It has been a tumultuous six months for the Sonoma Valley Unified School District.
In May, a hostile workplace complaint was filed by a district staffer, since retired, against one school board trustee. Then in June, popular district Superintendent Louann Carlomagno resigned to take another post, citing grievances with the board.
In an effort to steady the ship, former longtime UCLA Chancellor Charles Young was lured by district officials to step in as interim district superintendent, giving trustees a bit of breathing room while they seek out a permanent superintendent to guide the future of Valley schools.
In this interview, “Chuck” Young, 85, describes what he considers to be the three prongs of his new role: running the district and making any changes he deems necessary; assisting with the search for a permanent superintendent; and helping to guide the school board toward better effectiveness going forward.
What would you have said if someone had told you a decade ago that you would one day be the superintendent of a small school district in Sonoma?
I would’ve said they were smoking something.
What do you see as your role as interim superintendent?
I will tell you what I told the people at the University of Florida when I went there as interim president (after having retired from UCLA): I’m not the interim president, I’m the president for an interim period. Therefore I have all the power and responsibility and authority of the president. Don’t try to pretend or think I’m not the boss – that I’m not going to be doing things.
I’m not just here to get Sonoma Valley’s school board working more effectively. I’ve found that there’s some things substantively in the district that I can perhaps talk about, modify, and help to try to improve.
I’ll be making changes. I would be afraid not to make changes if change is warranted.
You served on the Sonoma Valley Education Foundation’s board for more than five years. What did you take away from that experience?
The Ed Foundation didn’t just give the district money to spend. We gave them money for particular programs.
I have been heavily involved in what I thought SVEF should raise money for, like preschool for all; third grade reading levels; the transition into the middle schools; and freshman teams in high school. I’m very proud of all that we have achieved.
We worked in concert with the district. We said, “Would you like to do this? We would like to do something along these lines. Does it make sense to you? Would you do it if we gave you the money to do it?”
I also learned that it is difficult to determine how well an education program is succeeding and we are very serious now about figuring out the most effective ways to evaluate these programs.
What are some strengths of the district?
I’ve found a very strong and dedicated staff and faculty – who maybe need more help than they get, so they have time to consider other things. All of the people here in the district office, the principals with whom I’ve talked, are first-rate and dedicated. They have just bent over backward to welcome me, to help me learn.
I’m particularly impressed by the effect that we are getting from preschool education, as well as the summer literacy programs.