By PETER ELLISON
As Superintendent Dill-Varga introduces her vision and goals for the future of Carmel High and CUSD, a massive choice is being presented to all the students, parents, teachers and administrators that make this district tick: We can choose to participate and change the way we learn and operate in a new direction, or we can choose to resist and keep the district exactly where it currently is—dead in the water.
Over the past four years the district has had a dearth of motivated and effective leadership, starting with the retirement of 15-year Superintendent Marvin Biasotti in 2015, the superintendent’s office was a revolving door, occupied by Superintendent Scott Laurence and Interim-Superintendent Karen Hendricks before settling on Dr. Dill-Varga, who took the office in June 2017. Completely new to Monterey County, she has spent the past year and a half getting used to the position and culture of the district and trying to create the relationships she needs to do her job properly.
Despite being a district full of great educators and leaders, a ship with four captains in four years can’t travel very far, and CUSD hasn’t been able to make any district-wide improvements with any meaningful drive or purpose since 2015. The vision presented by Dill-Varga represents a serious and codified effort to move the way CUSD handles business towards the future, with the added benefit that Dill-Varga will likely be here for the long haul and actually see the entire project through—something that can’t be said for the last two superintendents.
A common complaint is that the objectives presented by Dill-Varga are too vague, and that specific details and concrete plans are needed before a decision can be made, and all this…is true. Currently, the plan is vague, but that’s by design. In a personal interview with her, she made one point abundantly clear to me: Her vision won’t be complete until the entire CUSD community has had a chance to develop it collaboratively with her. Dill-Varga created a Teacher Advisory Council and a Community Advisory Council expressly for this purpose.
While I refer to the vision as “Dill-Varga’s,” this is not quite accurate. In truth, the vision is meant to be one shared and developed by the variety of groups and shareholders that make up CUSD. If the current vagueness disturbs you, then please, do exactly what the superintendent wants you to do and engage with her to clarify and refine it. She doesn’t want an unclear plan any more than you do, but she needs your help to get there.
Regarding the presentation of the vision, there is a unique issue tied to this topic that must be addressed: the reassignment of Principal Rick Lopez. This decision was poorly executed for a variety of reasons: the suddenness of the reveal, the immediate lack of a rationale from the district and the sudden potential for a lame-duck principal. Despite this, I do believe that this move is the correct one for CHS. Dill-Varga told me in our interview that she wants a leader at the high school that will A) be here long enough to see the vision through over the next 10 years and B) be able to personally advocate for and lead initiatives to advance the district’s educational objectives.
While Lopez is a terrific educator, his style of leadership is in direct contrast to Dill-Varga’s desire. According to multiple teachers, Lopez’s leadership style is laissez-faire, where he gives the excellent teachers at CHS lots of room to create their own curriculum and programs for students. Lopez encourages teachers to create programs and gives them lots of help and support, but doesn’t create these initiatives himself.
While this style has done wonders at CHS, Dill-Varga is looking for a new principal that will actively create programs and engage with teachers to advance the overarching goals and objectives at the high school. A leader who will charge ahead rather than advise from behind. This simple difference in philosophy is why we should simultaneously respect and appreciate all the work Lopez has done for the district, but also understand that this new direction requires new leadership.
Superintendent Dill-Varga’s proposition for the future of the district does have its flaws, but these flaws aren’t a reason to disengage with the vision, but rather an opportunity to help clarify and refine the district’s goals for the future. These objectives will be difficult to implement and will take a lot of time, but they’re a powerful opportunity to move the entire district forward and improve the way we operate and learn.