Steven Martinez, superintendent for the troubled Twin Rivers Unified, says decisions must be made based on their impact on students.

Q&A: Twin Rivers' new leader seek to rebuild public trust in school district

Published: Monday, Aug. 26, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 1B
Last Modified: Wednesday, Sep. 4, 2013 - 8:33 am

Twin Rivers Unified Superintendent Steven Martinez has been busy since he took the position July 1.

He has attended community events, invited groups into his office to talk and has changed how the school board runs its meetings.

Agenda items now include a phone number and person to contact for more information, as well as the case numbers of lawsuits, so people can look them up.

When people appear before the board with a problem, a staff person is assigned to work with them.

Martinez said his top priority is to "build a solid relationship with the board and community."

He has a lot of work to do. Public trust in the district has been frayed by past problems with the school district's police department, scathing grand jury reports and numerous expensive lawsuits.

Martinez, who has a three-year contract with an annual salary of $215,000, has 15 years' experience in education. Previously, he was assistant superintendent at the Fresno Unified School District.

What have you been doing since you started the job?

Listening and learning.

The community really wants our schools to be successful. I wanted to ensure we had their input before I went out and started to talk about a vision for the district. It's important that I go to community events and introduce myself, so people can have a name with a face.

I want to look at what can be done immediately to impact students and staff. We need to get back to talking about students and what our students need to be successful.

What changes are you planning for the district office?

Twin Rivers Unified has been in existence for five years. Any time you merge several districts together there are growing pains, but we are in year five. There will be some changes. I don't have anything specific immediately.

The likelihood is that there will be an analysis of the structure of the district office, as well as an analysis of how much support we offer at schools.

We really have to examine how we treat individuals in our central office and around the district. We have to examine due process. I want to make Twin Rivers Unified the employer of choice in the Sacramento area.

Is there a new direction for the police department?

The new police chief, Harvey Woo, wants his police officers to be role models and to build positive relationships with kids. He wants officers to have a desk at schools and to be visible throughout the school day.

Chief Woo and I will walk schools together so we can see firsthand what is going on at our schools.

What is your goal for the school district?

I think great schools equal a great community. It's one and the same.

It's our responsibility that kids leave the district with an opportunity – either vocational or college. It's not acceptable that we have one student who doesn't graduate from high school.

Part of the work will include developing a data dashboard that tracks student achievement, as well as maintenance and operations. It's a way for us to decide if we're moving in the right direction.

My focus is developing the strongest pre K-adult system that we possibly can.

What changes do you expect to make at school sites?

I'd like to start looking at the development of K-12 performing arts programs.

We also need to re-evaluate the number of counselors at high schools, as well as the number of periods our athletic directors teach at the high schools. At most high schools that is a full-time job.

The district should offer Spanish at our middle schools and extra-curricular activities like athletics at the elementary school level.

We need to make sure our students are college-ready or have access to career tech education.

We're also looking at starting a parent university. It would consist of a series of seminars or classes that will help parents learn to engage and support their kids.

What do you plan to do to decrease the minority achievement gap?

I've been conveying to teachers and principals that we have to get implementation of the Common Core Standards right. The fact the new academic standards give students more opportunity to read, write and listen immediately helps all our students.

Our goal is that every student who needs extra support is identified and we can offer that support.

Why did you decide to come to Twin Rivers Unified?

The attraction for me is that there is so much opportunity here. I want our kids and I want our community to have better, and they deserve better. Every decision we make, if we can't connect it back to how it impacts kids directly or indirectly, we are probably making the wrong decision.

Call The Bee's Diana Lambert, (916) 321-1090. Follow her on Twitter @dianalambert. Read her Report Card blog at

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