Barrett relishes the challenges and embraces the people

Editor’s Note: Dr. Christi Barrett is starting her third year as superintendent of Hemet Unified School District. This is the second part of an interview the Town Crier had with her. Part 1 is in the Oct. 4 edition. Barrett adamantly says, “I love my job.”

When asked if Idyllwild School was different from the other school campuses in the district, Barrett replied, “Every school is different. It [Idyllwild School] is different, and so is Harmony Elementary [on the western side of Hemet, near West Valley High School] compared to Jacob Wiens [in the center of Hemet].

Dr. Christi Barrett, superintendent of Hemet Unified School District. Photo by JP Crumrine

“At the district, we understand the need at each micro-level and to be responsive to that,” she added.

As an example, Barrett compared Hamilton High School in Anza to the three HUSD high schools in Hemet. While Hamilton is on the district’s edge, not in Hemet, the district’s departments are focused on these students as much as any others.

Hamilton has a new principal and assistant principal this year, she noted, and added, “We have high-level expectations for Hamilton. These students will have the same opportunities as any other attending any valley high school. We’re looking at course offering and student access to classes.”

And Barrett stressed that, not only are college preparatory classes being reviewed, but the career technical education program will be on par with other district high schools.

Also, the future will see strengthening of the independent study program in this area. “We have a large group of students seeking an alternative access to get high school education and meet family needs,” Barrett said.

While changes are being planned and implemented at Hamilton, Barrett emphasized that the district’s intention is to set common goals, but each site identifies its best path to achieving them.

Just as every California school district submits its Local Control Accountability Plan to the State Department of Education, each HUSD principal develops a plan for their students and staff.

Principals use this plan as the school year begins. It is reviewed at the school and district level by various staffs, but during the year, based on interim tests and other results, the principals have the flexibility and are encouraged to adjust the plan to ensure the students’ opportunities for success are paramount.

While HUSD has overall goals, each school site customizes its numeric goals to the needs of the school, Barrett explained.

“The principals continually monitor the action plans and measurements to see if they’re getting results as anticipated,” she said. “This allows us to actually create changes closest to the student.”

At the district level, departments have “squads” reviewing results. They hold meetings, discuss results and “continually engage the principals in conversation around the action plans.” Principals are encouraged to visit other sites and discuss the issues with their peers.

But district staff are not mesmerized by the scores from standardized tests. They have to look at many factors and issues. For example, how can HUSD improve its graduation rate? What influences student commitments? How do adult education classes affect the overall program?

“Asking the right question is important,” Barrett believes. “Is public education responsible for more than academics? To become more efficient, addressing social learning aspects is part of [our role].”

Teaching and educating are the goals of HUSD, but to accomplish these tasks, the environment has to be safe and free from distractions. School sites across the nation have become targets. Even HUSD has had some minor, but concerning, incidents.

Last year, the board supported the creation of a security department, and Barrett hired Christopher Wynn as director of Security. He has evaluated each HUSD site and recommended improvements.

“His expertise has been invaluable,” Barrett said. “We are much more systematic handling this issue, more proactive rather than reactive before Chris.” His evaluation of Idyllwild School led to the changes in the school’s entrance and access to the facility this year.

And security investments are a significant part of the district’s bond Measure X, which will be on the November ballot.

Being HUSD superintendent is a huge responsibility. The district’s enrollment is 21,800 students and nearly 3,000 employees work at the many sites. But Barrett relishes the challenges and enjoys the opportunities.

“For me, the best part of the job is coming to work every day and being in a position to impact the lives of these students in an important way,” she said proudly. “I love what I do. I’m very blessed. I spend a lot of time in classrooms, at school sites to keep my perspective and understand what children and staff experience.”