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Candidates for County School Superintendent Exchange Views

Candidate Nicole Glentzer:

The Anderson Valley Advertiser asked me to respond in writing to the question, “What is not happening at MCOE under the auspices of Ms. Hutchins that you think should be happening?”

As a lifelong educator (and not a politician), giving a public critique of another human being is not something I’m comfortable doing, but the question posed by the AVA is a fair question, one to which voters deserve an answer. With all due respect to Ms. Hutchins, there is no way to honestly answer the AVA’s question without including criticism of her performance.

The County Superintendent of Schools has 3 primary responsibilities, to ensure the fiscal solvency of each school district, to lead the Mendocino County Office of Education (MCOE), and to provide guidance and support to individual school districts. Due to the incredible efforts of school districts and the MCOE Business Department, schools in our county are fiscally solvent and the dedicated staff at MCOE work hard to provide what direct services they can. 

However, since 2018, school leaders, school employees, and MCOE staff have reported that support that should be found by conferring with the County Superintendent is unavailable or unreliable.

This was especially apparent during the pandemic, when school districts had to quickly transition to distance learning, develop COVID safety plans, and increase communication with parents and guardians, all while dealing with a staffing shortage. When our districts needed support developing COVID Safety Plans to reopen schools, the County Superintendent was unavailable to help. Most school districts in the state were regularly meeting with the County Public Health Officer and the County Superintendent of Schools. This was not available to Mendocino County districts, even after repeated requests to have the County Superintendent facilitate these meetings.

Forging a collaborative partnership between the education community and the medical community during a pandemic is critical, yet our County Superintendent was unable to foster such a partnership. Throughout the pandemic, rather than rely on the incumbent, our Districts had to look to each other for support - especially when doing the crucial work of safely returning our students to school in person.

For all of us, navigating a global pandemic was new territory, but Hutchins did little to get our students and staff back to in-person learning once it was safe. In fact, the Mendocino County Office of Education was one of the last school organizations to reopen their offices to the public, well after the return of students to in-person learning. 

Ultimately, schools could not and did not wait for the County Superintendent to provide material support for reopening, because our students needed to learn in person to have the education they deserve.

A County Superintendent should lead the way for the districts she serves – setting the example and modeling what districts should do. Likely, if some of our districts had not pushed to get our students back to school in-person safely, students would have stayed on distance learning much longer, thus deepening the crisis our students and families have been in. Had we waited for Superintendent Hutchins, our students may not have made it back to school in person during the 2020-2021 school year at all.

In my role at Ukiah Unified School District, I worked every day to get students and teachers back to school in person as quickly and safely as possible. I developed a COVID testing plan, tested students and staff myself, trained a team of people to be testers, and supported other districts in our county to do the same. It was complicated, and exhausting work to safely reopen our schools, but it was work that needed to be done.

Sadly, COVID is not the only crisis where the County Superintendent has been absent and out of touch with what is happening in our schools. Districts throughout the county have endured fires, floods, smoke inundation, power shutdowns, and tragic losses of students. Through all of these, it is rare to find our current County Superintendent reaching out to see what she can do to help. I recently spoke with an educator whose office is within 100 yards of the incumbent’s, who told me that in the years they have worked at MCOE, they have only met the incumbent a few times. This is not an isolated incident.

Sadly, many of our school employees, school leaders, and MCOE employees have found the current County Superintendent out of touch and absent. Ms. Hutchins received a vote of no confidence from two school districts she has served, Anderson Valley Unified School District and Mountain Valley School District. Currently, her website lists endorsements from less than 5 current Mendocino County educators - effectively a third vote of no confidence.

It is evident to those who work with her now why those district employees gave her a vote of no confidence. I have been able to work with employee organizations and other education partners to the degree that the California School Employees’ Association and the Potter Valley Education Support Professionals have endorsed me. I have also received the endorsement of over 100 current and retired Mendocino County educators. I am an on-the-ground leader.

The AVA asks, “What is not happening?”

The answer is simple: in the 3.5 years of her tenure, Ms. Hutchins has lost the trust of the vast majority of educators throughout Mendocino County because our schools are not getting the support they should get from their County Superintendent. Voters have a simple choice to make, ignore the voices of educators in our county and side with the incumbent, or side with the teachers, principals, and staff who are rallying for change. It’s time to see what our schools can do with a leader they can work with, rather than one they have to work around.

Nicole Glentzer

Incumbent Superintendent Michelle Hutchins Responds:

I was surprised by the letter my opponent sent to the AVA. We had both pledged to run a clean, honest campaign. So, it saddens me to have to respond to her misrepresentations. But I have been asked to do so, and this is my response. My opponent is capitalizing on the unfortunate circumstances of the pandemic. She states she doesn't want to be negative, but she should at least be accurate. 

The number of meetings I organized shows she is mistaken. During the first two months of the pandemic, I facilitated meetings between school personnel and the county public health office every day for the first two months. Afterwards, I facilitated a weekly meeting, totaling 125 meetings in all. Additionally, the school superintendents who support my opponent wanted to exclude charter and private schools from these meetings. But I refused; every student needs to be represented, and every student needs to be safe.

With rapidly changing direction from the State of California, sometimes daily, I sent out over 195 emails explaining these changes to district personnel. I received countless accolades from teachers, staff, and superintendents for the speed of information they received, from me, to protect our children. My office also delivered over 45 tons of protective equipment to our schools in 2020.

In collaboration with their community, parents, and unions, I insisted that every school develop a plan to meet the state requirements, knowing that each school district had unique needs.

My office also provided material resources to support schools in reopening to in-person learning, and it is well documented through newspaper articles and KZYX radio shows.

My opponent’s claims that districts had to go outside or around Mendocino County Office of Education (MCOE) to get the services they needed is a complete misrepresentation of what is actually a very strong relationship with neighboring counties for bettering the environment for all our students. Contrary to her claim, MCOE supported 37 local educational agencies and received compliments from the State as well as local public health for our level of support and collaboration with schools.

My opponent is either ignorant of what a County Superintendent does or is deliberately exploiting everyone's frustration with the pandemic to advance her campaign. Sadly, this only insults and hurts the hard-working people at MCOE.

Although I am elected official, I am not a “politician.” In fact, it would be improper for me to solicit endorsements from people who work for the districts and whose paychecks I write. I have, however, been endorsed by Sen. Mike McGuire, Assembly Member James Wood, and the unprecedented endorsement by every independently elected member of the County Board of Education and a growing number of prominent community members.

I encourage you to learn more at:

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