Board of Education Election Question #2: Leadership


As part of myBurbank’s Election 2022 coverage, we have asked all of the candidates in the three races some tough questions to help voters decide who deserves their vote.

In the race for Board of Education, there are seven candidates, and we asked five tough questions. We told the candidates they could write as much as they wanted, and we did not edit their responses in any way. We listed their responses in alphabetical order.

Today is question 2 of 5 – Leadership: With close to half of the Principals reigning and leaving the District in the past year, what would you do to retain not only Principals but teachers?  Is this a reflection of current leadership? Supervision and evaluation of the Superintendent is a major school board responsibility.  What criteria would you use to use in the evaluation process?

Larry Applebaum

We need to be proactive in soliciting information from those that have left our district, not only administrators, but from rank and file members of both the teachers and classified staff. While it is true that every person is “offered” an exit interview by the District, few take the District up on the offer. I have taken the time to talk with many of the departed administrators, as well as a few teachers and classified staff members. To a person, they all list lack of support and broken promises as a major reason for their departure. This is certainly a reflection of the current leadership team. The Board has apparently lost interest in following the interactions of the Superintendent with Staff, and in doing so, has lost touch with the sites and our employees. I believe the Board needs to demonstrate leadership in this area, by having more interactions with the sites and staff independent of the Superintendent. This is entirely possible and can and should be done as part of the ongoing evaluation process of the Superintendent. I am not suggesting undermining the Superintendent, but being a part of a governance TEAM that directs the day to day operations of the District and helps the District move forward in positive ways that benefit our students. The evaluation process allows the Board to interact thoughtfully with the Superintendent to help guide the District, not as as means for the Superintendent to willy nilly do what he/she wants with no meaningful oversight by the Board. As a Board member, I would help to return the relationship between the Board and the Superintendent into one that considers and acts upon the needs of the sites and employees, mindful of budgetary constraints, but also being a partner in the education of our students, which is why we are there in the first place.

Harutyun Ketikyan

Did not respond

Michael Morgan

As a candidate who has had extensive experience working with organizations like Teach for America (TFA) and a variety of global and domestic educational institutions, I know staff recruitment and retention requires a methodical and relentless approach that never lets down its guard to making sure that top talent is valued, rewarded and developed for a long-term future within the district. A quick note about TFA: In less than a few decades, TFA created a “brand” that attracts the best and brightest college graduates and young professionals into teaching and administration. How did they do it? This is what Burbank needs to explore and replicate. I propose a pilot program similar to TFA within BUSD that would utilize TFA’s best practices including aggressive, strategic and coordinated recruiting, a rigorous and timely assessment process, continuous training and development, impact focuses, and a commitment to long-term career support. We must do the same thing for administrators – especially Principals – from within our current pool of talent as well as outside candidates. 

As was previously mentioned in my response about working with local entertainment studios, BUSD needs employer partners that will support a seamless flow between public education and private industry for educators with specific talents, strengths, and abilities that work well in both classrooms and media companies. If some of our recently lost teachers and principals had been extended offers to work at Nickelodeon, Disney, or Warner Bros. for a year in exchange for agreeing to go back to lead schools after their “sabbatical” finished, do you think we would be seeing the massive exodus we are currently in the midst of? Absolutely not. These creative solutions need to be planned, coordinated and implemented by our Superintendent, School Board, and BUSD personnel and I would gladly lead this as one of my first activities as newly elected Board member. 

James L. Morrison

Principals and teachers are the bread and butter of our school district. However, a message is being sent to them that contradicts this notion. This reflects a range of issues, and it is unfair to point the finger at one reason when it is a myriad of reasons. Lack of concise communication between the district and our teachers could pose a serious threat to staff retention in the coming years. Additionally, the Principals and teachers are not going to stay if they don’t have the resources needed for their schools. A budgetary equilibrium must be established to divert funds towards these needs. For instance, if a school has a high number of contracts up for renewal and an art teacher’s position is in great peril, then several of those contracts would have to be discontinued to maintain that teacher’s position. It’s a balancing act requiring full transparency and comprehensive communication at the highest level.

Lastly, I believe the current criteria used to evaluate the superintendent needs to be reviewed. There are several critics out there who feel there is room for improvement. Additionally, I feel public feedback needs to be taken into heavier consideration. As public servants (not self-servants), it is our duty to serve the will of the people. Admittedly, I am a novice as I have never formally evaluated a superintendent. However, I think we need to investigate a model of criteria that is more inclusive of the community. Burbank shouldn’t feel as if the superintendent is happening to them. He is not a terminal disease. We the people should have a stronger say as far as the educational path of our kids.

Abby Pontzer Kamkar

The loss of teachers and administrators to other districts or school systems is a reflection of our salary scale, which is not competitive. Our teachers and administrators stayed with us while getting underpaid, and I don’t begrudge them one bit for doing the same job across town but for more money. Rather than being a reflection of current leadership, I find it to be a direct reflection of our collective failure to pass Measure QS or I.

A priority for the board should be to understand and execute an objective, transparent and fair evaluation process. We should agree on what will be measured and how we will measure it. This should include feedback and evaluation from direct reports to the Superintendent and from other stakeholders throughout the district. Some of the criteria I would use would be: progress against stated academic outcomes, budget stability, and retention and recruitment of highly effective staff.

Brian J. Smith

I think it’s important to point out that people make career changes for a many different reasons and it is dangerous to jump to conclusions as to why events occur. With that said though, I think the district or perhaps an independent entity should be gathering exit information from employees leaving the district to better understand the reasons for their departure. That information may reveal what is prompting or contributing to the exit.  The board needs to use this information to develop a plan to course correct and direct the administration to formulate and enact needed changes.  The hiring, evaluation, and termination of the superintendent is a primary role and responsibility of the board.  I cannot comment on the evaluation criteria used for the superintendent, as I haven’t seen it, but I think it ought to contain previously agreed upon criteria for general job duty performance as well as goals that are specific, measurable, achievable, relatable and time-based.  I also think that input from our stakeholders, parents, teachers, and community members should be solicited by the board when developing the criteria.

Charlene Tabet

All industries are seeing a turnover in staffing. On the one hand, I am happy to see our employees moving to fulfil their goals or dreams of a new position by moving up or by a change of location.  However, I’m also disappointed when we lose a strong leader, such as Dr. Macias at Luther.  And I’m working towards understanding the needs of sites and their staff so that the district can be more supportive.  I think the Pandemic changed some of the desires and needs of sites and we need to be hyper-aware of them so we can best serve students.  But I am also excited to have promoted or hired amazing new employees to fill our needs. I am looking forward to hearing of their accomplishments.

The Board evaluates the Superintendent each year by using multiple measures aligned to the district’s goals.  Goals are evaluated and put into place by the current Board and are voted on each year.  The Board is currently working towards an evaluation process that will allow for multiple times per year for an evaluation, instead of the yearly one time.