By Clara Helm
Gearing up for the school year ahead, Capistrano Unified School District (CUSD) held a transition workshop Wednesday, Aug. 9, with its Board of Trustees, the new superintendent, and Education Support Services Group (ESS) advisors.
During the special workshop meeting at CUSD headquarters in San Juan Capistrano, trustees and district officials reviewed information found in the search for Superintendent Dr. Christopher Brown. The district also assisted the board with identifying priorities moving forward.
“It is nice to be in this informal setting tonight so we can provide a bridge from the search, (Brown’s) selection, and now into the work that (the board) is going to be doing as a governance team,” said Dr. Suzzette Lovey, an ESS advisor.
Lovely and fellow ESS advisor Dr. Joseph Farley were hired to aid and expedite the search process for the superintendent role.
The position had been vacant since December 2022, when the trustees voted, 4-3, to terminate former Superintendent Kirsten Vital Brulte’s contract.
Both advisors have had an active role in educational leadership in CUSD, with Lovely spending two decades in CUSD leadership positions and Farley having served as CUSD’s superintendent from 2010 to 2014.
In June, Brown was voted in as superintendent of CUSD, recommended to the position because of his previous experience as the assistant superintendent with the Long Beach Unified School District.
Brown’s term as superintendent began July 1, and he has since begun addressing some of the topics that the board has previously noted as challenges.
A topic that the board first covered was its perception as a governing body to the public, and its goals on how to develop it in the future.
A huge priority trustees made clear in the workshop was their aim to bridge the gap between themselves and the public now that they have new leadership.
Comparing the board’s role to that of a a high functioning family, Trustee Amy Hanacek outlined her goal for the board to give structure and intentional outcomes to families in the community.
“I think keeping the board focused on a business-like, high-functioning environment, will just move children forward, which is ultimately our goal,” said Hanacek. “I know that I respond to that as both, in the past, as a community member and as a board member.”
There was also discussion on keeping the board focused away from overly politically heated subjects when it does not produce effective action.
Trustee Gila Jones emphasized that trustees should not turn a blind eye to those who are breaking the law or being disrespectful to others.
“It’s important to me that we are not viewed as conservative or politically liberal, and that we are respectful of other viewpoints, viewpoints different from our own,” said Jones.
On the topic of relations with the public, the board agreed that there needs to be open dialogue with those at meetings so there can be room for understanding. Although, it was pointed out by trustees that board meetings are business meetings conducted in public, not truly “public meetings.”
Giving her impression of an ideal relationship between trustees and parents, Trustee Lisa Davis identified the importance of respecting parents’ boundaries.
“Parents are the ultimate teacher … we are partners in the educational side and we represent families and communities,” said Davis. “That’s our role on this board, which is a governance board. And we always need to be respectful and truly listen.”
The rest of the workshop focused on the changes both the board members and superintendent would like to see in their governing process. As the new superintendent, Brown has already started to change protocols and procedures, but a topic that continued to resurface was streamlining the growing board agenda.
“It’s information (in the agenda) that is not actionable by a board in terms of government,” said Brown. “So, trying to help streamline to make sure we’re focused on the items that are gonna have impact on the future of the district, the education of our students, and not be focused on the other stuff that’s just making you too busy to be focused on governance.”
The board discussed the possibility of cutting out ineffectual data, detailed construction breakdowns, and fiscal reports that do not fall out of the norm of budget and other minutia. None of the cuts were made official but were brought up for future workshops in cutting down the length of the agenda.
The board had some differing thoughts on how to introduce Brown to the community now that he is officially in the superintendent role.
Trustees Judy Bollockus and Jones emphasized that it was important to introduce Brown to the community and nonparents who might not keep up with CUSD matters.
Hanacek countered that Brown should not rush into the community right away and instead immerse himself in getting to know the schools and students.
For the future, trustees made plans to test out the new streamlined agenda in the September board meeting and planned strategic workshops to help them work out the details of finance and facilities before regular board meetings.
The board, Brown and the advisors left the meeting with a collaborative spirit, excited to make the changes they see as being long overdue.
“When we made the decision (for superintendent), all seven of us gave our personal commitment to do everything to make this new superintendent successful for our school district,” said Bollockus. “And there will be nuances, but in our own way, we are all in.”