I've listened to a lot of talented speakers at Salem City Club programs. Fewbhave impressed me as much as Andrea Castañeda, the superintendent of the Salem-Keizer school district who said that she's been on the job for 81 days as of last Friday.
All I can say is, Salem and Keizer are super fortunate to have her heading up the school district. Castañeda came across as deeply caring, highly competent, and most importantly, genuine. That's a quality that can't be faked.
It isn't something that can be taught, or pretended, because it springs from the root of who a person really is. Genuineness is what I remember most about the talk she gave yesterday, though I'll be sharing some of the substance of what Castañeda spoke about.
Sorry for the angle of the photos of her slides. I arrived kind of late and didn't have much of a seating choice. This one shows basic information about the school district. Forty-seven percent of students are Hispanic and 40% are white. Eighty-four percent are economically disadvantaged.
Here's some facts about how large the school district is. Castañeda said there are 1,500 external doors and 400 cameras.
After the facts and figures, this slide was an appealing change of pace. Castañeda said, I recall, that she was the glum looking Western Oregon student second from the left in this photo of the winners in a track race. She thought she'd win the state championship. She didn't.
Castañeda related that someone gave her the contact info for the woman who did win. Her impulse was to call up the woman and tell her, "We'll race again and I'll win." But that didn't happen, though the story would have been even better if it had.
This anecdote led to observations about how she dropped out of college, then went back after working at a porta-potty business for a while. She felt shame at failing, saying we think it's our fault. Failing isn't our fault, but it is still our problem.
I loved Castañeda's optimism about today's youth.
She said, "We teach the generation that will save us." I can only hope, since my Baby Boomer generation isn't doing so great at this. Noting that Americans are pessimistic about the future, she said "If you were around young people, you wouldn't feel that way. They won't do things the way we did. We'll be amazed at things they figure out."
She spoke highly of the district's dual language program, saying "It's good to not know things and have to ask for help," adding that the construction of words is different in Spanish and English, so learning something in both languages leads to greater understanding of the subject.
Regarding safety, Castañeda said the school district has the best safety program she's ever seen. A slide she shared noted: "There are limits to what schools can do related to safety. There are no limits to what schools are expected to do related to safety."
In the question and answer portion of the City Club meeting, someone asked about class sizes. Castañeda said this was a problem, but it isn't as easy to fix as simply adding more teachers, because more classrooms are needed for more teachers, which can mean more schools need to be built.
Regarding the school district budget, she said that next year there will be no less than a $30 million deficit. There are two lapsed contracts. Castañeda said that the district can't afford the salary increases demanded.