When Carl Toliver was called back to lead Stockton Unified School District (SUSD) last year as he faced more than one large and looming problem after another. A diminishing administration battered by politics and ineffective leadership, distrustful labor unions working under the constant fear of layoffs, continually reducing budgets, and stubbornly low student academic performance.
Now, seven months into the job, as Superintendent, we asked Mr. Toliver…
BW: Last year you asked for and got approval for a $312,000 academic improvement program implemented by an independent company called Action Learning Systems. Is there any tangible progress? Are you still forecasting a 700 API test score this year?
CT: Action Learning Systems has been training many members of our schools, especially 13 of our lowest performing schools. My goal was to ensure that principals become bonafide instructional leaders and teachers would improve upon their craft to deliver better services to our students.
This is a lengthy process and generally speaking takes two to three years for each staff to be fully versed in strategic strategies for sound instructional practices. However, substantial progress is being made and we are optimistic about improved student achievement.
BW: Back in July 2010 you stated “All the programs in the world will not work if they aren’t implemented by a dedicated staff.” Given the budget is reducing staff everywhere, are you worried about success?
CT: The budget crisis we are currently in certainly is a major concern of mine and the Board of Education. I am worried that some programs will not be offered and that our class sizes will have to increase. For those staff members who will be with us for the next academic year, I am hoping we will be able to provide them with the necessary resources to perform quality service instruction to our students and provide the learning environment that will be productive and safe.
BW: On taking charge you moved former Superintendent Anthony Amato’s right hand, Matthew George, to spearhead the 1952 Foundation. You said his efforts were “expected to bring millions into the district.” Have they?
CT: At this particular time, I am very disappointed in the progress of the 1852 Foundation. The concept of the 1852 Foundation is an excellent possibility for the district to raise monies for instructional programs and students. However, to this date, a lot remains to be seen.
BW: The Budget seems to drown all other discussion around the District. Today, what’s your #1 priority? To return SUSD to black ink and then worry about scores or the other way around?
CT: They are both extremely important. The budget woes do in fact have an impact on services we provide. However, I cannot say either one is more important; they go hand in hand. Whatever we do, we must continue to work to provide students with the best education we possibly can. We are like every other district in the State of California whose income has diminished and will have a less than positive impact on student achievement.
BW: Your income has come into question a few times since departing Trustee Colleen Boardman left in a cloud of negative remarks last month. Some people —including union leaders and Board members— have defended your right to disassociate your retirement income from your current earnings. Still, other people feel that, since you know the districts financial woes better than most, you should consider a pay cut. What would you say to them?
CT: I would say to them what I said to many other people and to the media, when I was asked to return as superintendent, board members and I had a discussion around setting my salary of $260,00, I offered to take a $30,000 pay cut knowing full well we would be asking other staff to take a reduction in pay. This was agreed upon by the majority of the Board at that time. The cut I took was equivalent to 12% salary reduction.
BW: What would you say to SUSD personnel, parents, in this uneasy hour?
CT:These are very difficult times for SUSD, for the State of California and for the nation as a whole. All throughout the country and the state, district and citizens are struggling with their budgets and how they are going to continue to provide services to citizens and students. Currently, Governor Brown from the State of California has a $25 billion deficit in which he must balance the state’s budget. He wishes to have a referendum so folks can vote on the tax extension which would provide additional revenue for districts and cities to address their deficits. I am hoping come this June, that all of our citizens will get out and vote in favor of the tax extension.