There are three candidates running for Sonoma County’s next superintendent of schools, and all three took part in a recent forum hosted by Cradle to Career Sonoma County.
The candidates are Ron Meza Calloway, currently superintendent of Mark West School District; Amie Carter, now the assistant superintendent of educational Services for Marin County; and Brad Coscarelli, principal of Hidden Valley Elementary in Santa Rosa.
They spoke in a hybrid in-person/virtual forum, moderated by the dean of Sonoma State’s School of Education, Laura Alamillo.
The candidates addressed topics ranging from the health and wellbeing of students, including mental health and COVID-19 safety. As well as two-year kindergarten and affordable housing for teachers.
Regarding mental health, Coscarelli said he has always made it a priority at his schools.
"We have to remember that students, parents and staff members...everybody's been struggling and we've always had a philosophy at my schools that I've been at that if a teacher needs to stop the curriculum and focus on social, emotional learning, they absolutely can," Coscarelli said.
Responding to the same question, Meza Calloway said he is already experienced in creating strategies to address the mental health of students.
"In 2017, we created a counseling plan led by Dr. Rachel Valenzuela for our district," Calloway said. "We have shared that model with other districts...the first step is to take all staff, bring them together, understand what the children are gonna be facing when they come on campus, provide them the supports," Meza Calloway said.
When asked about college and career readiness for Sonoma County students, Carter said there is great opportunity for change.
"I often watch students in their senior year with a little bit of frustration...they work really hard on their junior year, get those AP classes, take the SAT," Carter said. "Senior year, what’s required? English and Econ. I think we need some radical shifts when it comes to that senior year, there's great dual enrollment opportunities, wee have a great partner in our local colleges to, to get our kids on campuses."
Each of the three candidates were strident in their commitment to correcting educational disparities for students of color in Sonoma County schools.
Ron Meza Calloway stressed early engagement and a community-based approach.
"We need to identify the resources, provide early childcare, early literacy." Meza Calloway said. "The other piece that we really need to look at is making our schools community centers so that parents are engaged. If they see us as a willing partner on our campuses, then their children are engaged with us."
Amie Carter said her experience has prepared her to find new solutions.
"This is work that I've been doing for a lot of years," Carter said. "I did it at Rancho Cotate High School, I did it at the district office, and I think the first place to start is really look at the data. What is holding students up? We need to really hold a mirror up to ourselves. We need to reflect about our practices. We need to examine those institutional barriers that, that are causing this problem, and then create new solutions."
Brad Coscarelli said he is prepared to listen and provide needed support.
"To think that we have students of color not graduating at the same rate as their white counterparts...there should be no reason for this." Coscarelli said. "And yet here it is, and it exists in our county. That should never be the case. We need to make sure that they're getting all the supports necessary as administrators. We tend to talk a lot, but we need to listen."
The race for county superintendent is on the upcoming June 7, 2022 primary ballot. More information can be found online at registertovote.ca.gov..