Santa Cruz County’s fourth-largest school district is seeing a 30% turnover of staff this year amid issues of affordability and COVID-related stress on the profession. Scotts Valley Unified Superintendent Tanya Krause talks about the pressures of the moment and how they affect her efforts to build fair and inclusive school environments.
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This was the hardest year in Tanya Krause’s two-decade-long education career.
For the past seven years, she has served as superintendent of Scotts Valley Unified School District — at 2,179 students, Santa Cruz County’s fourth-largest district.
Krause entered fall 2021 faced with both many of the issues seen by school districts across the country and some locally unique challenges. Nationally, there have been reports of widespread educator burnout, and the U.S. Surgeon General has issued an advisory on the student mental health crisis exacerbated by the pandemic. Locally, educators say they’re continually priced out by exceptionally expensive Santa Cruz County housing costs, causing high turnover. In addition, the Scotts Valley district has seen challenges to its diversity and equity policies, and pushback on COVID-related masking enforcement.
The pressures on staff, both affordability- and stress-related, means that Krause administers a district that will count 30% of its employees — administrators, teachers and staff — as new this fall. As positions went unfilled in the previous school year, the superintendent had to step in to cover some of those roles, including special education director, student services director, and human resources director.
“My last year was harder than it should have been,” she told Lookout on Tuesday. “Which is why I wasn’t able to do as much as I would have liked to have been able to do in my role as superintendent because I was covering those departments as well.”
Krause has lived in Santa Cruz since 1985 and graduated from UC Santa Cruz. Prior to her education career, she worked in social services and foster care and ran group homes for kids. Later, she worked in Santa Cruz City Schools for 13 years before commuting to Campbell Union High School District, serving as human resources deputy superintendent and acting superintendent for six years.
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Many school districts, locally and across the country, have struggled with diversity issues, both in their own curriculum and in dealing with wider community response. In Scotts Valley, that has meant at least two strong forces. Parents opposing newer forms of diversity education, especially around discussion of LBGTQ issues, have complicated the district’s work. On another side, an active Facebook contingent continues to exhort the district to move more quickly on diversity education and take stronger stands on bullying.
In July, Inclusion Counts, the district’s consultant on its diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging (DEIB) strategy, released its 55-page report. That report followed the work of the district’s Cultural Responsiveness Committee — made up of administrators, counselors and teachers — which has looked at curriculum and progressive discipline concerns since October 2020.
That group reviewed data and policies and conducted listening sessions from last December through July.
The consultant’s report pointed to wider community opposition as an obstacle to successful diversity strategy implementation.
“The biggest barrier to integrating a broadly adopted DEIB strategy includes (1) a pervasive fear of parent and guardian counter-reactions,” the document reads, “and (2) a belief that district-wide DEIB investments and efforts will be obstructed by vocal community disapproval and retaliation.”
Krause acknowledges — and detailed in our conversation — the balancing act of creating good school environments while hearing community concerns, and points to what the district has planned (see “What SVUSD is doing on diversity issues,” below).
She says she has had to deal with a fair amount of parent pushback.
“There are concerns around us broaching topics with our students,” she said. “One of the particular months where we get the most inquiry is our LGBTQ+ focus month and accepting differences of all kinds and being welcoming to everyone. There’s some school of thought, by some parents, that that doesn’t belong in school. So that’s probably been one of the areas that we hear most about.”
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The report also found that “[m]icro- and macro-aggressions are reported with high frequency from students and families who identify as people of color — including pejorative remarks from students and staff that went unaddressed. Instances of racism, heterosexism, transphobia, faithism, ableism, hate symbols and hate speech are pervasive, especially at the middle and high school grade levels.”
Krause said the SVUSD board of trustees and administrators are “really focusing on all kids, and eliminating hurtful, degrading, subtle acts of exclusion” and feels that the district over this past year has implemented, and will continue to implement, programs that will make a difference.
