José L. Banda, Sacramento’s presumptive next superintendent of schools, appears perfectly capable of the job.
He’s been superintendent of schools for a number of urban school districts, including his current gig heading Seattle’s schools. Most of his career has been in California school districts in Anaheim, Oceanside and Planada, near Merced.
He’s bilingual. He’s stable. He has a reputation for collaboration.
All good things for the man expected to be confirmed on Thursday and in town by the end of the month.
Yet, there’s something missing in the equation – enthusiasm.
The 57-year-old Banda makes no secret about what tempted him after he was recruited by Sacramento City Unified School District: “It was an opportunity to get back to California,” and his family here, he said during an interview with The Bee’s editorial board. Banda was born in Texas but grew up in California.
More specifically, as he told a Seattle reporter: “As I near the latter part of my career, it’s an opportunity to get back into the retirement system that I spent almost my entire career in.” How about the challenges of a district with declining enrollment but still a high percentage of English learners and low-income students? How about the opportunity to shape state education policy as the superintendent in the capital of the most populous U.S. state? How about taking part in the historic change in public education in California?
Nope, family and retirement.
While his honesty is admirable, the message is off-putting to Sacramentans. As if he’s only deigning to take the job in the smaller school district so he can coast effortlessly into retirement. Competent though he may be, it’s hard to feel excited.
When Jonathan Raymond left the district last year, it left an opportunity for the Sacramento City Unified school board to find a successor to build on the ideas he started, such as “priority schools,” and maybe develop some innovations of his or her own. But clearly they were still reeling from the tumultuous tenure of Raymond, who upset the status quo and earned enemies along the way, especially the Sacramento City Teachers Association.
In choosing Banda, the only “finalist” for the job, the school board appears to be taking the safe path, choosing a caretaker over a trailblazer.
Sharon Peaslee, president of the Seattle Public School Board, supported that idea in an open memo to the school community after it became public Banda was headed south. In it, she credits Banda for calming turmoil in the district. “He pulled us together, he built a team and he created stability,” she wrote.
Stability is something important, to be sure. But Sacramento schools aren’t at a level that anyone should want to maintain. People don’t come here for the schools. They move to Davis or Roseville, not Sacramento.
Maybe he feels too big for this place, but we think Banda will need to grow to deserve the job. He’ll need to show independence, he’ll need to push forward on the district’s teacher/principal evaluations, he’ll need to stand against a teachers union that has too much policy influence, and he’ll need to be the voice that helps lead Sacramento and California schools at a crucial time.
Banda comes to Sacramento for the wrong reasons. But perhaps he will stay and fight for the right ones. That’s our challenge to him.