The San Lorenzo Valley Unified School District (SLVUSD) is preparing to welcome kids back into the classroom, just as the current Superintendent Laurie Bruton is bidding those same students farewell.
After seven years of service to the district, she recently announced that she is retiring at the end of the school year.
“It feels like I just got here,” Bruton said.
She has spent three decades in education, most of those years at Bear Valley Unified School District in San Bernardino County serving as a teacher and principal at an elementary school, then as a high school principal and finally as an assistant superintendent.
While the past year has been an incredible challenge for Bruton and SLVUSD, she said she feels she’s leaving the district at the best time for all involved.
“It takes some experience to maneuver through this,” Bruton said, in reference to school closures mandated by the Covid-19 outbreak. “Everything has been so ambiguous; the guidelines have shifted repeatedly, and this year has proven that anything can happen. My husband and I are still young and healthy—we still like each other after 40 years, and he still makes me laugh. That’s a big deal to me, and I want to take advantage of it.”
Bruton’s retirement plans, once well-defined, have been altered by the pandemic.
“Our original plan was to spend a few months living in Italy or France or England, but none of that is going to happen right now,” she said.
Bruton’s attention has now shifted to rebuilding her home in Boulder Creek. Like many others, her home was lost in the CZU Lightning Complex fires last summer.
“It’s been heartbreaking, but the other side of every challenge is the possibility of something new,” she said. “We could live anywhere in the world we wanted to, but we bought an RV and have been living in it since last September. Who knew this would be my new world?”
The SLVUSD Board of Trustees has already started looking for her replacement through the same company that recruited Burton in 2014, she said.
“They’ll match people’s talents with the place in the community that needs their assistance, so we’re optimistic about finding my replacement,” she said. “The board knew that I reached retirement age last year, but we had two key people in district administration stepping down in 2020. I felt like the loss of leadership at the district office along with the Covid situation made it impossible for me to step away at that time.”
But with vaccines being administered, Covid-19 case counts falling and the overall situation improving, “our board is stable and things are smoothing out, and it’s time for me to move on,” she said.
“I’m confident that the district will be matched with a candidate that is a good fit for the community,” she said.
Bruton said that community input will be valued by the recruitment team.
“They’re going to listen to local residents about the traits that are important to the culture of the community, and the search will narrow to focus on candidates who reflect those needs,” she said.
Bruton said she’s learned a lot since joining SLVUSD in 2014. A key takeaway: people in small communities are “generous and kind.”
“People here are good and are generally trying to do the right thing. That doesn’t always happen, and there may be squabbles along the way, but I believe the charity and generosity of this community shines through,” she said. “Things that happen in other towns don’t happen here, and I think it’s because of the perspective and caring of the community. People have roots here; they take care of their neighbors, and that’s a valuable commodity.”
What’s Bruton’s advice for her successor?
“You need to know your mission, and it needs to be steadfast in your mind and in your heart. There is a lot of distracting noise out there, so you need a North Star that guides you to make good decisions,” she said. “In my early 20s, I was in a teacher’s education program, and I had to write a personal mission statement. Mine was, ‘Providing students opportunities to learn,’ and that’s still my mission today. When things get convoluted, it helps to refocus on your reason for being. When I became a principal, it became clear that I needed to know who I was, and how to stand strong with my own beliefs.”
Bruton’s plan is to get elementary students into the classroom before she takes her leave at the end of the school year. Kindergarten students have already been introduced to classroom settings since the pandemic hit the county a year ago, and subsequent grades are returning to campus over the next few weeks.
The revised spacing guidelines for schools (issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) has changed the recommended social distancing from six feet to three. Bruton said that works for the younger students, but returning to in-person learning for fourth and fifth grades will be tougher because those classes have more students. And with less than six weeks of school remaining, Bruton said the district can’t hire new teachers to bring class sizes down.
SLVUSD will continue to offer distance learning for those families who aren’t ready to enroll their kids in a classroom environment.
The district is planning its Local Control and Accountability Plan (LCAP), and Bruton said there is a lot of “learning loss and mitigation money, in addition to money for reopening schools, that will help us add additional personnel and services for our students.”
“Those funds will allow us to have support systems for social-emotional learning and developing intervention programs. We know it’s going to take 2-3 years to mitigate the learning loss over this past year of missed school,” she said. “I know kids will catch back up because that’s the nature of learning, and our teachers are keenly aware of what that will require.”
Bruton said that parents who are worried about their kids “falling behind” need to understand that the pandemic didn’t just hit schools in the United States.
“Students around the world were impacted by Covid, and educators are attuned to the needs of those kids as they return to on-campus learning,” she said. “Yes, they might have missed a lot in first grade due to Covid, but we’re going to catch them back up in second grade.”
The next SLVUSD board meeting will be held via Zoom on April 21. Residents interested in attending can find the invitation link on the meeting’s agenda once it’s published.