At a special meeting of the Amador County Unified School District Board of Trustees on Tuesday, January 5, ACUSD Superintendent Dr. Amy Slavensky announced her retirement and the board voted to continue with plans to return to in-class instructions after hours of debate.
Reading from a prepared statement at the beginning of the meeting, Slavensky said that she would be retiring from her position at the end of the 2020-21 school year, effective June 30.
“After many months of reflection, discussions with my husband Mike, and some mixed feelings, today it is with a sense of peace and clarity that I announce my retirement from the Amador County Unified School District and California public school education,” she said in a press release to the community announcing her retirement.
Slavensky said the timing of her announcement is intended to give the school board plenty of time to conduct a search for her replacement. Slavensky has been head of Amador County schools for just under five years, a term marked by major changes and reorganizations, a fiscal crisis, and now the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I’ve seen a lot of change for sure,” she said in her announcement. “What has remained consistent though is the strength, creativity, resilience and dedication of so many teachers, staff members and school leaders, committed to taking care of other people’s children while taking care of their own families. I’m honored to have been a part of so many school families and teams where an equitable educational experience for all students has been the focus of our work together.
“Staying true to my lifelong commitment to support students and families, I welcome the next chapter of my life journey and am looking forward to spending more time with my family, writing about my experiences, and seeking new ways to serve the greater good for all students.
“During our time working together in Amador County, I’m proud of what we’ve accomplished. Together, we built and delivered multi-tiered systems of support with a strong emphasis on social emotional learning. Together, we learned about and implemented preschool through 12th grade standards aligned curriculum and instruction, one-to-one technology with devices for every student at the secondary level, and we expanded career technology education and adult education.
“After a short time on the job, we uncovered financial truths and worked hard with our governance team, labor partners and leaders to right-size staffing and spending, and we rebuilt our required financial reserve fund levels to meet and exceed the state requirement in just 18 short months. The experts said it would take at least three years. We’ve also implemented some great school facilities improvements with architectural plans in development for more improvements, with coming soon attention to one of our oldest facilities located at Ione Elementary School.
“Together, we also led the board’s charge to effectively transfer the mild-moderate special education services and staff from the County Office to the District. And together, we are in the process of successfully navigating the unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic, distance learning, and the safe reopening of our schools for in-person learning in a hybrid model.”
Slavensky also thanked her leadership team and the past and present school board members she had worked with.
“Surrounded by a mighty team of educational leaders, I’m proud of our work and will always remember Amador County Public Schools students, teachers, leaders, staff and families as a community fiercely dedicated to its youth and its schools.
“All of that said, our work is not done yet. We have a lot more to do together in the next six months. This includes relentlessly striving for health and safety for all staff and students, and making our intervention supports for students even stronger during this pandemic – doing everything we can to minimize learning loss and to foster learning gain. I remain very committed to this work.”
Following Slavensky’s announcement, the focus of Tuesday’s special board meeting turned to a debate on the return of Amador schools to a hybrid learning schedule, where students spent half their time in class rooms and half distance learning.
ACUSD started hybrid learning in November, but staffing shortages had led to the district to return to full distance learning in mid-December. The board once again took up the issue that has been debated all year, whether to allow students to learn in-person during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
Distance learning advocates said they fear for staff and student safety as the case count continues to rise.
“At this point, I am not willing to vote for kids going to school in a potentially risky environment because of COVID to get a low-quality education potentially with a substitute,” said school board member Deborah Pulskamp, who represents District 2. “I believe that having a teacher in full distance learning is a better education than whoever they can get to fill that spot, because somebody’s quarantined.”
Advocates for in-person learning, meanwhile, cited improved education outcomes and student mental health.
“When my kids come home after being at school that day, they have a different energy about them,” said school board President Kandi Thompson, who represents District 1. “They have a different light about them. There is just something to be said about kids being in school and being able to be around teachers and around their friends and be able to have that in-person learning.”
The school board ultimately voted 3-2 to continue with the planned return to class this week – students returned to in-person learning on Thursday, January 7 – with board members James Marzano, Thompson and Jim Whitaker in support, while Pulskamp and Julia Burns opposed.