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Dave Cash Q&A
updated: Feb 22, 2014, 4:00 PM

By Alex Kacik

Dave Cash is standing in front of about 50 parents, school administrators and students who are listening to the Santa Barbara Unified School District superintendent discuss a new way of teaching. The imposing, 6- foot-tall former high school football and basketball athlete could've done without a microphone as he projects his stern, booming voice through Santa Barbara High School's auditorium. A translator stands in the back corner of the auditorium, relaying Cash's message in Spanish through a wireless receiver and stereo headphones.

The superintendent returned to Santa Barbara in 2011, after practicing law and working throughout the state as a teacher and school administrator. At the Santa Barbara district, he took on a variety of roles, including as teacher at Peabody Charter School for two years, principal of Dos Pueblos High School for five years and principal of Goleta Valley for four years.

Cash tells Mission and State he was once upon a time a jock and surfer, but he didn't think practicing sports in school would land him lower grades. There were two teachers who made a significant impact on his life, he explains-one who told him that he could do anything, and another who didn't like him. "Despite giving me very high marks on all my projects, my final grade was significantly below that," Cash says. "When I inquired as to why, [the teacher] said, ‘I don't give anybody that's a surfer anything that's above a C.' I remember how arbitrary that was and how that made me feel about my own experience, so that's inspired my work as a teacher and administrator. We can't be arbitrary. We need to be intentional with kids. We need to be respectful of who they are and we need to be honest with them."


Superintendent David Cash is leading the Santa Barbara Unified School District charge to figure out how to meet the needs of Santa Barbara’s culturally and economically diverse youth. (Alex Kacik)

The Long Beach, Calif. native conveys this philosophy to parents watching Cash click through PowerPoint slides at the auditorium and discuss the district's upcoming cultural and educational shifts. The recently adopted Common Core State Standards values critical thinking and collaboration rather than memorization, and replaces Scantron sheets with computer assessments that individually tailor questions that, in theory, better prepare students for college and careers. It puts fewer restrictions on teaching criteria so students can spend more time on important topics and teachers don't feel like they have to rush through an entire textbook.

Cash explains a new funding model approved last year by Gov. Jerry Brown-the Local Control Funding Formula-that will give the district more freedom on how money is spent. The amount of money each district receives is based on total enrollment and specific groups of students: the economically disadvantaged, English learners and students with disabilities. The results of the 2012 SBUSD high school exit exam show that special education and economically disadvantaged students perform below the state average. Considering that more than $100 million of the SBUSD's $125 million 2013-14 budget is already going to salaries and benefits, that doesn't leave much room for the district, but at least it can now better focus the left over funds to help improve those numbers.

The Santa Barbara district is trying to figure out how to meet the needs of Santa Barbara's culturally and economically diverse youth. Some students don't have equal opportunities to do well in school, which often start with early education, Cash says. He plans to hire more bilingual staff and increase the number of Latino students in honors and Advanced Placement classes, an announcement that brought applause from the crowd. But there's a lot of work to be done, Cash says.

"No matter what a student's background is, no matter what language he or she speaks or what kind of ability they have when they come to school, it's important that they see in the school people that look like them, speak like them and come from same neighborhoods," he says. "Most importantly, we need to provide them with opportunities to be successful. We have to approach our work with the intent that we believe a student's intelligence grows over time; that it's not fixed when they enter our system. It's our responsibility to ensure that it grows."

Currently, the district is facing a growing achievement gap, where economically disadvantaged youth are falling farther behind their peers, government cutbacks are reducing access to early education, classrooms are under pressure to be more technology-driven, and outdated school systems and facilities are in need of renovation and repair. Mission and State sat down with Cash at his office to talk about these issues and more.

Mission and State: What does a superintendent do?

Dave Cash: I'm responsible for everything, and I'm accountable to the entire community to ensure that what happens each and every day is in the best interest of children. So, I don't have a typical day. I try to be on school sites-I was at Santa Barbara High School this morning-I spend at least two days a week in classrooms watching kids learn and teachers teach. I'm responsible for the budget, I'm responsible for the teaching and learning, I'm responsible for hiring the best possible people that do all of the important work for kids. And then ensuring everything that happens, happens with the bottom line of always being good for kids.

What did you see this morning at Santa Barbara High School?

I heard a pretty cool introduction to Einstein's theory of relativity. I observed a nice sponge activity to start a lesson in a biology class. That, I thought, was pretty creative. I had a great conversation with a teacher about how he is internalizing the idea that it's not about the teaching, it's about the learning and how he changed what he does in relationship to recognizing that no matter what he does in the classroom, if kids don't learn, he hasn't been successful.

What's unique about the Santa Barbara Unified School District?

Because I was in the Broad Superintendents Academy, I was able to go all over the U.S. and be in classrooms. I learned that we have some of the best teachers I've seen anywhere. It's unbelievable what I get to witness in classrooms, and that really gives me the belief that if I act as the superintendent, very intentional and strategic, that I can take what those great teachers do and spread that across the district so that their impact becomes greater based on their influence, their coaching, their teaching of other teachers, so that more and more kids have that sort of experience. That is unique to Santa Barbara.

What are the biggest challenges you face at SBUSD?

I don't think they are specific to Santa Barbara Unified; I think they are pretty typical to all K-12 districts in California. The implementation of the Common Core is a massive revolution for students and for teachers. Simultaneously implementing a brand-new funding model presents significant challenges as well, in relationship to not just communication, but you have the state of California that still hasn't really decided what it means. So we're trying to be responsive to the community and prepare for what kids need in a very ambiguous environment that's challenging for everybody in California right now.


Santa Barbara schools superintendent Dave Cash speaks during the State of Our Schools presentation at Santa Barbara High School. (Alex Kacik)

Can you explain Common Core?

The Common Core has been adopted by 45 states and right now it is only [impacting] English, language arts and math. The fundamental difference is a switch away from a mile-long, inch-deep approach to a more thoughtful approach where students are more engaged in critical thinking, collaboration and communication-really 21st-century skills. There's a requirement that they read more nonfiction text as opposed to just fiction. Students will, of course, continue to read the great works of literature but they'll also be required to demonstrate their understanding of expository text. It takes a different skillset to read biology text than Harry Potter. Both are important, but we haven't been intentional in our instruction in nonfiction and the Common Core is going to require us to do so. Then in math, the fundamental change is the expectations for high school students are much higher rigor-with a more sequenced and connected approach to the domains that mathematicians believe that students need to know to actually do math.

All of California and 45 states will be looking at content in a different way-we are now. It's less about teachers delivering specific content, because for kids, content is ubiquitous; it's not contained within a textbook or coming from the teacher. Our job will be more about helping students understand the content, think about it critically and applying the content they are learning in new problems and situations. I think it's a great change with us; it brings us in line with a lot of the great things going on in the world.

Excerpt provided by Mission & State. Read the full article at MissionAndState.org

 

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