Solana Beach School District looking for its next leader

The Solana Beach School District continues on its superintendent search, seeking “an innovative and creative educational leader” to replace retiring Superintendent Terry Decker.

The school board hired Hazard, Young, Attea and Associates (HYA) to help lead the search, casting a broad net to find the best candidate possible. The goal is for the new leader to be in place by July 1 —Decker’s last day on the job is June 30.

Over the last few weeks, HYA consultants Suzette Lovely and Joe Farley have held open forums with various Solana Beach School District groups, including PTA and foundation members, administrative staff, teachers and parents. Farley had a 42-year career in education, retiring as the superintendent of Capistrano Unified School District in 2013; Lovely comes from a 34-year career in education, retiring as the superintendent of the Carlsbad Union School District in 2016.

Lovely said all of the information gathered will be used to create a leadership profile that they will measure candidates against. All candidates will be vetted through an “extensive” reference check and a tough due diligence report that includes analysis of social media profiles, credit reports and any legal issues —“The board and the community doesn’t want any surprises,” said Farley.

All candidates will also complete a “rigorous” application and the top candidates will be interviewed at least three times.

The April 17 parent forum at Solana Pacific Elementary School was attended by just two parents, representing Solana Vista and Solana Pacific. Farley said the low attendance is normal—more parents are expected to participate in an online survey (found on the district website sbsd.k12.ca.us).

At the meetings and through the survey, the consultants are looking for input on three main areas: the strengths of the district, its challenges and issues, and what kind of characteristics the new superintendent should have. “These three questions will assist not only the board as they’re looking and making sure they have the right candidate for the position but the applicants as well so that people who are applying for the position of superintendent know what Solana Beach is all about,” Lovely said.

In the April 17 session, parents listed the district’s strengths as its teachers, high standards and programming like STREAM.

“This is a desirable district and people come to live here because of the schools,” said one parent.

A teacher in attendance said a district strength is also its dedicated and generous parents who care enough to give to organizations like the Solana Beach Schools Foundation to provide academic experiences that are not funded by the state.

Challenges, issues and needs parents stated included the varying quality of principals at each school site, school safety and consistency in disciplinary issues.

One parent, new to the district this year, said that she felt there was a lack of communication and connection. When she arrived at her school, she felt the website was outdated and information was hard to find.

Another challenge for the district is handling district growth, particularly in Pacific Highlands Ranch. Solana Ranch School, which opened in 2014, is already preparing to add modular classrooms on the campus to address growth. The district also has an option to build its eighth school in Pacific Highlands Ranch. One parent pointed out that Solana Pacific and Solana Highlands Schools’ enrollments, by contrast, are getting smaller—redistricting and attendance areas might be issues a new superintendent has to address, she said.

One parent said that it was important for the superintendent to come in knowing that SBSD is a leading school district and they will need to maintain that quality but he or she should also feel “empowered and confident” in assessing the district and making changes if necessary.

The parents said they would like the new superintendent to be someone who understands the differences of populations within the district and meet its needs cross-culturally and economically, one who is charismatic and has the respect of teachers, one with a genuine care and love for children, and one who is committed to making the district the best.

A parent noted that SBSD is a unique district in which a large majority of the parents have advanced degrees.

“These are people who value education and have chosen not to take kids to private schools because we think we can do at least as well here. That’s a powerful statement,” she said. “We’re entrusting the most precious thing we have with this school district. (The new superintendent) should respect that, appreciate that, be inspired by that.”

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