstances, Ms. Maldonado’s first priority in her new role is reopening the schools in a way that prioritizes the safety of SBUSD students.
“My immediate goal as a superintendent is to support our reopening of schools with a focus on health and safety while also ensuring all students receive a high-quality education,” she told the News-Press.
The new superintendent spent her first week meeting with SBUSD staff via video conference call, and learning about how the school district is organized. Formerly the associate superintendent of leadership and partnerships for the Los Angeles Unified School District, the second largest school district in America, Ms. Maldonado also worked as a teacher, literacy coach, assistant principal, principal and director of principals.
The plethora of roles she had in the LAUSD has allowed her to approach improving students academic performance from various perspectives, which she believes has prepared her well for the superintendent role.
“All of these roles led me to work different parts of the city, thus providing me access to schools and school leaders in a variety of settings and with a variety of experiences,” she said.
She added, “I hope to use those leadership lessons as I meet staff across the district and think about the best way to support the academic and social emotional needs of all our students regardless of their circumstances and ensure their future is secure.”
Making a definite plan to fully reopen schools is difficult, as going forth with complete in-person schooling is dependent on COVID-19 infection rates that are subject to change, and if SBUSD staff and facilities can realistically be marshalled in a way that ensures students safety.
As the News-Press reported, the Santa Barbara Unified School District Board of Education held a study session on Tuesday to discuss how to approach the coming fall semester. According to SBUSD public information officer Camie Barnwell, the board is expected to vote on a plan for reopening schools at its July 21 meeting.
According to a board report from June 23, the board is considering three scenarios for reopening: Fully remote learning, fully in-person lessons, or hybrid instruction.
Ms. Barnwell remarked that putting the necessary precautions in place for a full in-person reopening would likely put “a lot of pressure” on SBUSD facilities personnel.
Under the hybrid model, a school’s student body would be divided into two cohorts that alternate twice a week between remote learning and physical attendance. For one day during the week, both cohorts would learn from home.
Ms. Maldonado told the News-Press that taking up the superintendent position amid the pandemic has been quite an undertaking, as the changing COVID-19 situation makes the decision-making process unpredictable.
“Taking a position like this during a pandemic is a big challenge because there is no ‘playbook’ for how to make decisions or how to write a strategic plan,” she said.
Despite this, the new superintendent stated she is grateful for her colleagues at SBUSD and their diligence in making sure students get taught, whatever the circumstances.
“I’m glad to be able to rely on the committed principals, teachers and staff members who have been and continue to work towards ensuring that we reach and teach all students,” she said.