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Superintendent candidates grilled by community, trustees in final interviews

By Carly Sauvageau

Superintendent candidates for the Washoe County School District  this week met with community members, students and the Board of Trustees in the final steps of the selection process. 

The five finalists met at Wooster High School on Tuesday to answer questions from the community, parents, faculty and students. 

“I think there’s some extremely strong and powerful candidates,” Caden Kuster said. Kuster is a senior at Reed High School and the committee chair for the WCSD’s Committee on Student Engagement. 

He said that engagement and mental health are some of the biggest issues concerning students.

“It’s really hard for students to have the desire to keep pushing themselves in the classroom,” he said.

Mental health and burnout came up not only in the questions from students, but staff as well. According to an annual staff climate survey, staff levels of burnout and anxiety remain above pre-pandemic levels.  

“The most important part, at least to me, is that they value both the students and the staff and they are willing to work and do what’s necessary to ensure that both are happy,” Manuel Magana, a counselor at Echo Loder Elementary School, said.

Parents also questioned how the candidates would address issues concerning them.

“I’m looking for someone who wants to bring more diversity into the schools, as far as running a school, recognizing the diversity in our communities. Also the larger growing population of Latinos…how are we incorporating their voices into their learning and children’s bilingual needs or language assistance in general?” parent Victoria Rios said.

Each candidate was given about 30 minutes to answer questions that had been submitted by community members. 

While some questions focused on student engagement, teacher well-being, English Language Learners, family involvement, and the pandemic, others were more politically charged. 

Candidates answered questions about Critical Race Theory (CRT), whether America is a white supremast nation and whether an emphasis on equity and restorative practices were being prioritized over student proficiency and discipline. 

Highlights from the candidate meetings

Susan Enfield

“There is no secret curriculum that I’m aware of in any school system.”

Susan Enfield has been the superintendent for Highline Public Schools in Burien, Washington for the last decade. She said she is looking for a superintendent position in a district where she can put down roots.

One participant at Tuesday’s event said they’d heard Enfield had said she was drawn to a superintendent position in San Diego because of its lengthy retention for superintendents. Why would she want to come to a district with high turnover, the person asked. 

Enfield said she was in it for the long haul.

“I really am looking to put roots in somewhere and be there for some time. And that means getting through the tough times together. It won’t always be easy. There will be disagreements, there will be challenges, but I believe if the fit is right…we’ll be able to get through it as a community,” she said.

One of the submitted questions Enfield addressed was whether she believed school curriculum should be posted for parent review. 

“All of our curriculum is public,” she said. “There is no secret curriculum that I’m aware of in any school system.” 

She said that often people confuse curriculum with tools and resources that are available for educators. She also said that recently seeds of mistrust have been spread throughout communities and that while instinct would be to get defensive, she believes that’s a moment to lean in and embrace transparency.

Jhone Ebert

“When they can see a career path, when they understand what college expectations are, they are more engaged.”

Johne Ebert is the only local candidate. She was appointed the State Superintendent of Public Instruction for the Nevada Department of Education by Gov. Steve Sisolak in April 2019.

She addressed concerns about the lack of student engagement post-pandemic. She said student and family voices are important to learning what drives students.

“We need to ask our customer, ‘Why are you not engaged?’” she said.

She also said that she is a huge fan of career and technical education and wants to double down on those programs. 

Students that participate in career and technical education courses have a 92% graduation rate, she added.

“When they can see a career path, when they understand what college expectations are, they are more engaged,” she said. “Again, the pandemic happened…We need to make sure social-emotional things are taken care of as well. But we have an opportunity at this point in time to expand those areas which have shown high rates of graduation.”

Ebert said that she came from a “childhood of poverty” and that teachers helped her to become successful.

“My parents loved me, but they did not know how to support me into success and a career. But the educators did and they wrapped their arms around myself [and] my sister,” she said. 

Ebert said she wanted to create a support system around students that may not come from a background that knows how to navigate the educational system.

Shawn T. Loescher

“We need to be able to talk about racism, sexism and things that are very real in our communities that are impacting our students.”

Shawn Loescher is the CEO for Urban Discovery Schools in San Diego, California. He is also a faculty associate at Arizona State University teaching leadership and innovation, as well as one of TED-Ed’s Innovative Educators

One community member asked if candidates would ensure that CRT would not be taught in WCSD schools. Loescher, who is a professor of CRT, said that it is “an advanced legal theory.” 

According to Loescher, it is often taught at a master’s level and he has never seen it taught at K-12 grade levels. 

“Now if we’re having a different conversation… saying we don’t want CRT means we shouldn’t be talking about difficult topics, no I’m not on board [with not using CRT],” he said. “We need to be able to talk about racism, sexism and things that are very real in our communities that are impacting our students. And we have to have a conversation about them, even if they’re controversial at times.”

Loescher said he understood that there is controversy about that and that everyone must be civil and respectful. He also noted that he has implemented transgender rights in order to prevent child suicide.

“Talking about what is happening in various parts of the world and our country is the only way we are going to be able to come together to build a more just and ardent society for our children.”

Sherrell Hobbs

“I believe that parents, that families make the best decision for their child like I made for my life.”

Sherrell Hobbs is the CEO of Victory Educational Solutions, a company that provides professional strategies for development out of Fort Lauderdale, Florida. She is also a former teacher and administrator. 

“I know what it’s like, again, to be a teacher doing everything that you can possibly think of doing and still not being able to see those results,” Hobbs said.

She said that one of the biggest goals if she were to become superintendent would be to improve teacher morale and reduce the teacher shortage. She said that some solutions would be alternative ways of teaching. 

Using “centralized teachers” where the teachers are teaching online and in the classroom was one suggested option. She also mentioned teaching in unconventional ways, such as teaching written tasks verbally if the child needs it.

Hobbs said she believes in individual choice. 

When asked if she believes sex education should be taught in schools, she said she believes that “parents reserve the right to teach their children what they need to know.”

In the focus group of parents, a parent asked if Hobbs believed it discriminatory to require an unvaccinated child to stay out of school for 10 days when a sick but vaccinated child can come back after 5 days.

“I will go on the record saying that I’m not vaccinated, ok,” she said. “That’s my personal choice and that’s just who I am as a person and I believe each person has to make the choice that is right for them…I believe that parents, that families make the best decision for their child like I made for my life.”

Caprice Young

“I have had success in getting a lot of people to row in the same direction.” 

Caprice Young is the president of Education Growth Group in Los Angeles, California. She has a background in tech, but said she has always advocated for children.

Young said her biological parents had many foster children growing up. This experience led her to see how children and adults that lack familial support often are the ones that slip through the cracks. She would like to advocate for these kids. 

“It’s about how do we as a community all together ensure that they have the resources and the opportunities and the support they need even when their family situation isn’t what it could or should be,” she said.

Young also said she was realistic about getting the district’s 8,000 staff members on board with a superintendent’s leadership. 

She said it wasn’t going to happen; about 2,000 staff would be excited, about 5,000 would be in the middle, and about 1,000 would be unhappy but go along. She said that was to be expected, but wasn’t an impossible prospect.

“I have had success in getting a lot of people to row in the same direction,” she said. 

More information

The district has livestreamed several portions of the candidate interview and selection process. Tuesday’s focus groups at Wooster High School can be watched here

Trustees on Wednesday spent almost eight hours interviewing the five candidates in a round-robin session. The interviews are available for playback here.

Candidates’ letters of recommendation and resumes are here. The page also includes a superintendent evaluation survey that community members can complete before Friday at 5 p.m. 

The Board of Trustees will make a final selection at their April 27 meeting.

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