Dear Superintendent Palazuelos,
Welcome to Sonoma! Congratulations on your (4-1) schoolboard confirmation last night, please learn from the vote that the district is rarely in universal agreement about, well, almost anything (sometimes this is good, sometimes not so good). Since you are the new kid in town, I thought it would be nice to give you some insight on what you are inheriting.
First, the aftermath of the pandemic will be a heavy lift for teachers and students (duh), but not too heavy. Teachers are burned out, tired and frustrated after a year+ of distance learning (Twice the work for half the result) but we will come back from the summer ready to go as we always do. We have done our best to build the plane while flying it but crisis learning is not the same as normal learning. Plus, students will need some time to adjust from their year of pandemic living. My advice-listen first then evaluate and get students off screens as quickly as possible (maybe that’s just my agenda).
What teachers will need is organization and leadership, the former to help us navigate distance learning loss and the latter to feel like we are supported and heading in a positive direction. We expect huge results from our educational leaders and the last few years have been tough, but as long as you stay true to your vision (and have a vision, hopefully a holistic, student-centered vision), it should work out.
The district needs organization, we were moving toward articulated standards but somehow, they got lost in the glare of the next shiny object and now when we need them more than ever, they do not exist. I teach in the alternative high school where we break the semester into four-week units and at the beginning of most units I start with a diagnostic evaluation of what the students know. I then develop curriculum based on the state standards and the pacing guides of the high school but also looking at deficiencies from the evaluations. It is not a perfect system but if there were district articulated standards it would make it easier for me and for students.
As for leadership, you are entering a small, tight community where everybody has an opinion about everything which means everybody will be telling you about their opinion about everything. Believe in your vision, hopefully it will be the right one which is why you were hired, but be open to others and please LISTEN first and lead second.
You are coming into an incredible district at an incredible time. Leadership turnover means new energy and vision, new facilities mean new possibilities and teachers and students will return with a renewed appreciation for education. At least that’s the hope.
This is also an unprecedented time in history when education should evolve. Equity, diversity, empathy, gratitude, motivation, truth, these are the issues teachers should be thinking about and designing curriculum around because no matter your subject, if you do not talk about these issues in class, you are not developing the whole child.
And that brings me to fun. Or rather how can we get students to love school and learning. No simple answer there but maybe if we listen a little more, stay student centered, and provide learning environments which are rich and interesting we will turn learning loss into love of learning. And really, isn’t that what it’s all about.
Finally, I wanted to tell you about what’s worked during this Whack A Doodle Doo year: connecting with students. Whether it was through Creekside’s Wednesday Zoom breakout rooms or on the third hole at Sonoma Greens during the limited golf season or a chance encounter at Safeway, interpersonal connection is still and always will be, the best way to reach students (and teachers and administrators). Please keep this in mind when you are making your weekly schedule. Go read to kids at El Verano or pop in to a Science class at Adele or come learn how to make stencils in my Art class at Creekside. Your visibility matters.
And don’t just listen to me, I am one voice in a town of many voices where we all want to see students thrive.
Good luck and remember my door (L4) at the high school is always open.
Teacher, Coach, Welcome Committee of One.