Superintendent of the Year: Delivering standout success to her district

In any school district, there is one final place where the buck stops: the desk of the superintendent. These hardworking leaders are responsible for working along with the district school board to make the ultimate decisions that will spell success or failure for many students.

Continuous improvement in test scores – even in the face of massive budget cuts – bears out the fact that the overall quality of California school district superintendents is stellar. And one of the best is Lou Obermeyer, superintendent of Valley Center-Pauma USD, ACSA’s 2011 Superintendent of the Year.

Obermeyer has been superintendent of Valley Center-Pauma since 2005, and served as superintendent prior to that in Atwater ESD. Under her leadership, VCPUSD – serving a diverse student population, including students from five Indian reservations – has shown positive growth year after year, achieving an 805 API in 2010. A good deal of credit for that goes to Obermeyer’s focus from the beginning of her superintendency on the development of professional learning communities.

To kick the process off, Obermeyer had each site principal select a small group of teachers to attend a PLC learning opportunity. The teachers returned enthusiastic about the process, and soon other teachers wanted to learn more. Obermeyer invited union presidents to attend, and they came back wanting all teachers to attend. Before long, the district had a waiting list of staff to attend the training, and ultimately it took three years to train everyone.

“Moving slowly with the implementation, we had time for teachers to see the benefits of PLCs,” Obermeyer said. “Taking the time to go slowly gave everyone time to know and learn about best practices, expectations and changes we needed to make. Being open to ideas and listening to concerns has helped with acceptance, implementation and institutionalization.”

Last year VCPUSD added a new data system for high school teachers and benchmark assessments district-wide. Due to the success teachers saw with best practices and data analysis, the addition of benchmark assessments and a new data system was implemented with little or no resistance.

In addition, Obermeyer makes sure site leaders are supported. She set up a system of “administrative buddies,” where each principal is assigned a cabinet member as mentor. And all administrators are assigned an adjunct duty designed to stretch their leadership capacities.

Another strength Obermeyer has shown is her insistence on providing a safe and clean learning environment for students, even in times of massive budget cuts. As part of her regular focus, she makes frequent visits to all school sites to ensure campuses are safe environments for all students.

“With budget cuts, facility upkeep sometimes slips in priorities,” she said. “This has not been the case in our district. Safe and clean schools always have been and continue to be a top priority. We have added security cameras to all campuses since I’ve been here, and we encourage employees and community members to use the free ‘We Tip Hotline’ program to report crimes and/or suspicious behavior on campuses. To address internet safety, we have assemblies on safe technology, texting, sexting and the like for middle and high school students, and appropriate training for elementary students.”

Obermeyer has made an effort to assist in community safety too. In 2007, when fires devastated the area, she opened a high school to serve as a community evacuation center, and she opened a communications system that kept everyone informed throughout the crisis.

Another real passion of the job is keeping her district up to date in technology.  “This is the best part of my job – finding ways to add technology for all schools,” she said. “We’ve installed document cameras and LCD projectors in all classrooms, and all sites have wireless internet access. We have classes at every school with sets of iPod Touches or iPads and teachers can attend iLearn trainings to learn how to use mobile devices in their classes.”

The district was fortunate to attend the Apple Executive Briefing Center last spring to “see into the future.” Participants returned with creative ideas for school media centers, classrooms and additional instructional uses. In addition, the district has offered online summer school for two years, and the completion rate is higher than the traditional summer school seat-time program.

The administrative team is reading Education Nation and is learning to use mobile devices too. There is a waiting list of teachers wanting class sets of mobile devices, and a preliminary analysis of STAR results is showing positive gains. The new VC Prep School is an independent school with online and traditional programs available for all grades, K-12.

During her career, Obermeyer has been a very active ACSA member, serving in leadership capacities at the local and statewide levels. Currently she serves on ACSA’s Superintendency Council. She said she has always been a believer in ACSA’s culture of support, and she knows that her active participation pays off for her district and for her career.

“I joined ACSA in 1989 when I first became an administrator and I’ve always enjoyed being a member, attending regional meetings, and many ACSA Academies,” Obermeyer said. “I’ve made so many friends attending ACSA events, and I enjoy the networking opportunities to meet new people. Attending the academies has helped me with my career. I’ve attended the personnel and superintendent academies, and Leading the Leaders – all quality professional development.

“ACSA is our professional organization, providing services, advocacy, professional development and networking, and I feel strongly that we should support this organization.”

Obermeyer is frequently cited by colleagues for her professionalism, honesty, integrity, care for students and respect for all.

“It is said that the most important decision a governing board makes is the selection of a superintendent. We hit a home run when we selected Dr. Lou Obermeyer,” wrote VCPUSD Board President Don Martin, in a letter of support for this award.

Likewise, ACSA is pleased to be able to honor a member who is a standout in her profession.

“This is the highest honor a superintendent can receive and I’m very, very honored,” Obermeyer said. “I’m lucky to work with a great administrative team, a wonderful school board, in a great district and community. It’s a winning combination, and I feel fortunate to lead VCPUSD and to receive this prestigious award.”

Obermeyer will be honored along with all of ACSA’s Administrator of the Year Award recipients Nov. 3-5 at the 2011 Leadership Summit in Sacramento. To register, visit www.acsa.org/leadershipsummit.

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