Dr. Amie R. Carter Sworn in as County Superintendent
Amie R. Carter, Ed.D., took the oath of office as the 31st Sonoma County superintendent of schools on Tuesday, Jan. 3, 2023. The following is an adapted excerpt of remarks she gave to an audience of Sonoma County Office of Education employees, supporters, friends, and family after her swearing-in.
Becoming a political figure has been a strange experience. I’ve noticed that politicians are expected to present themselves as heroes, ones who will fix everything and make problems go away. It’s a seductive image that gives only a false sense of security. We’ve seen over and over again how it fails for communities and for our educational leaders when we embrace this narrative.
Our Sonoma County schools do not need a hero.
The term “hero” is problematic, and yet it is often used to praise our educators.
But what are we really saying when we say we need heroes in education? In some ways, we're admitting that we have serious and systemic problems, that the job is an enormous and underpaid undertaking and that we need someone with near supernatural powers to do it. But we're also subtly signaling that the hero teacher or principal or superintendent is the expectation — leading to overworked, depleted, conscientious people who often end up jaded or leaving the profession. And we're setting too many teachers and leaders up for failure by not addressing the broader, systemic issues at play.
I have always been fascinated by leadership. I have spent much of my life reading books and articles about leadership, listening to podcasts about leadership, and studying the ways others lead.
Leaders today face new challenges — information is ubiquitous and readily available to all. Undermining a leader's message is as simple as a few keyboard clicks or a group text. Competition for employees' attention and energy is everywhere, and employees work in a market where the gig economy can be a competitive option to traditional jobs and fewer young people are entering the traditional workforce.
Scholars and corporations are bringing into view the characteristics of the successful postmodern leader. This is particularly challenging in education where we face a wall of adversity when dealing with the bureaucracy of education. But as Ithaca College president Thomas R. Rochon wrote, “There are times in the life of any human community when change is the only course of action that will permit continuity.” I believe we are at that moment in education. And postmodern leadership research says that as uncertainty, complexity, and urgency increase — it must give rise to what is termed the “wisdom of the crowd.”
This strategy is important to fight the tyranny of simple answers or top-down solutions. As the 20th century writer HL Mencken said, "For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong." To enact any successful change in education it will take the contributions of all of us. Everyone holds a small piece of the puzzle and we must harness the power of many, many minds.
This means we need to tolerate competing conceptions and ambiguity. We need to embrace the fact that the answers do not lie in one leader, one consultant, one voice. We need to diversify the voices in our hallways here at SCOE. We need to challenge the assumptions that hold problems in place and make sure we are actually solving the right problems. We need to use the power of knowledge to serve our 40 districts, rather than that of position or personality.
We need to do all this while clinging unrelentingly to the core principle of putting children first. "The mission of the Sonoma County Office of Education is to foster student success through service to schools, students, and the community." Holding that scale as our measure will eventually guide us to the best decisions.
For us to truly create an educational system where every student gets what they need — each of us in this room and in this organization has a responsibility to be part of the solution.
To create a new educational model we must listen to and elevate students' voices, challenging the status quo to promote a better way. Over the past several weeks, I have had the privilege to learn about some of the exciting things happening in our programs, at our districts, and with our community partners. These include:
- SCOE teacher Jeff Valfer saw a new way to support Amarosa Academy students and teach science and a love of the outdoors through the alternative education school’s birding club.
- Petaluma City Schools Superintendent Matt Harris and the district’s board created a partnership to guarantee acceptance of the district’s students who meet certain academic requirements to Sonoma State University.
- The clean power electric vehicle program in several of our Sonoma districts and supported by the CTE Foundation, which helps students through hands-on projects to prepare students for jobs in clean energy.
- The Equity in Education initiative led by students to become change agents at their schools.
- A wellness center initiative creating safe spaces on campuses to discuss wellness, mental health and get access to supports.
And these are just a handful of the wonderful things happening in our schools. I look forward to spreading the word about these and other exciting efforts, to celebrate our successes and encourage innovation.
In this interconnected world, transformation comes from a hundred voices each having small, one-off impacts on the ultimate outcome. Many voices are needed for education to rise to the challenges of the here and now.
Paulo Freire, in Pedagogy of the Oppressed, said, “Education either functions as an instrument which is used to facilitate integration of the younger generation into the logic of the present system and bring about conformity or it becomes the practice of freedom, the means by which men and women deal critically and creatively with reality and discover how to participate in the transformation of their world.”
I want to do all I can to ensure Sonoma County students are given all that they require to transform the world. Knowledge, dialogue, critical questioning, love for humanity and the planet, a sense of balance and wellness, combined with relevant and applicable learning they can put into practice in both their careers and life.
All this is to say that I will need your help to advance this dream.
- I will extend the invitation and create opportunities for all to contribute in meaningful communication.
- I will make decision-making transparent, participatory, and visible.
- I will support this team in the pursuit of evidence-based practices that have proven to improve student outcomes.
- I will create empowerment by doing all I can to remove structures or processes that cause disempowerment.
- I will make mistakes, but I promise to learn from those mistakes.
- I will strive to earn your trust and your confidence.
Our Sonoma County community is rich in resources, and new solutions will continue to emerge as we bring diverse people together in conversations that matter.
Should you choose to enlist in this cause, I ask that you show up fully for students. I ask that you be bold, creative, cooperative, and candid about both the problems and solutions you see. Let’s commit to having tough conversations about education, about mental health, about engagement in classrooms, and about our students. We need honest, productive feedback and support to accomplish our goals.
In this time of great urgency and complexity, only with a collective approach — one where nonprofit organizations, community members, families, government agencies, institutions of higher education, afterschool programs, museums, faith-based groups, and others can rally around each school and its children — can we successfully create the conditions where children can learn and thrive.
I sincerely hope that you will join me in the services of all our Sonoma County students.
Thank you for your support.