She ‘leads with love’: Q&A with incoming Cotati-Rohnert Park Unified Superintendent Maite Iturri
A new superintendent for Sonoma County’s third largest school district, Cotati-Rohnert Park Unified, was approved this month.
Her name is Maite Iturri, an El Verano resident who has been an administrator at Petaluma City Schools and before that, a popular principal at El Verano Elementary School.
Iturri officially starts Sept. 1. She will replace outgoing Superintendent Mayra Perez, who is retiring Oct. 31.
Iturri has a three-year contract and will be paid $230,000.
A Press Democrat reporter sat down with Iturri to learn what she’s all about and her plans for the district and its nearly 6,000 students.
Press Democrat: How has your background prepared you to pursue a leadership role in education?
Iturri: I remember being a little kid trying to teach my dad, who’s from Basque Country, English ― it’s a memory that has stuck with me. I grew up in San Francisco in the restaurant business, and one day I saw an ad for bilingual instructional assistant at one of the elementary schools.
I saw this group of kids that needed a lot of love and support, and realized this is where I need to be. I loved teaching and thought I'd stay in the classroom for my entire career. Then, we had an administrative change and I was like, ‘You know what? I could do that.’
So, I got my administrative credential and was a principal for 15 years. I started my doctorate 10 years ago with the intention of being a superintendent. I never finished it because I was so busy being a principal. Then, this opportunity came to be and I was like ‘OK, it's time for that dream and that goal to be fulfilled and I’m fully embracing it.’
PD: What academic goals do you have for the new year? Are there any new curriculum changes you have in mind you’d like to explore?
Iturri: I want students to achieve and have all their options open to them when they graduate Cotati-Rohnert Park schools, whether that be a career or college path. Understanding the curriculum they're using will be one of the first things that I'm doing.
To support those academic goals, we want to raise attendance rates because as a result of the pandemic, attendance rates across the country have plummeted. We want to make sure that our kids are showing up and that we're creating conditions for them that encourage that.
At Petaluma City Schools, I interviewed some families to understand why their kids are not going to school. That street-level data has been helping inform some of the programs that we're trying to put in place here. So, I imagine doing something similar at CRPUSD to understand what is happening and any issues or concerns that have arisen.
PD: Due to recent school safety concerns, do you have any ideas on how you might tackle safer schools through prevention and response in your new role?
Iturri: I look at safety as mostly prevention. We need to ask questions like: What are we doing to build that sense of belonging and welcoming? Do students have a trusted adult they could go to to feel supported? What are we doing for the parents to make sure that they're feeling supported too?
We need to make sure students feel comfortable, so that when they hear something they are able to provide us with that information in partnership with law enforcement, our community and our mental health workers. It's really keeping those lines of communication open so that we can be preventive.
If there’s an emergency, we’ll certainly have all our protocols and procedures in place. We need to make sure we're all speaking the same language and that we have practiced plans. When you're in a crisis situation, you want to be able to have that checklist that you can go to so that it becomes second nature when you're in a crisis or emergency situation.
That's a lot of the work that I've been doing at Petaluma City Schools and I know that Cotati-Rohnert Park has done a lot of work in safety as well, so I'm excited to learn from what they have in place and how to support and enhance that work.
PD: What is your mantra?
Iturri: Lead with love.
I think it's really important. To love and to hold kindness, understanding and empathy at the center of what you're doing is sometimes very hard.
Sometimes we want to make really quick decisions. But, I always find that coming from a place of love, empathy, concern and wanting to understand, will always help me and the people I work with make better decisions.
Because ultimately, we all depend on each other and we all want everyone to be successful and find a path that brings them joy, happiness and success. And if we can keep that at the center of the conversation, then I think we'll had better outcomes for our students, families and teachers.
So leading with love is just a way of reminding me to always look at all parts of the story.
PD: What have you learned about your new district that you are most excited about?
Iturri: I've heard amazing things about the teachers. I think there’s a really committed group of educators there.
I'm excited about their commitment to professional learning communities and that they've worked hard to hold that space and time sacred so that they can look at their practice, and look at data to make decisions about instruction.
I'm also excited that they have community liaisons working to support the Latinx and Spanish-speaking community.
They've also gotten a lot of attention for their special education work, particularly in transitional kindergarten. I'm excited about that, as well as their Family Resource Center.
I also think that they have a strong sense of community. It’s incredibly exciting to work with the entire community including the school board, the educators, the families and the students.
You can reach Staff Writer Alana Minkler at 707-526-8531 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @alana_minkler.