School board brings former superintendent Drew Sorenson back into the district to mentor interim superintendent Laura Gonzalez
By Paul Myers
WOODLAKE – Since taking over Woodlake Unified School District’s superintendent job, Laura Gonzalez has been learning on the job. Bus, as of this month, she has a little bit of help from someone who has done it job before.
At its Nov. 13 meeting, the Woodlake Unified School Board voted to sign former superintendent Drew Sorenson to a short term contract. His job thus far has been guidance, and Gonzalez has welcomed it with open arms.
“I can ask him anything about anything. He doesn’t tell me what to do as much as he gives me points to consider and think about things. If I have an idea and I’m not sure about it I’ll run it by him,” Gonzalez said.
Sorenson was the long time superintendent before handing the reins over to Alfonso Gamino. Gamino was just two months into his second school year with the district before he unexpectedly resigned. Gonzalez said she was unexpectedly told by Gamino that he was leaving and that she should expect a call the following Monday. By Tuesday, Sept. 17 she was appointed acting superintendent by the board of trustees.
The move was even more surprising considering that Gamino was signed to a four-year contract that began on July 1, 2018 through June 30, 2021.
Despite the abrupt change from her assistant superintendent role at Woodlake Unified, which she began in February of this year when she took over for Glen Billington, Gonzalez said that things have been running well.
“Things are great. Things are running smoothly now, for me. Now I have an understanding of the expectation of the role of the superintendent” Gonzalez said.
While she has only been superintendent for less than a full semester, Gonzalez has plans she wants to implement. One of the things she likes about Woodlake, and one of the reasons she chose to take over for Billington when the position was open, as opposed to staying with the Tulare County Office of Education, was because of the district’s student first culture.
“I’m more than happy to serve in any capacity that I need…we plan to keep moving forward for what is best for our students. They are at the center of everything that we do,” Gonzalez said to the Sun-Gazette in September.
She said that she has learned mostly about how larger organizations work, and added that the superintendent is just one piece of a much larger operation. Some of the things she has gone over with Sorenson has been about personnel, student achievement and time management. Although, she has gotten creative in order to make some time for her family. Fortunately she has an understanding staff that sees her working as interim superintendent and assistant superintendent.
“That’s been the juggling act. It’s more hours, but it’s two jobs,” Gonzalez said. “Staff is more understanding so they understand that I have a family, I have a little boy.”
Sorenson and Gonzalez meet for just a couple of hours every month, in addition to whatever phone calls might arise. He has provided invaluable insight into the district since the last six years of his career were spent in Woodlake.
Sorenson spent a stint of his career as principal at Woodlake High School. He then took up the task of building a culture at El Diamante in Visalia when it was first constructed in 2001. By 2012 he was serendipitously back at Woodlake Unified, only this time he was going to run it. Sorensen says oddly enough he was on his way to a middle school awards ceremony at the Fox Theatre in downtown Visalia when he ran into Tony Caseras. Caseras said there was an opening for superintendent.
“I’m sure I said something like ‘yeah I’ll think about it’,” Sorensen recouts. “When you apply you go all out to get it and let them know what you can do and after thinking about it I said why not give it a shot.”
In his time as superintendent he has not just been happy about the progress students have made in reading, but there are some facility changes the District has benefited from. FJ White got eight new permanent classrooms, they replaced the track and the tennis courts, and Sorensen says he still gets a kick out of the renovated Performance Arts Building. Retrofitted with new lights, new seating and state of the art light show capabilities with new speakers, there is a lot to impress.
“There’s a pride factor there…I’m always happy to see people go in for the first time after not having been in since it was fixed up and they go ‘wow’. It’s pretty great,” Sorensen said.
But being able to end his career in Woodlake was particularly special because he was able to enjoy the same things he enjoyed as a principal.
“As a superintendent in Woodlake you get to do the same stuff as before but you see all the sights. To see what student’s do while they’re here, it’s a pretty cool deal,” Sorensen says.