Last spring, the end of the 2021-2022 school year found Santa Barbara Unified School District Superintendent Hilda Maldonado embattled on multiple fronts.
Still less than two years into the $309,500-a-year job she began on July 1, 2020, she not only was routinely attacked by conservatives for allegedly mishandling the district’s response to the pandemic, but also accused by teachers union progressives of importing an ostensibly dictatorial management style into what had been a collaborative organization.
And, as virtually every veteran, senior district administrator headed for the exits, there were universal complaints about her failure to make a dent in the chronically grim educational performance among many Latino and Black students.
Now, however, no less a Santa Barbara influencer than local political journalist Josh Molina – whose series of scoops last year shone a harsh spotlight on Maldonado’s struggles – reported this week that things have started to change.
In an interview with newly-appointed school board member Bill Banning this week, Josh wrote that:
Banning joins the board at a time of transition for the school district. Superintendent Hilda Maldonado’s style of leadership resulted in criticisms in 2022 and sweeping changes in her cabinet, but much of the uproar during the past year has subsided, and Maldonado seems to have settled into her role more comfortably.
For Maldonado, there have been several key changes.
As vaccines have transformed Covid from pandemic to endemic status, and scientists and policy makers have adapted while continually learning more about the virus, bitter political conflicts over school closures, masks and other mandates have waned, allowing the superintendent to focus on education, rather than managing a health emergency.
Also, the brouhaha over hordes of departing administrators has all subsided, as Maldonado has recruited and hired her own senior executive team, including Assistant Superintendents ShaKenya Edison, Stanley Munro and Lynne Sheffield.
And although Maldonado recently lost her two biggest supporters on the school board – Kate Ford and Laura Capps – they have been replaced by Banning, a retired superintendent who brings a professional educators’ respect for the role, and Gabe Escobedo, whose priority of focusing on the needs of the Latinos who make up a majority of the district, align with her agenda..
To offer some perspective on the current dynamic, Newsmakers today is reposting our one-on-one interview with the superintendent from last June, when she was in a defensive crouch as fire came from all sides.
"I never thought that it would actually turn...to just being completely exhausted and having low morale," she said in our interview last year. "And that is information for me to take and learn from, and do better by."
To quote Muhammed Ali, "Ain't nothing wrong with going down -- it's staying down that's wrong."