I was sworn-in last week to my second term as your representative on the Sonoma County Board of Education. Never in the more than three years that I’ve been writing this column have I mentioned what I do on the board, even though I have the distinction of being the highest ranking elected official living in the Springs. As I start my next four-year term, I want to clarify the role of the county board and our relationship with school districts.
The County Board of Education is the governing body for the Sonoma County Office of Education, also known as SCOE. The board consists of five trustees elected by areas that align to the five county supervisorial districts. We work in conjunction with the elected County Superintendent, currently Dr. Steve Herrington, to oversee county education initiatives and to provide services and support to the educators and staff in the county’s 40 school districts.
The tag at the end of my column each month says I represent Sonoma Valley on the County Board of Education. While that’s technically true, my responsibilities and the decisions I make are countywide in scope and focus, as are SCOE’s services. SCOE doesn’t provide funding to school districts, nor do we create single school district based programs. In other words, claims that SCOE has services that can be used to create programs specifically for students in Sonoma Valley are false.
The services SCOE provides school districts take many forms. For example, SCOE’s Educational Support Services Department provides a variety of professional development opportunities for educators including leadership training. Our Career Technical Education Support Department assists school districts, including Sonoma Valley Unified, with the development and integration of career technical education classes to prepare students for jobs of the future. SCOE’s Special Education Department offers specialized instruction for children ages three to 22 who have physical, emotional, cognitive, or developmental disabilities. In the back of Sonoma Valley’s Altimira Middle School campus SCOE operates two classrooms for medically fragile special education students. Students enrolled in SCOE’s special ed classes are placed there by the school districts they live in, and the districts pay SCOE to educate those students.
SCOE also operates alternative schools for students who are seriously at-risk of school or societal failure. These include Amarosa Academy in Santa Rosa and Headwaters Academy in Petaluma. These schools provide a more personalized learning environment for students who are experiencing difficulties in a traditional school setting, or who are exhibiting negative behavior patterns in school or the community. Many of the students enrolled in these schools have been expelled from their district school, identified as habitually truant, or placed on probation by the juvenile court. SCOE also provides the educational programs at the county juvenile hall and youth probation camp.
Occasionally parents unhappy with particular situations in their children’s school district contact me. They assume I have authority over school districts and can intervene. However, this isn’t the case. The county superintendent also has no authority to intervene in matters of school district policy. This is because school districts are autonomous organizations, each governed by its own board and policies. I respond to parental concerns by providing guidance on how to get their grievances addressed.
Another important job the County Board of Education has is our role as the appellate body for inter-district transfer appeals and for expulsion appeals. Inter-district transfer appeals occupy more of my time than any other single board responsibility. When a student wants to attend a school in a district other than the one he or she resides, both school districts must agree to the transfer. If one denies, the student has the right to appeal to the County Board of Education. We then conduct a special meeting to hear the appeal. Our determination is based on consideration of each district’s policies. We decide if the policies were applied fairly and executed in the best interest of the student and the school districts. I find this role to be the toughest part of my job, as these situations are very emotional for families. Expulsion appeal hearings are rare. I’ve only participated in one.
In conclusion, how I help students in Sonoma Valley is indirectly. I help them by providing services for their teachers, administrators and others associated with the school district. All of us in Sonoma County’s education community are working together to continually improve so that every student in our county graduates ready for college, career and life.