Skip to content

  • Print

K-12 school leaders weigh challenges at Pacific’s Beyond Our Gates forum

Jul 1, 2020

Four school superintendents from San Joaquin County, with nearly 100 years of combined experience, are facing perhaps the most daunting decisions of their careers.

They discussed the challenges and uncertainties during a 90-minute virtual forum on June 29 sponsored by University of the Pacific’s Beyond Our Gates Community Council.

“We know how difficult this can be when folks want definite answers,” said Cathy Nichols-Washer, superintendent of Lodi Unified School District.

San Joaquin County Superintendent of Schools James Mousalimas, Stockton Unified Interim Superintendent Brian Biedermann ’04 and Lincoln Unified Superintendent Kelly Dextraze also were on the panel.

Definite answers have not come easily as K-12 school districts weigh options for the re-opening of schools amid the COVID-19 pandemic. San Joaquin County schools closed on March 13 and districts cobbled together the final months of the school year through emergency-mode distance learning.

The superintendents discussed challenges and possible solutions on matters of student and staff safety, at school versus distance learning, budgetary concerns and much more.

“The questions being asked by people at this forum are the questions we are struggling to answer ourselves,” Mousalimas said. “It is challenging for sure. However, I do know we are all working on this together and we are listening to try to come up with the best solutions. That is why this forum is so important.”

The virtual forum had a capacity of 300, and it was full for the entire 90 minutes. The audience included teachers, school staff, administrators, parents and concerned community members.

“One of the main goals of Beyond Our Gates during its 10 years has been to convene stakeholders for open discussions about issues and opportunities facing the community,” said Pacific Community Relations Director Mike Klocke, who moderated the meeting. “We appreciate the superintendents’ willingness to respond to questioning during a time of real uncertainty. The forum was obviously attended by people who care deeply about local education.”

Questions from the audience ranged from social distancing in classroom setups to whether students would wear masks to teacher safety and more. The complete video of the forum is online.

At the time of the forum, Lodi Unified’s Board of Trustees already had voted to have school re-opened with full classrooms five days per week in August. Tracy and Manteca schools have also adopted returning to school five days a week.

Stockton Unified is considering a hybrid setup, combining at-school and distance learning. Lincoln Unified will announce its plans at a July 8 board meeting.

“We learned a lot about ourselves in the past few months,” Dextraze said. “We must have an ability to shift gears and get things in place for the benefit of our students and families.”

Biedermann said difficult challenges often spur innovation and the discovery of new and better approaches.

“We are trying to create a new normal, not just get back to what we used to do,” Biedermann said. “You could look at this as a time of panic. But it’s kind of exciting because you really do have a chance to address the whole system.”

Tags for this article:

Join University of the Pacific on: Facebook Twitter Instagram LinkedIn Youtube