A profound silence characterized Cotati-Rohnert Park’s superintendent search since the eleventh hour bow out of the selected candidate, who, for personal reasons, chose not to sign the contract on June 11, 2019. Since that time the school board appointed Julie Synyard and Robert Marical to assume the duties of the superintendent for the time being and, perhaps, until July 1, 2020.
On Wednesday, June 24, the school board met to discuss hiring an Interim Superintendent. The board agenda, sent out to recipients, offered two clues. The board would discuss a one-word topic, “Superintendent” in closed session. Then it would reconvene to public session and covering another topic, “Employment of Dr. Michael Watenpaugh as Interim Superintendent beginning July 1, 2019 through November 30, 2020.”
And the board followed the agenda precisely. When it returned to public session, there was no public comment or board discussion. Tim Nonn made the motion that Watenpaugh be hired and Chrissa Gillies seconded the motion. Jennifer Wiltermood had the dissenting vote as the other four members voted to hire this superintendent.
Michael Watenpaugh, no stranger to the Cotati-Rohnert Park Unified School District, served as superintendent for four years between 2003 and 2007 and then he was hired by a larger district, San Rafael City Schools. He served there for twelve years.
San Rafael offered some background information about him while he held that post: “Dr. Michael Watenpaugh is the Superintendent of San Rafael City Schools. He oversees all district leadership including: Human Resources, Curriculum and Instruction, Food Service, Information Technology, Special Education, PR/Communication, Business Services and Maintenance/Operations.”
San Rafael with eight elementary schools, two middle schools and three high schools somewhat resembles the Cotati-Rohnert Park district.
About his background, San Rafael reported, “Dr. Watenpaugh has been a classroom teacher, Assistant Principal, K-5 Principal, Assistant Superintendent and Superintendent.”
Watenpaugh impressed the school district with his accomplishments: “For the past eight years, his courageous, strategic actions to raise expectations and close the achievement gap have transformed San Rafael City Schools. Student achievement gains are clear on both district and school wide basis. Dr. Watenpaugh has established new partnerships and collaborations with local, state and national non-profit foundations.”
Some of his achievements in San Rafael include “Early Success in Schools” funded by Marin Community Foundation for $1.2m, “Transformational Schools” also funded by the same group for $225k and “Community Schools Planning Grant” supported by United Way of the Bay Area for $35k.
Watenpaugh earned a Bachelor of Arts in Social Ecology from the University of California at Irvine in 1981. The next year he gained his Multiple Subjects Teaching Credential. He was awarded a Master’s Degree in School Leadership from the University of Laverne in 1986. In 1990 he earned an Administrative Services Credential in Education from San Francisco State University. And in 2005 he received a Doctorate of Education in Organizational Leadership from the University of Laverne.
He then served as a classroom teacher from 1982 to 1987 in the Capistrano Unified School District. During that time, he also was a Mentor Teacher and a Teaching Assistant Principal. For the next two years, he was an Assistant Principal and Summer School Coordinator.
He worked in Marin County for the following thirteen years. In San Rafael, he served as an Elementary School Principal for a year and a half. Then he was Middle School Principal in Novato for three years. From 1994 to 1999, he was Director of Personnel Services for Novato Unified School District. And for the next four years he was Assistant Superintendent in the same district.
In July of 2003, he became Superintendent of Cotati-Rohnert Park Unified School District. During his four-year tenure, he became known for his approachability, his support of teachers and academics, and his ability to lead smoothly working through concerns of parents, teachers and the community.
Special awards presented to Watenpaugh include Educator of the Year in 2001 by the Novato Chamber of Commerce, Sonoma Superintendent of the Year in 2005 by Sonoma County School Administrators Association and Marin County Educator of the Year in 2013 by Marin County School Boards Association and Marin County Office of Education.
Two former Rohnert Park Educator Association Presidents have high regard for Watenpaugh. Mary Denson, Association President while Watenpaugh was Superintendent, recalls, “He was congenial. He gave the appearance of wanting to work well with the teachers. He was good at follow up” when teachers raised questions or had issues with the district.
Mike Schroeder, RPCEA President from 2000 to 2005, enjoyed his relationship with Watenpaugh. Together they solved many problems. Schroeder always felt respected by Watenpaugh and he believed all employees were treated fairly. Watenpaugh had a reputation for following all of the union contracts.
Trustee Tim Nonn believes Watenpaugh has just the right tools for the current situation. “Dr. Michael Watenpaugh brings a wealth of experience and a familiarity with our district that few superintendents can match. He has a reputation for fairness and working collaboratively. His commitment to genuine collaboration is what we need to move beyond conflict and divisiveness toward becoming a preeminent school district.”
Former Trustee and two-time Board President Karyn Pulley served on the Board from 2000 to 2012 worked with Watenpaugh when he was superintendent from 2003 to 2007. She praised his leadership and sees this as a timely return.
“Michael Watenpaugh will bring a positive, caring, collaborative and healing spirit to the district. Together, as he works with staff and the oversight of the school board trustees, they will be building a renewed foundation for the district to grow and meet goals and objectives for our students’ futures.”
Current CRPUSD School Board President Leff Brown enjoyed working with Watenpaugh fifteen years ago. Brown believes that Watenpaugh is the perfect fit for the current situation.
Watenpaugh appears to be thrilled to be returning to Cotati-Rohnert Park. He began working last week as soon as the Board hired him. He said, “I’m excited to be returning to CRPUSD as the Interim Superintendent. I can’t wait to get into our schools and classrooms to talk with students, teachers and staff. I’m eager to see the great things that are happening and to learn how I can best support kids and staff.”