What SVUSD is doing on diversity issues
- An initial three-year contract with nonprofit Hope Squad beginning this fall. The program offers suicide-prevention training for youth who want to be peer advocates.
- Training for staff from consultant Inclusion Counts focused on the report’s survey results and training on tools/vocabulary to use in response to acts of exclusion.
- Training and support for the district from Inclusion Counts on how to form a DEIB steering committee to develop priorities and goals.
- Launching a Diversity, Inclusion Awareness Month calendar.
- Revamping the district website to include a DEIB launch page.
- Hired two additional counselors for secondary schools and one additional counselor for elementary.
- Posting job openings more widely and updating job descriptions to reach a diverse workforce.
- Embedding more social-emotional learning and social awareness into school curriculum and developing progressive discipline policy
- The board of trustees will have a study session focused on deciding if it will have a DEIB board statement and/or policy.
“Our focus is going to be on students’ social-emotional health, in order to best access learning — providing multiple layers of opportunities and resources because it’s not a one-size-fits-all for kids,” she said. “To be able to increase and expand upon programs already in place, and having more staff to be able to respond quicker to situations that come to us. So I feel like we have a very keen focus on supporting students and staff.”
As the district moves forward with its programs, community members have also been actively calling on the school district to improve its DEIB strategy and response to incidents.
Some of the community members, many of them parents in the school district, have created a Facebook group, Scotts Valley Diversity Equity Inclusion and Allyship, to share their experiences and promote equity.
One of those parents, Regina Deihl, recently lost her child, 15-year-old Mateo Deihl, after he took his own life following years of bullying. Family members say Mateo, who was a freshman at Scotts Valley High School, was the kind of person who went out of his way to make others feel good.
Deihl told Lookout that she felt the consultants did an “overall good job” assessing equity and proposing recommendations.
“I’m cautiously optimistic. But the proof is in the pudding,” she said. “I think the community considers this a huge priority and we have to watch what happens from here.”
This interview with Krause has been edited for clarity.
Lookout: What is the district’s biggest challenge in moving forward with its DEIB goals?
Tanya Krause: Time. We have a lot to cover; we want to focus on mental health support for students and staff. We also need to be monitoring and adhering to all of our COVID protocols. And we have academic areas throughout the district that need additional focus and support. We probably have 30% new staff, district, teachers, administrators, etc. It’s gonna take us a while to become a cohesive team.
This is my seventh year here, and I have all these ideas and initiatives. I have to onboard all these people into why we’re here, how we got here and where we want to go. This is the most [new staff] ever. I acknowledge that that is somewhat COVID-related, cost-of-living-related. And education — across the board, not just here — has suffered a lot with people leaving the profession, because it’s just been so challenging. So keeping new teachers and new staff excited and engaged and supported as they’re learning their job, and adding all of these initiatives that we’re focusing on, in addition to their day-to-day teaching and learning, will be a challenge.
I wish we had more time with the staff, and we just simply don’t have that option right now. But we have a lot of great plans in place to be able to try and do our best to address it. We have a collective bargaining agreement with our teachers union and so there’s a certain amount of staff time, there’s a certain amount of professional development time, there’s a certain amount of time that you could ask employees to do something after the bell rings. So we have some limitations with all that we’re trying to implement, and the time factor that we have on any given day with our team. That’s an ongoing challenge.
I’m anticipating, but I can be wrong, that there will be some strong opinions in the district on different sides of topics that will come our way when we start to launch some of these new programs and plans and be able to support our team when those challenges come up.
Lookout: In the report, the authors wrote: “Community listening sessions and small-group interviews indicate that the biggest barrier to integrating a broadly adopted DEIB strategy includes (1) a pervasive fear of parent and guardian counter-reactions and (2) a belief that district-wide DEIB investments and efforts will be obstructed by vocal community disapproval and retaliation.” What do you think about this finding?
