Catherine Scott is excited to be back in Southern Humboldt as the new superintendent of the Southern Humboldt Unified School District. This is where she feels she grew up as an administrator, having started her career in education administration as the dean at South Fork High School, Scott said in an interview last Tuesday.
Born and raised in Eureka and now living in Fortuna, Scott earned her bachelor's degree from U.C. Santa Cruz and credentialed at Humboldt State University. Then she taught world and American history at St. Bernard's Catholic High School in Eureka for five years.
When she quit her job at St. Bernard's she applied for a teaching position at South Fork. She got a call from the principal asking her to apply for the dean of students job at South Fork. So she applied, got the position, and was dean for two years in the early 2000s, until moving on to the Willits school district where she spent five years, two of them as assistant superintendent.
Scott was then superintendent/principal in Leggett for three years.
Being superintendent is “definitely a different job” from teaching she said. Scott, who loves kids, sees one of her personal challenges as a district level administrator as making sure that she stays connected to the students.
Scott will also be principal of Agnes J. Johnson and Casterlin Schools, but will not be on site there every day.
District superintendent is more of a management position involving overall organization, and one has more interactions with adults than students. The job includes management, negotiations, budget, working with the school board, personnel oversight and even some oversight of the site improvement construction. She has already met with union negotiators and the site improvement project architect.
The state budget is presenting challenges to education and Scott is impressed with the amount of money the Southern Humboldt community has raised for the local schools. The community has raised money to provide help for class size and supports for education. “It is amazing that the community has done all that work,” Scott said.
She is sad that the state has chosen to make the choices it's made for education and hopes that in the November election the children are victorious. She says school districts in the state just can't absorb cuts.
”Parents need to make a choice at some point,” Scott said.
Scott learned recently that there is a third education initiative that is in the process of being qualified for the November ballot in which 100% of the funding would go to education. She thinks it would be more beneficial for education than the governor's initiative.
If the governor's initiative passes, 30% of the funding would go to education, the rest of it goes to prisons and social services. If the governor's initiative doesn't pass, 99% of the cuts come from education and it will also constitutionally change Prop. 98 funding. “So he is holding the children of California hostage,” Scott said.
There is also the Molly Munger PTA initiative that will be on the ballot, which would generate additional income for schools based on a graduated income tax.
Scott intends to find out more about the newest initiative.
”I don't know what's going to happen,” she said.
It appears to Scott that public education is under attack constantly from several different directions. She doesn't see how a private school system or charter school system would address the needs of all students. “Children who don't come from families who are focused on education would fall through the cracks in a big way. That's not fair, not constitutional and does not abide by our beliefs as a country that everybody gets a chance,” she said.
Scott is excited by the building plans for the schools. She sees this as a turning point with technology in education and is happy that the community is willing to fund schools that are technology friendly.
”It's amazing that this community is so dedicated to the students that they want to entrust the district with that much money to build state-of-the-art buildings for our students,” Scott said.
Having the seventh and eighth graders together in one school was just being talked about when she was here 10 years ago.
The new site impovements at South Fork are planned to include a middle school at the high school. The “school within a school” will have a different schedule and be in a different area. The benefit is in utilizing the same office staff. It also provides the seventh and eighth graders with more opportunities for electives. It benefits the high school students, too, “because with more kids you can float electives that you couldn't necessarily fund otherwise,” Scott said.
Scott is aware of the challenges education faces in these economic times. She believes in hoping for the best and planning for the worst. She says she is an eternal optimist.
Scott is hoping that the community will continue in their support of education and give the new administrative team a chance to get situated to do their jobs and have a fresh start. Education is a team effort, she says, with parents and teachers partnering to do what is best for the students. She wants to work with the community to build that relationship.
”We have hired a great administrative team,” Scott says, referring to Lisa Gray, the new South Fork principal and Julie Bair, the new principal of Redway and Whitethorn schools. They have been meeting with staff, administration and teachers to ensure a smooth transition.
Scott has fond memories of the time she was at South Fork as dean of students and is honored by having been chosen by the board for the position of district superintendent.
She knows there are opportunities to make differences in children's lives.
REDWOOD TIMES PHOTO BY SANDY FERETTO
Catherine Scott is already at work at the SHUSD office