Ron Heberle has been president of the Lodi Unified School District Board of Trustees for only a month. But he’s been involved in supporting classrooms for years.
In his immediate family, there are several teachers. His wife Susan taught at Tokay High School, while his mother Sara Heberle taught at Woodbridge Middle School. His son Michael Heberle now teaches at Bear Creek High School. At the beginning of each school year, he can usually be found at their schools arranging desks, assembling bulletin boards or clearing up a summer’s worth of dust.
He recently answered a series of questions from the News-Sentinel. Below is a lightly edited version of his responses.
Q: How do you like the job?
A: I like it far more than I thought I would. The board is made up of good people. It would be very difficult to be the lone voice. We all have a very similar focus on our direction.
Q: Are you nervous at all?
A: No. I just want to make sure we keep moving forward as a district, and that we are doing things well.
Q: What’s the biggest challenge?
A: There’s a huge variety of things you might not know much about, from high schools to special education. If we stay involved and keep learning, we’ll have a good outcome.
Q: What’s the biggest change between this board and previous ones?
A: Previous administrations were bad and damaging to the district. With all the budget cuts and layoffs, what’s the one thing we can do to make it better? We can treat people with respect and professionalism, because that’s free.
Q: Tell me about your goals for the upcoming year.
A: Actually, I have a few. Probably the main one is support of the classroom, and the school sites. It gets down to (as) easy and simple as making sure they have all the materials and supplies that they need. And that tells people that are working there, “Yeah, we are important.”
I want to make things efficient. Identify the problem, address it, fix it and move on.
I want to avoid layoffs. There’s a lot of turmoil associated with layoffs.
There are a lot of different areas that make the classrooms easier to run themselves. We need to streamline the purchasing process. Duplicating is a big thing at the high schools.
For the elementary, we’re just about to implement a new elementary curriculum. Any time you start a new program it’s a lot of work — it’s very stressful. How we roll this out is very important. I want to make sure the district, to make it effective we’ve got to do it in a positive way. I’m hearing good feedback about the program, but now the implementation has to kick in.
Q: If you avoid layoffs, what else will go on the chopping block?
A: It’s one of those things. With the state cutting back, we have to find ways to make up the difference in state support. We know busing will be cut, so maybe we consider paying for service. We still have flexibility in our budget, but we’re hoping to carry it through with categorical funding. The governor’s preliminary budget in January will tell us what our budget is going to look like.
Q: How can classroom technology be improved?
A: Technology needs to be workable and efficient. What good is having technology if the people it’s designed to help can’t use it?
If we’re setting up a system that allows them to do all the things that we as a district are requiring them to do, and it doesn’t work, if the teachers can’t use that technology for their instruction, you’re not gaining anything.
What you’re doing, make it work. What ever you’ve got in place, make sure that works right. Once you’ve got that set, then you can move onto the next thing. It’s got to be usable or it’s nothing.
When you’re using the equipment they you’re told to use and it’s not working the ways it’s supposed to, it’s frustrating. It takes a lot of time; teachers are using a lot of time just making the systems work.
Q: What’s one thing that’s been on your mind since you were elected?
A: One of the things I’ve always thought of is making sure that the schools are in good repair, that we have effective maintenance for our school sites. They need to be clean, they need to be in repair so the kids realize, “Yeah, it is important.”
By the time they get to high school, they’re very aware of what you say. So if you sit there and tell them, “School is your ticket, school is important, it’s going to provide you with your future,” and they’re going, “Yeah, what a bunch of hypocrites, I don’t even have a desk to sit in.”
They get it. They understand it. We don’t want to be hypocritical. If we’re saying they’re important we need to show them they’re important. They’re the focus.
Q: What’s your take on high school course offerings?
A: In the high school, it’s important that we open that back up and expand it to include the industrial arts, business classes, career opportunity classes. I think by doing that it kinds of shows (students) the relevance to what they’re being taught. If we can show them, “There’s a reason you’re taking this, it’s important to your future,” then they’ll be more inclined to buy into it and think, “Maybe I should look down the road a little bit.”
When you’re taking about a comprehensive high school, the reason they use the term “comprehensive high school” is because you should be having a variety of experiences. We need to give the kids something they can be interested in. You don’t have to open a ceramics business. Give them a mental break from all the AP or CP courses they are taking.
Q: How do you plan to improve academic achievement in the district?
A: The first step is what we are already doing by removing that “all college prep” requirement. What we’re doing is opening pathways for students.
It also goes hand-in-hand with watching elementary school students closely to identify a need for intervention. We can improve kids’ reading ability using Read180 (a reading skills intervention program). Not all the programs are there. I’m hoping to get more programs implemented.
One thing that’s important to me personally is the possibility of having more industrial arts courses, more business courses. If students are excited about school, naturally they’ll do better, with our support.
Q: What’s your take on teacher evaluations?
A: Most employee evaluations I’ve seen are marginally successful. We’re expecting good results from teachers while increasing class size, cutting school days, and increasing the difficulty of getting classroom supplies. That’s why I don’t agree with the majority of national education reformers who want to push evaluation. It doesn’t make sense. We can do a better job locally than any state or federal agency.
Q: What’s one concrete thing you want to do to make things better?
A: At the start of the school year, I want to be absolutely sure that on the first day of school, when students arrive, we are ready for them. There’s a lot of turmoil at the high schools with incomplete schedules. We can open it up before the first day to sort that out.
If you’re working at the district office, maybe team up and adopt a few schools to help them get ready. They’re the reserves, they’ve got to come in and help. That’s what we all will be doing.
Not everyone is going to grab a broom; that’s not what I’m talking about. Maybe it will give them insight that the work they’re doing is important.
Q: How do you see schools in connection with the community?
A: When the subdivisions started going in years ago, there were big banners that read “Lodi Schools.” They knew if it said “Lodi Schools,” they would sell more homes. It supports a whole economy.
When you have good schools, you have a good community. How can we think they’re separate?
Contact reporter Sara Jane Pohlman at firstname.lastname@example.org.