Editor’s note: Christi Barrett became Hemet Unified School District superintendent on July 1. She follows Dr. Barry Kayrell, who announced his retirement in January. She met with the Town Crier Tuesday, Oct. 4, prior to the HUSD board meeting, which was held at Idyllwild School.
Barrett began her career in the classroom working with special education students. She taught at the elementary level and moved into the principal’s role for a kindergarten through sixth-grade school with more than 1,000 students.
Eventually, she became involved in contract negotiations for both classified and certificated employees. This led to an even larger transition as assistant superintendent for human relations. This position was in a K-6 district.
“Knowing I really wanted to be a superintendent, I looked to a K-12 district and an opportunity came at Val Verde district,” she said, describing her last position.
She Is currently in the Urban Leadership Doctoral program at Claremont Graduate University. But importantly for HUSD students and parents, Barrett is aware that the tenure of the past several superintendents has been two to three years.
She vowed to invest her time and reputation with HUSD. Already she, and her family — husband, son in high school and daughter in college — have moved to Hemet.
“Hemet is the only superintendentship that I applied for,” Barrett stated. “Hemet is where I want to be. I’m very committed to the students and my career. I have a passion for the district and the community, and I intend to be here for the long-term.”
Barrett recognizes that Idyllwild, the Anza schools and Cottonwood share a similar problem. They are located in outlying areas far from the district’s core.
“This can pose challenges, such as access to collaboration,” she noted.
While she has not had time to make several visits to Idyllwild School, she does not believe the distance from the district office should affect the quality of instruction or students’ expectations. “They should not be different than any school in the district,” Barrett said and added, “I am aware of the expectation of the community here. We have to take into consideration that the level of community involvement is greater in Idyllwild. And we need to stay focused on the arts.
“smARTS is very representative of what the community values and what we will continue,” she said assuringly.
Barrett also commented that the school and community form a partnership, which is reciprocal. Not only are there many volunteers helping at the school, but the school will remain available to support the community equally.
But expectations and goals are imposed on the district from levels further away, including the state and federal governments. To translate these goals into results, Barrett expects to employ analysis more thoroughly.
In her July 1 introductory letter to parents, Barrett listed her goals for the district’s students, one of which was “All 12th grade students will be college and career ready when they graduate.”
She affirmed that not every student is expected to prepare for college. “Not all students are on the same trail,” she said. “College and career are different and we have to offer a variety of opportunities.”
Consequently, she recognizes the value of a healthy career and technical education. To help achieve that, she shared that the district is working on collaborative agreements with the city of Hemet and Mt. San Jacinto College.
Whether the goal is college or career, students must be prepared to enter a world where they must engage tasks without the help of teachers.
But not all schools are the same and “we have to have a differential approach,” Barrett said, looking into the future. “We have a moral obligation to look beyond district or school scores. It is not OK for any student to fail.
“We need to analyze what we have in place and what isn’t being engaged,” she stated. “It’s my first year, and we’ll do a lot of analysis of what we’re doing and program effectiveness.” And she is aware that districtwide and school scores mask the ability and achievement of individual students. She expects administrators and teachers also to focus on the students, not the scores.
“We must go beyond looking at results. The objective is to do what is best in the classroom,” she said emphatically. But she admitted that after three months, “it is too early to determine what is or is not effective here. It is not a good analysis to look at results without specifics.”
To achieve improved results, class-wide and individually, Barrett knows she can’t be the teacher in the hundreds of HUSD classrooms. Teachers — the faculty and her district staff — will accomplish the educational mission. “If we don’t have quality people, we won’t make a difference for students,” she said.
During the winter and spring, when the results of the analyses begin to take shape, Barrett will employ the state’s Local Control Accountability Plan to shift resources into the areas and schools where they will have the greatest opportunity to transform student abilities.
“Those with the greatest need deserve the greatest resources,” she emphasized.
And board member Vic Scavarda said enthusiastically, “We’re so happy to have her on board. We didn’t want someone at the end of their career, but someone involved in the district for the long-term and a lot of classroom experience. I think we found her.”
Barrett expressed agreement with the school board’s decision to avoid placing a bond referendum on the ballot next month. But looking forward, she sees the possibility of one going to voters in 2018.