Q&A: Retiring Steven Ladd recalls his years as Elk Grove’s schools superintendent

Steven Ladd will leave the Elk Grove Unified School District on Friday after serving as superintendent for nine years. The district, the fifth largest in the state, serves 62,000 students in south Sacramento County.

During Ladd’s tenure, Elk Grove Unified opened 10 schools, increased student scores, reduced expulsions and suspensions, started an International Baccalaureate program at Laguna Creek High School and won numerous honors for its educational programs and initiatives.

Board members credited Ladd, 62, with getting the district through the recession and the accompanying budget cuts, furloughs and layoffs.

Ladd has been an educator for 42 years, starting as a teacher’s aide in Dade County, Fla., in 1972. He worked his way up to serve as a regional director of 42 Dade County schools. He was the superintendent of the San Luis Coastal Unified School District for four years before coming to Elk Grove.

Can you reflect on your nine years at the helm of Elk Grove Unified?

Throughout my tenure, I have enjoyed listening to – and engaging with – students on a wide range of topics. From discussing Career Technical Education initiatives and their views of the world, to reading to students in elementary schools and watching athletic competitions, I am always impressed with our students. I am proud of their academic accomplishments as well as their contributions in the visual and performing arts, athletics, community service, and their leadership in addressing a number of social issues. It is also with great appreciation that I recall the commitment by staff to our students and community.

Can you recount some of the highlights of being superintendent?

I have had many memorable moments: visiting schools and sites to surprise and recognize Employees of the Year; recognizing students and teachers at my annual Superintendent’s Art Contest reception; building strong relationships with higher education partners; successfully opening many new schools; participating in the yearlong 50th anniversary of EGUSD; partnering with Kaiser Permanente to initiate a student and staff Wellness Program; sharing in the recognition of 12 schools identified as California Distinguished Schools; and garnering greetings and smiles on the faces of students and staff as they’ve shared stories of their successes on projects.

What do you think is the most important thing that has been done recently to improve the education of the region’s children?

The recognition that our students need to be career and college ready is a significant accomplishment in our region. Increased attention on career technical education demonstrates an acknowledgment that we must prepare students to be successful in the 21st century. This demands that our view of success in schools supports students to becoming competitive in all areas from the trades, laboratories of research, medicine, the arts, engineering to business.

Great work has been going on and more will continue with the recent investment by the Legislature in the Career Pathways Trust. The expansion of this work is valuable for all students.

Some of the tasks that are already underway in our region and will continue to face us going forward are: the implementation of the Common Core State Standards; the delivery of vibrant professional development for all staff; a reduction in the number of students facing exclusionary discipline; increasing student attendance rates; increasing graduation rates; and increasing numbers of students being career and college ready.

What will teachers’ jobs look like in 2020? Will teacher evaluations be tied to student success?

The question of student achievement being tied to teacher evaluation is an interesting question. What and how teacher evaluation looks like in 2020 would best be addressed in how and what we are willing to do to build capacity in our professional educators.

Time is the currency most often overlooked in much of education. If we want educators to collaborate to improve student learning, if we want more professional coaching and professional development toward the outcome of student achievement, then the riddle for the future is how and where the time will come from to reach our desired outcomes for our students. Once we know what we need to do, will we have the will?