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Dr. Raul Ramirez, SB Unified's Elementary Schools Chief, Leaving District for New Post

Dr. Raul Ramirez, Assistant Superintendent of Elementary Education for the Santa Barbara Unified School District, will leave his job at the end of the school year for a new position as the top administrator at an elementary district in Ventura County, Newsmakers has learned.

Ramirez has served for six years in the key post in Santa Barbara, one of the two top jobs under SBUSD's Superintendent; he informed his team and colleagues of his plans on Wednesday, said district Public Information Officer Camie Barnwell, who confirmed the move.

"It has truly been the most satisfying and rewarding experience of my professional life," he said, in a statement relayed through Barnwell. "Above all, I am most proud that my advocacy has brought attention to children and families that were previously invisible to many."

"No doubt there is much work to do, but I am convinced this district has been headed in the right direction toward correcting the neglect of the past," he added.

Ramirez, who earned $234,206.43 in salary and benefits in Santa Barbara, is leaving to become the new superintendent for the K-8 Mesa Union Elementary School District, in Somis, whose current chief executive recently announced he was leaving.

The decision by Ramirez comes as the school board is preparing to hire a replacement for Superintendent Cary Matsuoka, opening a new chapter of change in Santa Barbara, where classrooms remain shuttered because of Covid-19, students are engaged in remote learning exercises and district officials struggle with decisions of whether, how and when to reopen in the fall.

With a doctorate in education from USC, Ramirez was hired in Santa Barbara in 2014 to a newly created management position that focused on English-learner student achievement and parent engagement. He was promoted to assistant superintendent the following year and became a fierce advocate for programs aimed at reducing the "Achievement Gap" between white and Latino students.

As one of Matsuoka's top lieutenants, Ramirez at times also became a lightning rod during conflicts between the administration's emphasis on policies that stress "cultural competencies" and "equity," against the vocal opposition of some parents who call for more stress on basic literacy and traditional educational fundamentals.

These tensions emerged publicly last year, when Ramirez tried to dismantle, with short notice, the Elementary Gifted and Talented Program (GATE) program at Washington Elementary, which led to loud opposition before the school board and criticism from board members.

Last month, the school board unanimously approved a sweeping plan, backed by Ramirez, known as META (Multilingual Excellence Transforming Achievement). It is designed "to implement culturally and linguistically focused education models, based on research that shows bilingualism will increase student achievement for everyone, especially students who do not speak English as their first language," according to reporting by Delaney Smith.

The board also agreed to set up a dual language immersion program at McKinley Elementary School, starting next year.

Ramirez took note of the adoption of the META program in his statement to Newsmakers.

"Most of all, I am tremendously proud of the way in which this work has allowed us to make for better educational experiences for all students in Santa Barbara, particularly for our Emerging Multilingual Students," Ramirez said.

"In particular, the completion and recent board adoption of the META plan provides a clear roadmap for organizational transformation," he added. "More than a plan for bi-literacy, it is a strategic plan with a clear aim to change the trajectory of the entire community."

Although Ramirez is departing, the school board recently approved a two-year extension on the contract of his counterpart for upper grades, Assistant Superintendent of Secondary Education Shawn Carey.

Matsuoka, in a statement via the indefatigable Barnwell, said that, "Dr. Raul Ramirez has provided strategic leadership for six years in Santa Barbara Unified School District.

"His advocacy for our emergent multi-lingual learners will be part of his legacy as well as his work in developing a very strong cohort of principals leading our elementary schools," he added. "He will be a great leader for the Mesa Union School District as he moves into the role of superintendent and reconnects with his roots in Ventura County. He will be greatly missed and I wish him much success in his new role."


Images: Raul Ramirez in 2019 (Paul Wellman/SB Independent); Ramirez (r) with Cary Matsuoka at school board meeting (Josh Molina/Noozhawk).

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