Krause: I just want to clarify that this finding didn’t just come from me. Many came from talking to staff, students and parents. And there has already been instances where our staff have presented topics in their classroom, and they’ve been challenged by parents. I do think there’s a reticence on occasion around introducing topics and curricular resources with students and how some parents might react to that. I think that there’s a genuine concern from some of our staff about that. And part of that has come from experience.
Just in the last year, I can say there were definitely more than a handful [of instances] at each school. It’s not just at one school — it depended on the topic, it depended on the age level or a family’s belief system.
There are concerns around us broaching topics with our students. One of the particular months where we get the most inquiry is our LGBTQ+ focus month and accepting differences of all kinds and being welcoming to everyone. There’s some school of thought, by some parents, that that doesn’t belong in school. So that’s probably been one of the areas that we hear most about. And how that situation that happened in the classroom actually gets relayed to a parent may not be the full context of the dialogue that occurred in the classroom. A lot of that for us is about educating parents on what we are doing, and what we’re not doing. So that takes some additional front-loading of time and information. But there will still be some families that prefer to not have their children participate in those discussions.
Lookout: Were there threats of litigation against plans to implement DEIB initiatives? Did the district consult legal counsel about the credibility of a lawsuit against those initiatives?
Krause: Yes, there were, and so for some of those folks, I sat down and met with them. The majority of those backed away from litigation and instead decided to remove their children from the district.
I think that we are cognizant of [the possibility of more litigation threats]. That requires us to be even more careful about how we move forward.
Anybody can file a lawsuit. It doesn’t matter if it’s credible or not. It doesn’t mean it’s going to prevail. But it takes a district time and financial resources to pay lawyers to make sure that that doesn’t go any further, or there’s a settlement agreement. And usually, those settlement agreements are confidential. So of course, we’ve consulted with our legal counsel.
Lookout: We reported earlier this year about districts that faced threats of litigation related to COVID-19 masking requirements. Were you affected, and are there any ongoing demands?
Krause: Without getting into specific cases, the challenges in general came from adhering to CDPH [California Department of Public Health] requirements. Last year, we were required to have students wear masks indoors, and if a child was in a modified quarantine classroom, they had restrictions on other things that they could do and mix with other kids, and then we had testing options. But it was an option, not a requirement. Masking was a requirement and quarantine was a requirement. Testing was voluntary. For families who didn’t want to have their children in a mask, or in quarantine or tested, we had limited options. We had families who were claiming harassment, discrimination and mental duress, because we were requiring their children to follow the rules. Some of those families felt like [SVUSD] should be the district that was going to take a stand and not adhere to those requirements. And when we did adhere to the requirements, we received some threats of litigation that have gone more than just a threat based on those decisions of adhering to CDPH.
One case is ongoing. Right now it’s in a lawyer’s hands. I am hoping for the sake of all schools, public schools, that it really doesn’t get much merit. Because all of us were required to adhere to CDPH requirements for kids. It’s a tricky line when you have recommendations and requirements, and you’re really trying to keep schools open.
To my knowledge, it’s a complaint and a monetary claim. I have not yet been served in Superior Court, but that could happen. The claim is against the board and myself. Right now, they’re trying to get the district to pay a fair amount of money, which we are not intending to do.
Lookout: So is this something that is contributing to fear in terms of what you could potentially face and implementing DEIB strategy?
Krause: I think that the threat of litigation, irregardless of the topic, is always kind of a concern. When you’re a district like ours that doesn’t have a big reserve and our reserve barely covers a month of payroll for our employees — anytime you have a big challenge, whether it’s legitimate or not, it takes a fair amount of money with legal fees, administrative time — that takes away from other things. And staff, they don’t want to be the person that caused it. So I think there is that fear of, “I’m afraid that I’m going to get the district in a challenge and I don’t want to be that person.” I think it’s more about that. We’ve had a fair amount of threats of litigation in my seven years here, probably proportionally more than other districts, so I do think there are some experiences that people have had that sometimes might cloud their judgment about what might happen in the future. Regardless, if we believe it’s right for kids, we’re most likely going to implement it.