Superintendent Whitmore On Our Critical Collaboration
We’ve come to better know Superintendent Richard Whitmore from the epic long LafSD Governing Board zoom calls over the last 6 months. Hear why Superintendent Whitmore believes schools “would be substantially different in ways that most people probably don’t realize” without an education foundation.
Considering that we’re in the midst of pivoting to an entirely virtual learning environment, we’re grateful that Richard Whitmore was able to find time to speak with LPIE. We talked about how the school district partners with LPIE in order to create a more enriched student-learning experience even during a time that requires distance education.
Bill Hall: How has your past experience as the LPIE (previously LASF) president informed your work as a superintendent?
Richard Whitmore: My past experience as LPIE president has been extremely helpful as LafSD superintendent. As a community, Lafayette parents have a broad set of interests for their children’s education that go beyond the basics of reading, math, and spelling. Our community is looking for a rich and more comprehensive learning experience that not only emphasizes the basics, but also branches out to music, art, science, and more. Knowing the community’s priorities helps me understand the roots of the community’s education interests and how all the pieces of the entire learning experience fit together. In a sense, it helps me better understand the needs of the parents while also understanding how all the relationships work in order to make the right things happen at the right time, and with the right people, groups, and organizations. This makes focus and prioritizing more natural.
Bill Hall: What do you think our schools would look like if Lafayette didn’t have an education foundation?
Richard Whitmore: Well, LPIE isn’t like most educational foundations; Lafayette is lucky because LPIE and the school district are so nicely integrated. From my experience, this is rare and highly beneficial. I have to say that, without LPIE, things would be substantially different in ways that most people probably don’t realize. Without LPIE’s support, the learning experience would be stripped down to the bare bones. For example, classroom teachers would have to hold the entire teaching and learning burden without much support. The LPIE foundation provides Lafayette teachers with amazing support so our teachers can focus on education and learning. This results in the student learning being enhanced on a daily basis through teacher assistance such as teacher aides and staff development. This is especially the case with music and art. Without the foundation, music and art would be more of a quick overview, with very little hands-on practice.
Bill Hall: How does the district come up with its priorities for funding from LPIE?
Richard Whitmore: Each year, LafSD completes an extremely comprehensive needs analysis. We look at the educational needs and the expectations of the community in order to create the ideal programs and curriculum. We then move to the dark side and look at what the state will fund. As you know, funding is more challenging each year. This is where we look to the LPIE foundation to help fill in the substantial funding gaps. LafSD then works with LPIE to collaborate on an enriched education plan that helps deliver more along the lines of what the community expects from the students’ learning journey. We are lucky because the relationship is highly collaborative with LPIE, which allows us to nimbly make sudden adjustments. An easy example is the sudden need for distance education: LafSD and LPIE quickly partnered to provide needed technology to the students and teachers. This is a great example of both how needs are measured and how LPIE and LafSD work closely together to ensure our students have a rich learning journey.
Bill Hall: How is LPIE supporting the current important and necessary distance-learning environment?
Richard Whitmore: LPIE has been great with supporting distance learning. An example that immediately comes to mind is teacher development. As soon as it was decided to go with distance learning, LPIE supported about six hours of staff development for each teacher. The distance-teaching experience this year is substantially better than in the Spring. At least this is what we’re hearing so far, and it’s going to get even better. Thanks to the dedication of our teachers and teacher training, we’ve made strong improvements over last Spring. Once again, LPIE’s support empowers teachers to be teachers. You’ll soon see there is more individualized learning that will happen even over distance. This is mostly thanks to LPIE’s willingness to support our teachers, LafSD, and the community as a whole.
Bill Hall: For background, LPIE has approximately $2 million in long-term investments (our “rainy-day” reserve fund.) These investments have not previously been used as we have been able to cover our obligations to the Districts from fundraising. In this current environment, we anticipate using up to 24% of this reserve to maintain LPIE’s funding levels to Lafayette schools this year. What does this mean to you?
Richard Whitmore: The question about the reserves is one that is both important in the moment and for the long-term trajectory of funding and programs in our District. We are grateful that LPIE built a solid reserve in the years since the “great recession” and that it was there when we needed it most – in the midst of inadequate state funding causing an annual
budget reduction and a limitation on the programs we were able to offer. Without the reserve, we would have lost positions that would have been difficult to restore. We are all hopeful that even in the midst of all the current challenges – pandemic, shift to distance learning and hopefully back again soon, economy, continued challenges in state funding – that LPIE’s fundraising goals can be met in the current year and we can begin to build on the excellent programming, positions, and purchasing that LPIE supports.
Bill Hall: You’ve had to lead some major pivots as superintendent. Care to share any tips to staying sane that might help the community?
Richard Whitmore: Sleep. Don’t forget to stay rested. Show up, stay focused, and be patient with one another. Another thing: Don’t take things personally. We live in a great community with great people, great kids, and great teachers. We’re all in this together. Stay healthy.
Bill Hall: The Lafayette community has to know: What is your beverage of choice during these epically long Zoom calls you have to endure?
Richard Whitmore: As you know, some of these Zoom calls go quite long. Like anyone, I do get parched at times. The beverage of choice I reach for during these calls is Zevia. I prefer the cherry coke flavor.