Mark West superintendent runs for county schools chief
Twice a week, Ron Calloway spends time teaching first graders how to read ― not always a typical part of a school district superintendent’s routine.
Calloway, superintendent of the Mark West Union School District, established his habit even before staff shortages and COVID-related absences made top administrators a more frequent sight in classrooms this year. Getting into the classroom regularly, he said, is an important part of doing his job.
“I love it,” he said. “It connects me to the world of education. It grounds me. It makes me do what I do.”
After 11 years at the helm of the elementary school district, Calloway, 60, has his sights set now on a new leadership position: Sonoma County superintendent of schools.
As a teacher, principal and superintendent, Calloway said, he “made a difference for every child.”
“The next step is, of course, to make a difference for every child in the county,” he said.
With the announcement of his candidacy in January, Calloway joined two other candidates who are also vying for the top schools position in Sonoma County. Amie Carter, assistant superintendent of education services for the Marin County Office of Education, and Brad Coscarelli, principal of Hidden Valley Elementary School, are also running.
Steve Herrington, who has been county superintendent since 2010, announced in October he will not seek reelection.
The primary election will occur June 7. A November runoff would only occur if no candidate receives more than half the vote.
Calloway’s priorities are drawn from his 30-plus year career in education and nearly an entire lifetime as a Sonoma County resident, except for when he attended Chico State for his bachelor’s degree. He also holds a master’s degree from Concordia University and an administrative credential from Sonoma State University.
He spent the beginning of his career teaching in Rincon Valley, at Whited Elementary School, which he attended when it was called Rincon Valley Elementary. He first became a principal at Steele Lane Elementary School, and then was principal at San Miguel Elementary School before moving on to administrative positions with Santa Rosa City Schools.
In 2010, Calloway was hired for his current position. He pointed out that the variety of positions he has held has given him experience with all levels of school district operations, from adopting curriculum to balancing budgets and negotiating with labor unions.
The firestorm of 2017, which destroyed the homes of more than 200 Mark West families, remains a pivotal experience, Calloway said.
“If you go back and look at the pictures, it was World War II-level devastation,” he said. The school campuses survived, but John Riebli Elementary, which Calloway called “an oasis” in the midst of that devastation, was closed until FEMA cleared out toxic ash.
Those students had to be shuffled to other campuses until Riebli could reopen.
“I lived the life of the famous J-13 waiver,” Calloway joked, referring to the waiver that schools can file to still receive funding from the state when they close due to emergencies.
More than four years later, the lingering effects of the 2017 fires and other disasters weathered by Sonoma County families, also have shaped Calloway’s priorities and vision for the county superintendent position.
That includes bolstering social emotional supports for local students, he said. Trauma continues to affect students’ ability to succeed in school.
“A ‘to-go bag’ ― that’s in our lexicon,” he said. “Children know that we have to have our to-go bag ready, starting in September.”
“We have to address that as a county with our children,” he continued. “If we’re not feeling safe or secure, it’s hard to reach to the next level.”
Another strategy Calloway favors to boost academic outcomes is supporting early literacy. Though the state already has plans to roll out universal transitional kindergarten for 4-year-olds by 2025-2026, he wants to add more supports for children at an even earlier age: as young as 2 years old.
By third grade, Calloway said, if students aren’t reading at grade level, they face an ongoing struggle to catch up.
“It switches from learning to read to reading to learn,” he said. “Your whole struggle is trying to break down a word instead of breaking the down the text and comprehending it.”
“If we want everybody to go A through G later on through high school, we have to start very early,” he said.
Calloway said he also wants to make progress on diversifying the teacher pipeline, which Carter has also identified as a priority. Calloway said his plan involves identifying potential future teachers and fostering their interests early, even as middle schoolers, and offering supports along the way to postsecondary education.
He’s also got his eye on housing as a way to support schools. It’s not an entirely new concept; the Sonoma County Office of Education is pursuing an affordable teacher housing development of between 40 and 60 units, on a 4-acre plot of land the agency owns behind Amarosa Academy in southwest Santa Rosa.
But Calloway wants to go beyond that, leveraging the county superintendent position to identify more affordable housing opportunities for families, as well.
“I think it’s working with the local supervisors, and obviously city councils, looking at zoning, looking for areas where we can create work and school and everything,” he said. “It’s all intertwined.”
Calloway has been endorsed by James Gore, chair of the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors.
If elected, he would be the first Latino superintendent of schools in Sonoma County.
And though the county position would place him even further from the classroom than his current one does, Calloway said he plans on continuing to get on campuses frequently.
“I will still go to classrooms,” he said. “I won’t give it up.”
You can reach Staff Writer Kaylee Tornay at 707-521-5250 or email@example.com. On Twitter @ka_tornay.