Santa Rosa City Schools superintendent Kitamura to retire
Diann Kitamura, who has led Sonoma County’s largest school district through consecutive years of devastating wildfires, as well as school shutdowns, declining enrollment and now a coronavirus pandemic that has halted in-person learning for nearly a year, will retire June 30.
Kitamura, who turned 62 on Monday, announced her decision in a letter to Santa Rosa City Schools staff on Tuesday. It comes as the district tackles a series of high-profile challenges and projects, most pressing among them a return-to-school campaign that aims to have staff and facilities ready to open classrooms to the district’s youngest students by March 1. She vowed Wednesday to see the work through to the end.
“I’m going to continue in the way that I have always done,” she said. “I’m not going to fade away starting tomorrow. Oh, hell no.”
Kitamura said a factor in her timing was the toll the pandemic is taking on her 88-year-old mother who lives alone in Yuba City.
“This pandemic has done a number on her. It hasn’t been good,” she said. “I’m going to move her in with us, have some quality time.”
Another factor in her decision, Kitamura said on Wednesday was “this whole education versus politics that has occurred and was brought to light through the pandemic.”
“It’s an impossible situation that superintendents have been placed in and it’s taking away from what I love to do, which is teaching and educating,” she said. “We have been placed in situations to make medical decisions … and it’s just not fair.”
Kitamura’s announcement comes as the district is in the middle of contract negotiations with the Santa Rosa Teachers Association, as well as the California School Employees Association that covers front office staff, custodians and others. Separately, the district has yet to ink an agreement with the teachers association that would update existing health and safety guidelines for what a return to the classroom will look like during a pandemic.
Additionally, the district is in the early stages of a once-in-a-generation effort to redraw attendance boundary lines and rewrite transfer rules affecting which of its 24 campuses the district’s 15,700 students attend. That process is expected to be finalized in the fall.
District leaders are also examining the future of law enforcement on campuses, as well as considering the prospect of renaming at least two of schools: Monroe Elementary School and Luther Burbank Elementary School.
"Am I worried about the timing of this and the pandemic and the return to schools? Yeah, its going to be tough,“ Area 5 Trustee Ed Sheffield said.
First elected in 2016, Sheffield is, along with Board President Laurie Fong, the longest serving member of the board.
“Whatever the situation, this is just one more huge challenge that we are going to have to find a way to work though,” he said.
“Right now, everything is critical,” Fong said. “There is no order to these things, every one happens at once and they are all important for our students and our staff and families. How do we find a superintendent who can handle it?”
The board is expected this month to discuss how and when to launch a search for a new superintendent.
"I don’t think anyone who is going to hear this news is not going to think ’Wow this is another big thing,’ “ said Area 2 Trustee Jill McCormick. ”It is what it is. It’s another big thing on our plate.“
Board members heaped praise on Kitamura for what they described as her tireless work ethic, her communication skills and a focus on equity in all aspects of district work.
McCormick recalled that after she was elected in 2018 but before she was sworn in, she was invited by Kitamura to a statewide school boards association conference to help acclimate her to the job.
“I was kind of overwhelmed and little intimidated and there were thousands of superintendents and administrators and politicians and the whole thing. I quickly realized, because I had a badge on that said ’Santa Rosa City Schools,’ that (the district) was on the map,“ McCormick said. ”It was on the map at that convention because of Diann and her response to the Tubbs fire.“
The 2017 wildfire, which razed a district school, heavily damaged others and destroyed hundreds of student and staff homes, closed schools for three weeks. No year since has gone off unaffected by fires, floods, power shut-offs or a pandemic.
For her work, Kitamura was honored in November by the Association of California School Administrators with the Ferd. Kiesel Memorial Distinguished Service Award, the top honor in its annual program.