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CCSESA Newsletter2020

JuneVolume 18 / Issue 4

Leadership Link

Dr. Faris Sabbah Santa Cruz County Office of Education

  • What led you to become County Superintendent?

    As an immigrant and language learner, to me education is about social justice. It has been my mission to strive for equity for all learners and ensure all students have safe and supportive learning environments. I have had some amazing role models like former Superintendent Michael Watkins and my Cal Doctoral Advisor Dr. Bernard Gifford who inspired me to lead with courage and compassion. It was Michael who encouraged me to consider running for office to take his place at the Santa Cruz COE after he retired.

    What objectives do you hope to achieve in the next
    few years?

    In the next few years, we intend to help eliminate the digital divide in Santa Cruz County that students are experiencing now more than ever as they engage in distance learning at home. We are working to develop tools, resources, and systems to help educators ensure their schools are places of equity, racial justice, safety, accountability for students, teachers, and administrators.

    As an immigrant and language learner, to me education is about social justice.”

  • What is a bright spot / exemplary program in your county that would be of interest to other County Superintendents?

    One core value of the Santa Cruz County Office of Education is to make equity data transparent and accessible, facilitating data-driven decisions when designing student programs and educational practices. To this aim, we created an online tool that serves up educational data with an equity lens. The tool is interactive to help educators and community members alike engage with the data to answer key questions about our students and our schools. Some data sets available on our data portal include information about rates of suicide & depression among students, National Student Clearinghouse data, California Healthy Kids Survey data, English Learner Progress, CA Science Test results, and more. You can check out some sample data at

    What are your interests? 

    In my free time, I enjoy playing basketball and doing archery with my two sons. I also practice Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and other martial arts.

    Who are the special people in your life?

    My wife, Blanca Baltazar-Sabbah who is also in education and two sons, Amir (10) and Zahir (13) are my inspiration.

    Follow Superintendent Sabbah on Twitter at @SCSupt

From The Desk Of

Peter Birdsall Executive Director

Following the virtual General Membership meeting on June 23, I couldn’t help but reflect that for me it was my 36th GM meeting since joining CCSESA.

When I became Executive Director, one of the early revelations for me was the generally unrecognized, but extraordinary talent and reach of CCSESA’s steering committees.  For example, I attended a meeting of PASSCo, where I also spent some time with their credentialing subcommittee.  Listening to the discussion among staff from about 50 county offices, I asked to see the agenda and realized that they were routinely connecting with top staff from the Commission on Teacher Credentialing.

Based on similar experiences with all five Steering Committees, we assigned CCSESA staff as liaisons to each Steering Committee (that had not been done before) and developed a strategy for CCSESA of being recognized as the organization that gets the work done.  The message was pretty simple– if you want statewide implementation, only CCSESA can ensure that priority projects and information can be shared directly, in a timely manner, with leadership from every school district across the entire state.

The results of that approach have been evident, as the state has repeatedly turned to county offices on virtually every K-12 education issue.  Perhaps just as important, the state has generally recognized the need for county offices to tailor their activities to fit the local needs of their districts, not act simply as agents of the state.  From my perspective, our success has been built largely on the talent and hard work of the Steering Committees.

The early example, as I joined CCSESA, was the work of BASC on the Common Message and fiscal accountability.  As the role of county superintendents expanded, CISC leadership has been vital to statewide implementation issues on LCAPs and differentiated assistance.  TSC played a central role in the successful implementation of computer-based assessments (CAASPP) and the state again turned to CCSESA (and TSC) as a statewide presence in the effort to ensure statewide connectivity.  County offices are now the statewide structure to ensure appropriate credentialed teacher assignments, reflecting the engagement and expertise I first saw at that PASSCo meeting in 2011.  And SPSSC continues to be the mechanism to share information and coordinate services to students that are provided directly by county offices—court schools, special education, early education and foster youth, among others.

As the county superintendents begin an analysis of CCSESA’s mission and operations, one of the important strengths to recognize is the critical role the Steering Committees have played by working collaboratively, across all the county offices, on issues of statewide interest.

