District expects as many as 50 new hires

Rebecca Neipp

News Review Staff Writer

While this year’s back-to-school buzz has focused largely on the unveiling of $70 million in new construction and improvements when students return to school (see related story, this edition), Sierra Sands Unified School District is also bracing to accommodate an influx of new teachers and administrators.

“Every year we see some changing of our leadership team,” said Dr. David Ostash, SSUSD’s assistant superintendent of human resources.

The retirement of Special Projects Coordinator Maureen Glennon sparked a mini domino effect, as Gateway Elementary School Principal Lisa Decker assumed her position and Margaret Bergens in turn took Decker’s former job. Retiring Pierce Elementary School Principal Pam Barnes saw Traci Freese fill her position. The repositioning of Robert Campbell as Burroughs High School’s athletics director saw Michelle Lazaro take his role.

“But the big story is that we have already hired 42 new certificated staff, and we may have as many as 50 new hires by the start of the school year,” said Ostash. According to SSUSD records, this is the largest number of new hires in more than a decade.

Although that number is mostly teachers, he said it also includes two psychologists and three counselors.

With approximately 250 certificated staff in the district, “We are looking at 20 percent of our faculty needing support associated with being new hires. Of course that comes with a certain level of challenge, but it’s also a big opportunity,” said Ostash.

“Public education in California has been continually impacted by a shortage of qualified teachers. I think most districts in the state are in a position where they are constantly evaluating how they recruit and retain qualified staff.”

He pointed to the famous philosophy of Benjamin Zander, conductor of the Boston Philharmonic Orchestra, who speculated that people fall into two categories —people who know they love classical music, and people who have not yet discovered they love classical music.

“That’s exactly how I feel about public education,” said Ostash.

“There are a lot of people in our district who lead with passion — I see them every day. But our job is to empower everyone so that they can lead with passion.

“Zander believes that passion is what ultimately allows people to reach their full potential. Of course there are legitimate barriers — individual or institutional circumstances — that can create hurdles. But I think it’s my job to help break these down.”

Each year brings new and distinct challenges, which he uses to help shape his message to faculty at the beginning of the school year, said Ostash.

“With so many assuming a new job, I know we need to provide the kind of support and professional development they need. But wherever our teachers are on that spectrum — whether this is a job they are considering making their career, or a career that is blossoming into a passion — we want to equip them with the ability to execute their roles with a sense of ownership. People who love what they do are also great in what they do.”

Ostash said that credentialed teachers have a program in place that provides mentorship. Those hired on emergency credentials, however, do not qualify for the program. “It’s really unfortunate that our new teachers with typically the least amount of experience and qualification also get the least amount of support.”

Enter Inyokern Elementary School Principal Bev Ewbanks. “She is one of those people in our organization who leads with passion,” said Ostash.

“Even though she’s incredibly busy with her job, she came to me months ago and asked if there was anything else she could do to help the district.”

He told her about his concern that so many new teachers were in need of mentoring, and Ewbanks agreed to help him build a program for those teachers that emulates the established program for credentialed teachers.

“If we truly want people to be career-minded, and ultimately passionate, we have to do everything we can to support them on their journeys.

“Because the fact of the matter is that great teachers are amazing human beings. They instill in hundreds, if not thousands, treasured memories that follow students into adulthood. You remember your favorite teachers.

“That’s the power of education — you get to permanently improve and impact the lives of everyone in this country.”

Ostash added that often it is the support staff in a school that leaves this kind of impression.

“It could be a librarian or a cafeteria manager who is the most impactful person to a student on a given day. We have 500 employees, and every one of them has the opportunity to be a difference maker.”

Story First Published: 2017-08-04