VUSD parents prize honesty in new superintendent

Candor, transparency, good communication are the most important qualities Visalia Unified stakeholders in the district’s next superintendent

VISALIA – Only 40% of parents, teachers and community members feel as if local students attending Visalia Unified schools are getting a high quality or quality education.

That was a sobering discovery for the Visalia Unified School District board earlier this month when Tulare County Superintendent Tim Hire shared the results of a survey of 1,400 parents, staff, students and community members as part of the process to hiring the district’s next superintendent.

“That’s kind of hard to swallow,” Hire told the school board.

The good news is 70% strongly agree or agree VUSD is a good place to work and attend school. The difference between those two numbers is leadership, Hire said.

“There is this feeling that … we will be the model district for Tulare County, California and the national scene,” Hire said. “There are great people in district but we are a little disconnected.”

Hire, who is personally leading the search for VUSD’s new superintendent, said key details discovered through the online questionnaire revealed district stakeholders were looking for a proven leader with a clear vision who can bring the district together by refocusing on improving student achievement rather than staying in-line with legal statutes.

“They want someone who is charismatic, bold and can make the tough decisions and stand by them in the face of adversity,” Hire said.

Respondents prioritized honesty over all of the other 31 characteristics listed on the survey. Someone who is student-centered, trustworthy and a good communicator were a distant second.

“They want someone to tell them the truth,” Hire said.

Experience as a superintendent was important but not in the way you might think. Hire said most respondents preferred candidates have 11 to 15 years of experience as a superintendent but the size of the district didn’t matter. It was more important candidates have classroom experience and had been promoted through the instruction side of a school system rather than finance or human resources.

“I have heard some under last couple years too HR driven and focused,” Hire said. “Decisions made and the direction hasn’t been as focused on instruction.”

When it came to a candidate’s connection to the Central Valley, only five votes separated those who didn’t care about a connection to the Valley to those who thought the candidate should have lived here before.

Ultimately, Hire described the ideal candidate to the be the next VUSD Superintendent as having “a proven record of successful leadership of a K-12 district including academic success, providing a safe learning/working environment, fiscal responsibility, facility maintenance and development, cultivating positive district culture and implementing a clear vision for the district. VUSD desires a leader with strong communication and problem-solving skills accompanied with collaborative, approachable, student-centered, accountable personal core values and desires to lead the district and community for many years.”

Basic qualifications for the candidate include a master’s degree in education, classroom teaching experience as well as site level and district level leadership. Candidates must have at least 10 years of education experience and at least five years of district leadership in a district with at least 7,000 students.

Developing a profile is step one of the five-step process laid out by Hire, who is spearheading the recruitment effort. Now that the profile is complete, TCOE will begin advertising the job description anywhere professionals may be looking for jobs, such as EdCal magazine, EdJOIN school job postings and websites for professional organizations such as Association of California School Administrators (ACSA).

Applications will be due at midnight on Jan. 10, followed by candidate interviews in February. He expects to the board will be able to introduce a new superintendent at the first board meeting in March 2022.

Visalia Unified approved a $20,000 contract with TCOE on Aug. 11 to conduct the search for its next superintendent.

In the meantime, Doug Cardoza will serve as interim superintendent. Cardoza officially took over the head spot for the district on Sept. 1, after Tamara Ravalin officially retired on Aug. 31. Ravalin announced on May 21 her plans to retire on Aug. 31, citing personal and health reasons. Ravalin was thrust into the spotlight two years ago when she was named acting superintendent by the board a week after her predecessor, Dr. Todd Oto, was unceremoniously dismissed by the board.

Cardoza steps into the interim superintendent role with over 32 years of educational experience under his belt. He is expected to serve as interim superintendent for about 10 months until the district hires a permanent superintendent.

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