Governor and Legislature Announce Budget Deal

One week after the Legislature passed a budget that met the constitutional deadline but without agreement from the Governor, on Monday, June 22nd, the Governor and the Legislature announced that they had reached a deal on the 2020-21 state budget.

In the absence of additional federal revenues, the May Revise would have proposed a 10 percent cut to education programs.  Rejecting the Governor’s proposed cuts has been a top priority of CCSESA. Working with the Education Coalition, we assisted in developing the message that schools cannot be expected to re-open safely this fall if the May Revisions reductions were approved. This was an intense advocacy push, involving advocacy in the Capitol, press events and a paid media campaign.

This level of advocacy helped to support the legislative budget framework that rejects the proposed cuts and holds most local education agencies (LEAs) harmless against the decline in state revenues.  In the absence of another federal aid package, this budget proposal would implement additional deferrals and further draw down reserves to spare schools from devastating cuts.  However, if the state receives additional federal funds, it would reduce the level of proposed deferrals.

On June 15, the Legislature approved Senate Bill 74 (Mitchell) Budget Act of 2020. By Friday, we expect that the Legislature will vote on the remaining bills that reflect the budget compromise.  Once approved by the legislature, the bills will be sent to the Governor for his signature and we expect that he will approve the package by June 30th.

The budget discussions will continue in August for at least three reasons: (1) the state will finally have updated revenue numbers, as tax payments were delayed until July 15; (2) it will be increasingly apparent whether the federal government will enact another relief package; (3) efforts will be made to revise or clarify language adopted in the state budget agreement announced in late June.

In addition to revising and updating the state’s revenue projections, there appear to be a couple of issues that the Governor and the Legislature will need to consider over the summer.  While the budget will provide an ADA hold harmless to most school districts, there are certain growing school districts that would be disadvantaged by this proposal, and the concerns are already being expressed about the potentially punitive audit language.  Another issue that may require additional clarification is under what circumstances may school districts exclusively offer a distance learning program.  Finally, there is continued discussion related to an LEAs liability if a student or staff person contracts the COVID-19 virus when schools re-open.

For more information on the budget, the Final Assembly Floor Report can be found here.

CCSESA Rural County Arts Cohort and Featured Web Highlights

CCSESA Statewide Arts Initiative has been working to build momentum for arts education in rural communities. In 2019-20, eight counties participated in a Rural County Arts Cohort to increase student access to arts education. Subgrants were provided to assist counties in developing strategic arts plans and/or implementing existing strategic arts plans. A key component of building artistic literacy in rural communities has been implementing professional development focused on California Arts Standards and developing rigorous arts integration strategies that has opened the door for interdisciplinary learning in the arts.

CCSESA Arts Initiative created a new portion of the CCSESA Arts Website to spotlight some of the work that has been accomplished in 2019-20 through the CCSESA Rural County Arts Cohort. We invite you to take a look at the accomplishments of eight rural county offices of education and view the interactive map highlighting different areas of California. Visit the Rural Arts web pages and click on the map to learn more about the eight county offices of education from across California and what work they have accomplished to build capacity for arts education as part of a complete comprehensive curriculum.

To learn more about rural arts education, please access the Creativity at the Core Module 21: Creativity and Collaboration in Rural Communities developed by Kate Stover, Tulare County Office of Education.

This collective work has been made possible through generous funding from the Stuart Foundation and the Hewlett Foundation.


California Department Of Education, The First Partner’s Office, And The Governor’s Office Host SEL Convening

Through a partnership with the California Department of Education, the First Partner’s office, and the Governor’s Office, and with generous support from the Marin Community Foundation; Beyond Differences and Education First are gathering educator and stakeholder ideas for ways to advance Social And Emotional Learning (SEL) in California.

This three-part convening is one element of a larger project to bring a wide range of stakeholders into a conversation on how we can advance SEL in the state.

When: July 14, July 17 and July 21 from 9-11am PST via Zoom.

Please RSVP via email to Rei Nakamura at Education First ( by July 1. The Education First team will then be able to forward the meeting invitation to you or your designee.

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