Carl Toliver was, for most of Stockton Unified School District (SUSD) Superintendent George Ridler’s administration (2001-2005), the man-behind-the-scenes, a quiet administrator who got things done without making enemies in the process. In 2005 he retired but then Ridler retired, so he returned to take care of business until Jack McLaughlin was hired, starting a new turbulent era for the SUSD that’s still reverberating today. This month Toliver was, again, called back to take care of business… until a new and improved superintendent is found and hired. The school year is days away, and Toliver is dealing with the same problems of ten years ago, but with much less resources. Bilingual Weekly asked…
BW: It seems it will be some time before a permanent Superintendent is hired so you may be in for awhile. You have “pledged to work with the board and all elements of the school community to calm the troubled district” This is something every SUSD Superintendent —interim, deputy or otherwise— has promised to do ever since George Ridler left and, by and large, failed miserably. What makes you think you will succeed?
CT: I don’t think I failed (2005-2006.) I worked with all the community. I was never at odds with the unions then and don’t anticipate to be at this point. Currently we have a great financial deficit —not only us, but throughout the whole state. California is the 49th of the 50 states in educational spending per student. We haven’t cut the days of instruction like districts all around us… yet. I will work with the labor groups…
BW: Back in 2005 STA (Stockton Teachers Association) was threatening to strike over raises, healthcare and other issues. You, as Deputy Superintendent, were part of the administration they targeted. Are you at peace with them now?
CT: I was never at odds with them (the unions) We had differences of opinions —where the money was going. We weren’t sure where the funds were coming from.
BW: The District has many, large, looming problems: low academic performance, reduced budgets, a dysfunctional Board, etc. Which one of these problems is the first one to be tackled? How?
CT: My main concern is the three of them. But, if I had to rank them, I would start with academic achievement. We just had a meeting (with staff) about that goal. Right now, salaries drive 90 percent of the budget. We are going to move as many resources to the school site as we can. We will develop a budget that will provide the services needed, the leadership —the Board and myself— must do it. I will serve as a conduit to mend fences, the differences within the Board, so we can all be in the same page. If there something I have, its integrity. We have to be truthful. I want the Board members ask the hard questions. I have instructed my team to answer questions truthfully. If we treat each other with respect, be upfront with the Board, we will set the skepticism aside. We need a sense of trust. (Teachers and staff) are frustrated with management through fear and intimidation.
BW: English learners have been blamed once and again, as one of the hurdles to raise scores. Do you subscribe to this opinion? What, if anything, are you planning to do about it?
CT: (Regarding the statement leading to the question,) we are waiting on the DAIT (District Assistance and Intervention Team) Compliance Report, a FCMAT (Fiscal Crisis & Management Assistance Team) review, the CELDT (California English Language Development Test) and other data that will tell us how we operate, how we address the pieces of the puzzle.. Recommendations from the state can go a very long way. But the key is good teaching, good principals, good leadership. All the programs in the world will not work if they aren’t implemented by a dedicated staff. Teachers need the support of the principals. We have to change the philosophy from “I got you” to “How can I help you”
BW: Stockton Unified has gone through several superintendents —interim, deputy or otherwise— during these last five years. Most left without much glory but with their pockets lined. Is it true that you are conceding a lesser pay? Why?
CT: Yes. I felt it was necessary that, given the situation —the District is in bad shape economically— I wasn’t be paid the same and took a cut (15 percent, according to confidential sources, leaving him at $230,000 per annum). I have to be a role model for personnel and I help if I can.
BW: You have inherited not only problems, but also some staffers who are deemed to be remnants of one the most unpopular administrations in recent memory. The Record reported you were reassigning former Superintendent Anthony Amato’s right hand, Matthew George, and Administrative-of-all-trades Clem Lee. We know Lee is going back to the classroom but, what is George’s new job?
CT: George will be spearheading the 1852 Foundation, an effort that is expected to bring millions into the district. We need to look for money to finance operations. I do not why we don’t have a grant writer. I am going to see how to keep our grant writer (although she officially retired last May, SUSD grant writer Bonnie Mansfield is still around SUSD offices) maybe back from retirement, maybe as a consultant… we need monies for materials and resources and she was an effective grant writer.
BW: You are the first SUSD Superintendent in recent memory to sit below the Board. Were you asked to do that? What does it mean?
CT: Yes. I was asked to do that. These are School Board meetings and they are the ones in charge. I work for the Board. I don’t have a problem with that if that is going to bring peace and harmony.
BW: Once a new superintendent is hired you will be, for a third time, retiring from the top. What, if anything, have you learned from these experiences?
CT: The first time I thought it was OK. Then I heard so much about the direction the SUSD was going, people felt under-valued that I stepped in to see if I could be of help. Although when I retire this time, my wife already told me “This is it” (I learnt) I can be of help.
BW: The district seems to have been dragging in academic performance since we can remember. You’ve spent 33 years in the district. What, in your opinion, is required to change this reality?
CT: We know much more now. We have become much more sophisticated in gathering and understanding data. Over the years we have tried program after program, not sure if we have gotten better. We are going to track the data, continue train our teachers, train them well as to take ownership of their site. Right now many (teachers) feel isolated and the results are not good. If they had a sense of ownership they could do more, that should improve results.
BW: We are about to start a new school year and we have the same problems that we had when we started the previous one. Is there any reason to be optimistic this time?
CT: Absolutely. It’s a new day. My goal is to work with the principals, eliminate this unguaranted impression that you cannot work with one another. That integrity is intact. I have directed staff to share results, what works. We are a new administration, we are energized. We will provide the support for them. We have to lead… and we need people to follow.