Expect a new Cotati-Rohnert Park School Superintendent to be introduced soon. The district’s ninth permanent superintendent, likely to be presented at the June 11 school board meeting, faces many opportunities and challenges.
The most general, the most important, question: will this superintendent become a part of the Cotati-Rohnert Park community? The eight predecessors can be lumped into two broad categories: five who came here to pad their resumes and move on; three who finished their careers as local superintendents.
The five carpetbaggers jumped to bigger bureaucracies after leaving their marks on our district. Mike McLaughlin (1983-1987) killed the elementary year-round calendar and got out before the dust cleared. John Haro (1987-1991) claimed a 1.5m deficit when the district turned out to be 1.5m in the black forcing teachers to declare a strike. Walter Buster (1991-1994) led the district to change plans for the 1990 bond resulting in a thirty-year delay for constructing a new gym and theater arts building. Michael Watenpaugh (2003-2007), well-liked by employees, helped negotiate a generous retiree buyout whose financial impact haunts the district to this day. Robert Haley (2011-2018) left the legacy of the TAG building and its operational costs.
The retiree-superintendents each served for at least four years. Robert McConnell (1979-1983) had the task of uniting the elementary and secondary schools while avoiding confronting the issue of two different school calendars. Janice Heffron (1996-2003) guided the district through times of student population increase. Barbara Vrankovich (2007-2011) led the district through a financial downturn making difficult decisions, closing schools, cutting programs and convincing employees to take huge cuts in salary and benefits to help keep the district afloat for three years.
Looking back to looking ahead. The new superintendent must become a real part of the community with an eye on the district’s immediate needs and its long-term goals. This person must nurture the educational program for the well being of the students, not to have projects to further his or her career. Living in the Cotati-Rohnert Park community would be a good start. Only one of the eight superintendents had a primary home in Rohnert Park.
This new superintendent must learn the community’s demographics to understand who our students are and what programs will best benefit them. Rancho Cotate’s valedictorian, Jessica Phillips, made more sense in her speech at graduation than all of the superintendents of the past forty years. She respected students who planned to go into the military, the trades and the work force equally with those who were heading for college. Jessica knows her community.
Many areas of concern present themselves to the new superintendent. Distinct progress in transparency of policy and activities began during the past six months. This must continue.
Five sub-categories have been worked on during the past six months; much more work is needed. To say that academics need to be enhanced is not to disparage the efforts of the students and teachers. Special Education has been neglected in many areas but a new committee has made strides in getting problems recognized. Proper placement of students and employees must be another priority for new district leadership. Safety issues for all schools must be ongoing; safety plans must be kept up-to-date. District communications must be handled sincerely. The district must acknowledge all problems and show efforts to solve these problems.
Welcome Superintendent. The community relies on you to improve all these areas. It stands ready to support true, open leadership and looks forward to an educational system that fits our population.