Sonoma County Supervisors recently acknowledged Maite Iturri’s extraordinary ongoing contributions to life in the Sonoma Valley. The Sun’s Anna Pier sat down with the former El Verano principal who remains deeply invested in Sonoma.
You are from an immigrant family? My father was Basque, and left Spain under the dictatorship of Franco. He never spoke English. I was born and grew up in San Francisco in a bilingual, bicultural home. We had a family restaurant. My father set the example of helping anyone who needed it.
Resigning as El Verano principal must have been a painful decision. It was. I left in August after 25 years with SVUSD. I really wanted to help this District in a bigger capacity and I wanted to grow in my leadership. I had to look for that opportunity elsewhere. My work here will always be important to me and my family, and I will continue to find opportunities to support this community. What we accomplished gives me a great sense of satisfaction. Guided by “street level data” collected at community forums, we set about to expand our school. In 2008 we started the first preschool at an elementary school in the Valley. We initiated a behavioral and mental health program. There were classes in orchestra, Zumba, ESL, ballet folklórico, and elder groups where English and Spanish speakers met. A community school.
What do you mean by “community school”? Families and community are involved in leading and decision-making for their children and future. We offered wraparound services, with after-school and evening access to the campus. We collaborated with Parent University where parents attending classes were taught by parents. Our mental health program morphed into the first Family Resource Center, with La Luz as the sponsoring agency. I am proud that El Verano already has all this in place. I see schools as a place of hope for our community.
What is most challenging in your ongoing work here? Education doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Our students’ success depends on community support and creating space for that diverse voice to be heard and acted upon. Voices of youth, elders, the unsheltered, the BIPOCx, all the vulnerable. Hearing those voices is one thing, listening to them is another. I believe we owe each other that dignity and grace. I remain committed to creating that space and working with community to create opportunities for all our population through education and leadership.
What do you see as a major challenge for us in our Valley? The divide between the City and unincorporated Sonoma. Two communities exist separately. How to bridge that divide? At a minimum, I’d like to see an advisory member from the Springs sitting on the City Council and youth representation as well. So many things decided there affect us in the Valley. Sonoma Valley Unified (school district) is the only entity that straddles city and valley. There’s a great opportunity there to purposefully bring our community together as a whole.
Talk about the pandemic. The pandemic exposed our vulnerabilities, exacerbating things for folks already struggling. Our vulnerable people were the frontline workers. We relied on them to keep everything going. And all those people got sicker at a higher rate. It is unconscionable that they were not better protected. No one wanted people to be sacrificed – it was an unintentional by-product. In education, of course, it was the children, whose families couldn’t give them a whole support system that continue to need our support.
What is needed in our community? There’s a healing that needs to happen as a collective group. We have to learn to be with one another again. We need recreation opportunities for our youth. We need counseling, not just crisis counseling but all-around mental health services. We need a gathering place, a unifying space where the community can come together.
How? That’s the question. The challenges of the pandemic and the wildfires are compounded for many by limited shelter and food options. These vulnerable are genuine stakeholders. I am committed to getting people to the table to be heard.
You help facilitate Food for All/Comida para Todos. It arose in response to the pandemic, when community members noticed that others couldn’t access the food distribution sites. We’ve grown, providing individual necessities like diapers, detergent, menstrual products, pet food. And staples like beans and masa. We deliver twice a month to an average of 125 families, but actually 180 this holiday time. It’s all-volunteer, an example of mutual aid, where the volunteers are representatives of the community they serve.
What else does FFA do? Community members have organized Zoom forums for the community. About support for our children, vaccine information with County health officials; know your rights and mental health. They’ve been really well-attended. We also offered vaccination clinics.
What about your work as chair of the Springs Municipal Advisory Commission? Supervisor Gorin gave us a great opportunity to influence the decisions about what happens in Sonoma Valley. But we are only advisory. I am committed to supporting this Valley, and the MAC is a space and place for me to continue.
Tell me about your new job as Assistant Superintendent of the Petaluma City Schools. I love what I’m doing. I get to support schools with wellness, health and safety to make it possible for kids to flourish academically. Superintendent Matthew Harris is an inspiration, and I’m honored to sit at the table with him. His leadership places the school communities at the center. We put emphasis on the well-being of students.
What do you do in your spare time – if you have any? As an adjunct lecturer at Sonoma State I coach students in the administrative credential program – up and coming principals. And I continue to mentor two students, one now 18 and the other 26. I spend all the time I can with my family. Fortunately, I have a forgiving family.
What is your vision, your wish for the New Year? There are some big issues confronting us and I am fully committed to finding the solutions together. Affordable housing is one of the biggest. Just being able to survive here takes resilience and persistence. It shouldn’t be so challenging to live and work in the same place. We have a generous, giving community. I will work for a community that prioritizes the health and well-being of the whole community. My mother always says, “No one is OK until everyone is OK.”