Thursday, April 28, 2022

Remarks on Dr. Rachel Monárrez, next superintendent of the Worcester Public Schools

Tonight on a unanimous vote (made unanimous on the motion of Member Mailman, who voted first for Dr. Savoy-Brooks), Dr. Rachel Monárrez was appointed the next superintendent of the Worcester Public Schools.

As I was the Committee member who went to visit her home district, I had the responsibility of reporting out on that visit. Here are the remarks I made this evening.

Turquoise whiteboard marker on glass, handwritten:
"It's all about the children and the adults that serve them" in a heart
In Dr. Monárrez's San Bernardino office

I visited San Bernardino City Unified School District for finalist Dr. Rachel Monárrez, the deputy superintendent. SBCUSD is the seventh largest district in California, with 48,000 students, 72 schools, covering 163 square miles, with a FY22 budget of $918 million. As Deputy Superintendent, per the superintendent, she runs the day to day operations of the entire school district. 

My first meeting of the day with Superintendent Dr. Harry Ervin established several themes regarding Dr. Monárrez that were repeated and confirmed over the course of the day:

She is a strategic thinker: She thinks in terms of structures and systems, how those are established, how those are working, what changes need to be made, and more than anything else, how those structures and systems impact students. When a staff member saw an upcoming operational issue that crossed silos and would be politically unpopular to raise, he took it to Dr. Monárrez, as he knew that she’d recognize the issue, that she would be prepared to plan next steps, and that she wouldn’t let the politics of the concern stop the work that needed to happen. I was given examples of this again and again over the course of the day.

Her first priority is always what is right for kids: The structural is in support of children, first, and the staff who serve them, and the community, including the families surrounding them. She continues to ensure that the systems of the school district are working to be supporting the best interests of kids and of those who serve them. In fact, on the table in her office where meetings are held, she’s written, “It’s all about the children and the adults that serve them.”

She leads with others: Dr. Monárrez actively models leadership for others; her walk-through of a classroom (which, I was told, is never for only a moment) closes not simply with the usual question ‘what did you see?’ but the follow-up ‘and what will you reflect back to that teacher to raise their work to the next level for students?’ She is actively reflective in her own practice, seeking feedback from those with whom she works. Those who report to her trust her (and I heard this phrase more than once) with “the real story,” knowing that she will not spread information with which she is trusted further. She is trusted and she is trustworthy, and she also extends trust to others. She is not a gossip. She also is known for working with those needing to solve a problem, reflecting to them their own best thinking and what will work best for their own situation. She not only, as noted above, brings structural support to challenges the district is facing; she ensures that those doing the work are themselves supported personally. One termed this “leading with grace.” One staff member summed it up as “I wanted to make her feel proud of me.”

She is gifted at creating and sustaining the relationships that are a community: As one parent related to me, Dr. Monárrez’s frame is “Let’s make this a better school district for our kids.” She is skilled at working through difficult conversations, including those across race, class, and language lines. She is a skilled listener, and, while always does her research and comes prepared, if she does not know something, she will say that and then follow up with the one who asked. She has broken down barriers between and among groups in the school district, and she has cultivated key partnerships for the school district. One parent described this as “leaving headaches outside the door and bringing everyone to the table.”

I could go on at length, but in short, Mr. Chair, what I heard from the district was a description of someone who met, in a myriad of ways, exactly what the Worcester School Committee, and, more importantly, the community of the city of Worcester, wants in their next superintendent. 

As I was also told repeatedly: San Bernardino’s loss will be Worcester’s gain. 

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