Helmstedter committed to success for every student

October 19, 2020
After arriving at Ocean View School District in 2010, Superintendent Craig W. Helmstedter led the district through revising its mission statement. The new wording moved away from “encouraging” student success and instead outright “ensured” success for every student. Helmstedter has used this mission to guide his every action, including district initiatives around social justice and professional development that holds educators to high standards. It is this commitment to “all means all” that has earned him ACSA’s 2020 Superintendent of the Year award. Under his leadership, the district began performing instructional rounds and gathering objective data from several classrooms at all schools. Though the data was not encouraging, Helmstedter leveraged this information to implement strategies in the classroom that improved student performance. His personal study of institutional racism and transparency about his own biases have inspired courageous conversations and a districtwide focus on equity that has resulted in the adoption of a standards-aligned curriculum and examinations of bias in the learning environment.  Helmstedter’s focus on social justice also was the driving force for the district to adopt an inclusive education model that has eliminated self-contained special education classes at the elementary level. “Through his deep thinking work with the administration and management teams, Dr. Helmstedter challenges his employees to think critically about their words, actions, and choices in terms of designing learning environments in which all students will thrive,” said elementary Principal Antoinette Dodge and Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction Kelly Castillo.  What’s your favorite book on leadership? While not necessarily leadership books per se, these two books are essential reading for white administrators interested in building equity and voice among marginalized groups within a school district: “Waking up White” by Debby Irving, and “White Fragility” by Robin Diangelo.  Until we understand the historic and systemic inequity that is part of our country and educational programming, we will continue to be ill-prepared to make noteworthy change. Additionally, as a white administrator, it is insufficient that I acknowledge the realities of marginalized groups, but I must actively push back against the system. What’s your favorite quote about leadership? “Grade level work is justice!” — Kate Gerson. In Ocean View, we have changed this quote slightly to, “Rigorous, relevant grade level work is justice!” The harsh reality of our work in the district through instructional rounds, observations and analyses indicates that even with our best intentions for our students, we seldom teach grade level standards, particularly to our students with the greatest needs. This awareness has pushed our entire school district to find new ways to deliver true grade level standards to every single student, including overcoming our implicit biases towards our students with disabilities, English learners, and other marginalized students.    What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given? I learned three wise phrases during my doctoral studies that are critical for successful leadership: 1) wait 24 hours; 2) go slow to go fast; 3) less is more.   When responding to conflict or complex issues leaders may initially respond based on the emotions felt. By waiting 24 hours, the leader allows time to re-engage with the issue based on rational thought processes, securing a better outcome. Always remember that E + R = O, the Event combined with the Response equals the Outcome.   Based on the pressures of making decisions, it is easy to respond quickly with solutions that often result in exacerbating the initial problem or creating a newer, larger problem. By moving forward more methodically, leaders have a better chance of moving forward more quickly and limiting any additional issues. Finally, in education it is easy to take on too many initiatives and stretch resources and people beyond quality capacity. Doing less, yet high quality work is preferred to accomplishing a higher number of haphazard, inefficient tasks.  What are some of your favorite apps? In Ocean View we transitioned to Google Suite, which has helped us collaborate more effectively and efficiently. Many teachers are using Google Classroom to connect with students during distance learning.  What’s your best strategy for work/life balance? Love your friends and family: They are the secret to life. Take care of yourself: Eat well, exercise, enjoy the outdoors. Travel: There are amazing people and places that restore the soul. What made you want to become a school administrator? As a classroom teacher, I impacted the lives of 30 students per year. As a site and district administrator, I have exponentially increased the number of people I have impacted over the years. Who is someone who inspires you? Dr. Marty Beert, who took a chance on me and gave me my first principal position. Marty is the type of person that makes you feel smarter, stronger and better after every interaction. Dr. Nancy J. Carroll, who taught me to disagree vehemently if needed, but still come back together and work as a team. We were “dance partners” for six years. My administrative team — watching this team work together, solve problems and make things happen for the students, families and staff is awe inspiring. What was the best ACSA event you’ve attended? I attended the New Superintendent’s session during my first year one day prior to the Superintendents’ Symposium.  During this one-day training, I learned many best practices and made enduring friendships and connections that have supported my work and leadership over the last 10 years.    What has the impact of the COVID-19 worldwide health crisis taught you? What has become ultimately clear during this time is that public educators are among the brightest, most resilient, nurturing, and passionate individuals that rise to any occasion to serve students, families and our community. They do this despite constant criticism, insufficient funding and constant change. 
Superintendent Craig W. Helmstedter, sixth from left, led the Ocean View School District leadership team through several new initiatives that challenged biases and ensured the success of every student in the district.
Name: Craig W. Helmdstedter Award: Superintendent of the Year  Title: Superintendent, Ocean View School District ACSA highlights: member since 1996; president of South Ventura Charter; state ACSA board member for Region 13.

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