Beginning Anew

By Robert Graeff

Members of the Ramona community:

It is time — maybe past time — to put an end to the current school year. With more stress and tension than any local school district ought to be forced to endure, please let me lead the campaign to place the 2012-13 school year behind us. Forever.

Rather than enumerate the many challenges of the past school year — including a bond defeat and profoundly intense labor negotiations — let me focus on what is still very positive about Ramona, our school district, and kids.

Dear friends are moving on

Last Thursday, we observed the retirements of eight classroom teachers and eight classified employees. The number of students and families influenced by these fabulous employees will never truly be known — but any local Ramona staffer knows full well the magic that occurs between high-quality employees and kids. Clearly, each of these wonderful employees deserves a long and healthy retirement to savor the contributions they have made to public education in our area.

I also want to acknowledge the retirement of five extraordinary administrators. Principals Linda Solis, Carol Tennebaum, and Phyllis Munoz have served their schools in heroic fashion, leading staff, parents, and children to a new 21st Century environment and raising student achievement to the highest levels in Ramona history. District Office administrators Pat Ravin and Kathy Sloan have contributed decades to supporting all of us in our day-to-day responsibilities — and have played a major role in every facet of district advancement. Although she is not retiring, I would be remiss if I did not also mention the departure of Assistant Superintendent Anne Staffieri, who is moving to a district closer to home next year. Anne is a trusted colleague and exemplary leader who made richer the lives of everyone who has been touched by her work.

Changes in leadership

Looking forward, we will be replacing six principals by July along with an assistant superintendent and a director. Who can remember the last time Ramona Unified experienced this large of a change in district leaders! This extraordinary change in administration provides a unique opportunity to re-invent current practices at schools and across the district. Rather than embracing only those values which we identify as uniquely “Ramona,” we have an obligation to consider new possibilities in procedure, instruction, relationships, and vision with a new collection of leadership. The prospect of considering new ways of approaching teaching and learning should have most of us truly excited!

Fiscal outlook

Although the Legislature has not yet adopted a budget for the coming school year, all indications are that Sacramento will adopt an on-time budget later this month which provides the healthiest budget for public education in the past few years. Combined with the recent teacher settlement approved by the board last week, the district appears to be on solid footing for the coming school year and perhaps even the year after.

Tackling these issues head-on, the governing board has identified Aug. 17 as a community workshop in an attempt to include the community and employees in facing our ongoing fiscal challenges. The board is very interested in gaining community input on the feasibility of floating another school bond, selling property, restructuring current district debt, and/or other ideas to improve our overall fiscal outlook. Knowing full well there are no “silver bullets” in the offing, the prospect of working closely with community leaders and employee groups to address these very serious issues is a necessary step.

Common Core State Standards

Whether educational experts use jargon cloaked in 21st Century language or common core vocabulary, one thing is clear: the level of expectations for student and teacher performance all across the nation is rising sharply — and quickly. Now that the state has confirmed that the new Smarter Balance Assessment will be given statewide in the 2014-15 school year, the imperative for every certificated employee in Ramona will be to gear up quickly to ensure that our K-12 students can compete with students across the state. With new resources to be provided by Sacramento for this express purpose, district leaders will be moving quickly to infuse improved teaching strategies, materials, and technology into each of our schools within the next 18 months. Our students and their families deserve nothing less.

A final word...

When first appointed to this position five years ago, I suggested it was a time for “new beginnings” in Ramona Unified. Although we began this new era with great hope and promise, fiscal circumstances quickly worked to curtail the path of our journey. If that fiscal storm is beginning to lift, I suggest it is time to put the past behind us and to focus on the wonderful possibilities of what still lies ahead.

In his inaugural address in 1961, President John F. Kennedy told a fractured American people hoping for improved national leadership: “So let us begin anew — remembering on both sides that civility is not a sign of weakness, and sincerity is always subject to proof.” So, too, in Ramona Unified, we must begin anew and relearn the art of civil relationships among adults.

On behalf of the governing board and my entire family, I wish for the entire Ramona community a restful summer recess. Please join me next fall in working toward the most productive and peaceful school year in the last several decades!

Robert Graeff, Ed.D, is superintendent of the Ramona Unified School District.



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