Sean McPhetridge is the AUSD superintendant.
February brought significant challenges to the Alameda Unified School District (AUSD). The sudden, tragic passing of Board of Education trustee Solana Henneberry shocked us all. The AUSD community and community at large mourn her loss. Solana fought a very tough and brave battle with cancer, showing commitment and resilience despite great personal challenge. We will always remember Solana for her service to the children and families of Alameda.
Solana will be remembered for core values of improving early childhood education, labor management relations and special education in AUSD. We are grateful to her and her family for her stalwart contributions serving in 2016 as the President of the Board of Education. Solana Henneberry will be missed: we were lucky to know her.
This is not the first time we have faced a tragic loss of a Board of Education member during their term of office. It was only two years ago we also lost Nielsen “Niel” Tam, and AUSD and the Alameda community also must remember his fine example for us going forward. Niel was a man similarly driven like Solana to work toward dialogue, improvement and solutions for the challenges and problems we face as a people.
Like Solana, Niel was someone who particularly valued early childhood education and special education, once having been (just like Solana) a special educator himself. Personally I know that Niel and Solana both would have reminded us to stay mindful and resilient during times of challenge. Let us invoke and remember that wisdom as we go forward, rising to the challenges we face to improve our district and world.
AUSD has witnessed triumphs and challenges alike so far in 2017. I was personally proud of the work of the Board of Education to pass our “Safe Haven” resolution in January, joining the City of Alameda in action and in word to make the city sanctuary to all people and to embrace our goal of a safe, inclusive place where all of us belong. And I am also pleased to see a culmination of goals we have worked on as a district with regard to recent events organized by AUSD’s Black Achievers Alliance and ALCANCE (our Latino achievement initiative).
Work being done by community leaders like these to celebrate and support achievements of our young people is impressive, and I continue to be inspired by their work and the work of other colleagues (e.g., the LGBTQ Round Table and the Alameda Special Education Parent Support Group) who also help us maintain a focus on issues of equity and inclusion as a school district.
AUSD is also proud to be embarking on a bold and inclusive strategic planning effort to engage in inquiry aimed to improve upon our special education services in the district. This was a particular goal of Solana’s, and it is one that will certainly serve to shed light on challenges we face as a district in delivery of these services. Ultimately we know that we must be careful, diligent and focused on improvement now and going forward if we are to face our challenges and brainstorm new ways to get better.
AUSD is very fortunate to have a team of committed professionals working together as general education teachers, special education providers and administrators who will engage in broad-based community engagement efforts with families in years ahead. This is what is required of us to work in data-based inquiry efforts, to adapt to the challenges of our special education service delivery mandates, and to adopt both general education and special education best practices so we can work together to build a multi-tiered system of supports and a system supporting all AUSD students.
At last week’s PTA Council, our parent/guardian leaders unanimously endorsed an Alameda PTA Diversity and Inclusion Statement to voice support to our commitment to the learning and welfare of all Alamedans. I am heartened by the discussions we are having there about what equity means to us as a community, and I look forward to ongoing efforts for us to focus on issues with an eye on equity in months ahead.
Whether it be in PTA Council, community and district LCAP meetings, our different equity-focused affinity groups, or our AUSD Board of Education meetings, we will continue to present on our work and our budgeting processes aimed to address the needs of the collective and allocate district resources in a way that is fair and equitable to all.
And we must do this while staying ever mindful of the limited resources we must share as we also acknowledge and aspire to the unlimited impact we can make by working together in inquiry and partnership. They say politics is about “who gets what, where, how, and when.” We will continue as a district to lead active dialogue and enact responsible governance to make political decisions that aim to fairly and equitably allocate district resources according to community values we represent.
Since my start with AUSD back in 2000, I have never known a time where we did not face challenges as a school district and community. As much as they may discomfort and vex us, these challenges also present us opportunities to speak to our values and work toward ongoing improvement of conditions we face and services we provide. Today as always — indeed, today more than ever — I am mindful and grateful for the many examples of commitment and resilience we share to guide us forward as a district in these times of local and global challenge, challenges that can lead us toward continuing inquiry and ongoing dialogue to help us bring about new opportunities for increased student success and improved relations with our fellow human beings.
Sean McPhetridge is the AUSD superintendant.