Superintendent praises district’s ‘resilience to stay strong’
In a word, the state of the Santa Barbara Unified School District is resilient, according to Superintendent Hilda Maldonado.
Students have adjusted to fluctuating schedules and learning environments.
Educators have shown up to their classrooms, tangible and virtual, despite a pandemic, despite experiencing great personal loss, despite being exhausted.
And Dr. Maldonado remains inspired by what she’s seeing across SBUSD.
“When I go to schools, I see a lot of kids engaged and learning and socializing and connecting,” Superintendent Maldonado said. “The thing I’m most proud of is the resilience that has been displayed by everyone who works for Santa Barbara Unified — the resilience to stay strong, to stay connected, to stay together to be honest and have courageous conversations when we don’t agree.”
Dr. Maldonado is preparing to give a “State of our Schools” update to the Santa Barbara community at 8 a.m. May 19. The presentation will be given at the Godric Grove at Elings Park and recorded for the community to view shortly thereafter.
And the superintendent will be joined by some very special guests to help give the SBUSD update: students.
“Who better than to hear from what the state of our schools is than the students themselves,” Dr. Maldonado said.
Dr. Maldonado took the helm of SBUSD in July 2020, just as COVID-19 was wreaking havoc across the country — and it didn’t spare schools.
“It was a series of steps and learning that we went through” during the pandemic, Dr. Maldonado previously told the News-Press, recalling how SBUSD traversed ever-changing metrics, created socially distant classrooms and navigated staffing issues. “It’s been layers of learning that happened, but we knew that the best place for students was going to be in person.”
As she reflects on how the district has weathered the pandemic in preparation for her update, it is axiomatic how the myriad changes COVID brought have impacted SBUSD employees’ mental health.
“It’s weighed on our mental health, it’s weighed on our emotions, to keep giving, but I know we do it because people who work in education do it for kids,” she said. “We don’t pay a lot. We don’t have promises of fame and fortune. These are very caring individuals that just do it for the love of students. I want the community to really help me in thanking people for that.”
Looking ahead, Dr. Maldonado said the district should “focus back on creating the new education system.”
“We’ve learned a lot about how we can pivot as a school system when we went from being in-person to a long time in distance learning with the use of technology — which made some things easier, but we need to scale back that technology use and focus back on the whole child,” Dr. Maldonado said.
Concerns about technology use among children — from excessive screen time to access to harmful content — sparked a recent grassroots movement among Santa Barbara parents. The coalition of parents, called TechWise SB, has asked the district to remove access to YouTube on elementary school campuses, keep younger students’ iPads in the classroom instead of allowing them to be taken home, and provide parents more training and information about how to monitor a child’s use of an iPad or similar device.
Services provided by the school district have also changed over the years, Dr. Maldonado noted. Educators are now focused on learning initiatives as well as emotional and nutritional needs and more.
“I am looking forward to us getting back to that way of connecting holistically to each other as adults but also to children, and then doing it with the mindset that public education is an incredible driver of change in our society — particularly for those of us who grew up in poverty and are growing up in poverty,” Superintendent Maldonado said. “We know it opens doors; it opens opportunities.”
“It’s not lost on me that I still need to improve academics,” she continued. “I still need to improve literacy rates, mathematics, and look at all the ways we now know our children learn and access our materials.”
And then there are the racial incidents that have rocked the district of late.
A recent meeting of a new anti-blackness working group — made up of parents, district employees, community members and some school board members — discussed hiring a consultant who could conduct a racial climate assessment of the schools and district. (“Anti-blackness” is a term that is used to describe actions, words or behaviors that dehumanize or marginalize black people.)
Dr. Maldonado said the process of finding an outside organization to conduct the assessment is ongoing.
The group is also discussing current policies across the district and in specific schools about how to handle racial incidents that arise before the assessment is concluded.
“I’m very proud that we are taking on a conversation that is very difficult around race issues in our community and in our schools,” Dr. Maldonado said. “This district has always been really courageous about taking on these types of issues and that makes me really proud.”
To be sure, there is much to address within SBUSD schools in the coming months and years. But still, Dr. Maldonado remains inspired by the resiliency of the district — staff, educators and students alike.