On Monday, February 26, Humboldt County Superintendents arrived on Capitol Hill to participate in the first ever Humboldt County Schools Advocacy Day to discuss opportunities and share priorities for students and families in Humboldt County with legislators and key education staff in Sacramento. Some of the highlights included meeting with Senator Mike McGuire and Assemblymember Jim Wood, as well as receiving a Capitol tour with Former State Superintendent, Jack O’Connell.

Dr. Chris Hartley, Superintendent of Humboldt County Schools was joined by eight other district superintendents from across Humboldt County. Those in attendance were Chris Cox, Scotia; Jennifer Glueck, Big Lagoon; Beth Anderson, Ferndale; Shari Lovett, Mattole; Blaine Sigler, Cuddeback; Gary Storts, South Bay, Kevin Trone, Rio Dell; and Jon Ray, Klamath-Trinity. “We are so incredibly fortunate that local superintendents were willing to invest their time and energy by joining me in Sacramento to advocate for the needs of students in our county,” shared Dr. Hartley. “They recognize the importance of making a personal connection with key decision makers so that our student and community needs are considered when decisions are being made or legislation is being crafted. I’m very proud of our team for this first event and look forward to deepening our collective advocacy in the future.”

In addition to local legislators, the superintendents were able to have meaningful and relevant conversations with; Jennifer Johnson, deputy legislative secretary for Governor Edmund G. Brown, Jr.; Elisa Wynne, deputy staff director for the senate budget and fiscal review committee; Tanya Lieberman, deputy chief consultant for Assembly Committee on education; and Kevin Gordon, president of Capitol Advisors Group.  “All folks were very accepting of our ideas and open to taking input on how to enhance systems so that our local needs are taken into account. Meeting with key consultants is critical for embedding our stories and experiences in their understanding of the needs of students in our rural region.” Hartley added.

There were several topics the school district superintendents discussed with the group. All represented areas of concern and advocacy relative to being in a rural community and operating within very small rural school districts. Four major priorities surfaced in those conversations including challenges around mental health issues, school finance and the use of the local control accountability plan (LCAP), unique challenges of our community local control funding formula (LCFF), and school facilities. “Our overarching theme revolved around equity and the fact that students and families in our county face unique and complex challenges that frankly deserve more resources and attention than typically granted by folks making important decisions in our state,” Hartley affirmed.

Many of the families and students in Humboldt County experience traumas on a daily basis due to homelessness, drugs, unemployment, and the inaccessibility of social services in our rural region. Trauma is a community-wide issue that permeates into the schools and directly interferes with pupil learning. Humboldt County’s individualized education programs (IEP) rate of 20 percent is nearly twice the statewide average and illustrates the extent of the problem as parents look to schools to provide greater mental health and social services to children.

Advocacy aimed at closing the gaps by having on-site mental health and social service specialists, professional development for staff to better understand and be able to respond to social and emotional trauma, as well as increasing resources and interagency partnerships were all components of the discussion. “Senator McGuire and Assemblymember Wood are very supportive of our efforts to enhance and develop more services aimed at curbing mental health challenges our students face,” Hartley exclaimed. “We look forward to implementing additional supports in our schools and build on ideas generated during our meetings.”

The LCAP remains a challenge for small and rural school districts due to the time-consuming and complex nature of entering information and complying with growing accountability requirements. Without the resources of larger districts, it can be difficult to strike the right balance between implementing services and compliance based reporting. District superintendents asked that the State Board of Education include the perspectives and acknowledge the limitations of smaller districts when developing statewide accountability requirements and shared the hope that future partnership could be considered to ensure that small districts can actually focus on the implementation of local educational plans.

Local control has been one of the LCFF’s defining and most successful features. There was collective support in putting as much funding as possible into the LCFF base, which will also boost supplemental and concentration grant levels. There is also support for measures that will increase the total funding for education to adequately and appropriately pay for the education services our students need.

“California has the sixth largest economy in the world and the largest gross domestic product of any state in our nation, yet we invest approximately $2,000 less per pupil than the average state – ranking California in the bottom fifth of states nationally,” stated Superintendent of South Bay, Gary Storts. “That’s simply not good enough for our schools or our students.”

Construction and labor costs in the far northwest region of California are significantly greater than most parts of the state. The “redwood curtain” means that school facility construction and modernization generally requires the importing of labor, which adds substantial costs. This was an important topic of discussion with a push that the School Facilities Program must better reflect the need for greater eligibility in our geographical remote region.

Blaine Sigler, superintendent of Cuddeback felt the trip was a valuable opportunity to sit down and discuss these important topics with state legislators and key committee members in addressing some for the significant challenges facing our rural districts. “Our schools in Humboldt County have a much different set of challenges due to rural factors than others schools in more centralized and populated areas in California. I was excited that our student stories seemed to be very well received at the state level by those responsible for enacting changes in the educational landscape.”

Jennifer Glueck, superintendent of Big Lagoon agreed. “I was impressed by how well our legislators know our region and are advocates for education, and in particular rural education issues. They seemed truly interested in engaging in dialog, asked clarifying questions, and demonstrated enthusiasm for brining funding for education up to a standard that will allow schools to progress toward their goals.”

It was a very successful event that helped lay the foundation for future work on enhancing support for our county, particularly in the area of mental health support and recognition for fiscal need for schools in our county and throughout the state.