THE BIG NEWS around town is that Alameda Unified School District Superintendent Ardella Dailey has announced her retirement.
Dailey took over the district's top job in 2005, after five years in the assistant slot. And she says she'll stay on through December to help ease the transition. Dailey's retirement comes on the heels of the announcement last month that AUSD's Chief Financial Officer Luz Cazares is leaving for Pleasanton.
There are even more changes coming. Current board trustees David Forbes, Janet Gibson and Bill Schaff are all up for re-election in November (though Schaff has said he won't seek office). And with Trustee Tracy Jensen making a run for City Council, the district potentially could seat four new board members come December.
So much "change doesn't have to be frightening," says Schaff, an investment fund manager by day who, in his four years of service to AUSD, has lent his particular brand of calm, reasoned dignity to the board. "People tend to react that way. But change is an opportunity to look at things and see what works and to move forward as a community."
The passage of Measure H, says Schaff, has not only bought Alameda and the district time to consider its priorities, but it leaves AUSD better positioned to hire Dailey's replacement.
"No one would have wanted to walk into a situation, having to slash and burn, and manage contract negotiations and hire a CFO," said Schaff. "The fact that we passed Measure H will be instrumental in us being able to attract quality leadership."
Measure H, says Schaff, has stabilized the district for the short term (H and the existing $189 parcel tax are set to expire in 2012) and also bought Alamedans time to consider what they want from the public schools.
"We already know we can't support school athletics and a lot of other programs with the funding we get from the state," said Schaff. "The question is, 'What programs is the community of Alameda willing to support?' And this is a dialogue we have to have in good faith in the community. And it doesn't have to be unanimous: There will always be disagreement. But a super majority has to step up and say this is what we want for Alameda."
If we want good schools, we're going to have to continue to follow the example of other districts and pay for them. Most districts do this by adding private donations, grant dollars and parcel tax money to the funds they get from the state. Good schools require an ongoing political commitment, because books, salaries, facilities, gas, electricity, retirement and health insurance — the things that make a district work — aren't free.
Our current board should work quickly to find and hire a thoughtful, energetic, capable, coalition-building-yet-not-afraid-to-make-hard-choices candidate to take over AUSD leadership. We need someone who understands our small town: AUSD serves some of the most affluent students in the Bay Area — those who come to school with every privilege and advantage — and some of the poorest, those who come without access to regular meals, preschool or stable homes. Our new superintendent needs to understand Alameda, because all of our town's children, with their various talents and strengths, faults and weaknesses, and dreams and hopes, are our future.
You can say "close the achievement gap," but the real goal should be to raise the level of every one of our students' achievements. Let's hope the district and the trustees can quickly get to work and find a superintendent who will step up and make the most of this opportunity for change.
Eve Pearlman has two children in Alameda public schools and serves on the board of the Alameda Education Foundation. She also writes the Alameda Journal Blog. Look for news, impressions and opinion at www.ibabuzz.com/alamedajournal.