Ravenswood school board deadlocks on scope of superintendent search

Trustees disagree on whether to look internally or externally for district's next leader

With one trustee absent at last Thursday's Ravenswood school board meeting, a debate among the four remaining board members about whether to launch an external or internal search for the East Palo Alto district's next superintendent ended in a stalemate.

The board's two newest members, President Tamara Sobomehin and Vice President Stephanie Fitch, insisted on an internal search that would likely end in the permanent appointment of interim Superintendent Gina Sudaria. An internal search would be less costly and yield candidates who know the needs of the K-8 district and surrounding community well, they said.

"I don't want to waste resources looking outwardly when we have a good pool of people here who have been involved in the work, who have experience, who have the cultural context and frankly who have the heart and soul to work on behalf of everyone here," Sobomehin said. "The possibility for something that lasts six to eight months, I don't know if that's worth it ... given the frailty and relationship building and trust issues that have been here the last couple years. I feel like we've got a lot of momentum right now and I would hate to destroy that."

Trustees Ana Maria Pulido and Marielena Gaona-Mendoza, however, said they want to follow "best practice" and launch a wider search.

The board should "make sure that whoever we hire is the best person available to us and that's both looking inwardly and outwardly," Pulido said. "I think it would be irresponsible for us to do anything else."

Trustee Sharifa Wilson was absent. The four trustees took two 2-2 votes and could not reach consensus on the scope of the search process.

Several speakers, including teachers, union leaders and others, urged the board against an extensive external search and voiced their support for Sudaria's leadership. Sudaria has led the district temporarily since the spring, when former superintendent Gloria Hernandez-Goff was forced to resign.

Randy Jackson, the district's California School Employees Association president, said the district is at a rare "unification point" that a lengthy superintendent search could put that at risk. He and others also questioned spending money on a wide search at a time when the district is looking to trim its budget.

Pulido said that outside funders have covered the cost of previous superintendent searches.

Avani Patel, who oversees portfolios for the Peery Foundation, responded that the foundation — which earlier this month announced a $3.5 million donation to the district — has funded superintendent searches in the past but likely wouldn't do that this time.

"We just invested directly into the district and the students and the teachers and the staff. We feel confident that Gina is the right leader," Patel told the board. "In fact, so much of the Peery Foundation's future funding is based on the leader of the district."

The trustees went back and forth, unable to find agreement until Sobomehin decided to table the discussion for a future meeting.

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