Kawaguchi’s collaborative vision benefits all students
November 2, 2020
At the Many Families One Community Family Resource Fair, students smile as they play games and explore STEM activities. Families stop by booths to receive information on academics, nutrition and social-emotional well-being from dozens of community groups. Childcare is available, so parents attend workshops on topics such as internet safety and college prep.  This event represents the collaborative vision of Superintendent Catherine Kawaguchi. She was selected as this year’s winner of the Marcus Foster Memorial Award, which honors educators who model the vision of the late Marcus Foster. Kawaguchi took the helm of the Sulphur Springs Union School District in 2015, hoping to continue the great work being done by the board and staff in the district’s nine elementary schools. With a goal of putting students at the center of every decision, she took the time to meet with families and understand their needs. Right away, she established a Student and Family Wellness Collaborative in the district. With more than 90 community partners from throughout the Santa Clarita Valley — including social workers, mental health providers, local nonprofits and food service providers — the collaborative meets quarterly to discuss how to work together to support student and family wellness.  One of the group’s projects is the Many Families One Community Family Resource Fair. By partnering with the nearby Golden Valley High School, which hosts the event, Kawaguchi reached outside her district to broaden the scope of what this event could be. Since its start in 2015, this event has become a community tradition featuring more than 65 local agencies that come together to provide resources for students in preschool through high school. “Families tell me that they had no idea that resources like the ones that we share with them at the fair are in Santa Clarita,” she said. To ensure that all students, especially those at-risk, receive an outstanding education, Kawaguchi has implemented a number of initiatives. After discovering that students with severe autism were being bused to another district, she worked with the Special Education Department to reinstate the Sulphur Springs’ Autism Program, which has grown from two students to more than 50. “I feel that it is important that all students, especially those who have special needs, have opportunities to attend their own schools in their own neighborhood and be part of their own community,” Kawaguchi said. Back in 2016, the district had an opportunity to build a fully inclusive playground that is accessible to wheelchair users and has plenty of sensory activities to support the growth of the whole child. “Together, with the support of general and special education staff, we designed and built a fully inclusive playground, so that all children, no matter what their need is, are able to play and thrive,” she said.   Other facilities improvements included turning an under-utilized library into a five-days-a-week Learning Center with a maker space that supports creativity, innovation and collaboration. Kawaguchi also transformed two portables into a Family Resource Center, where families can easily get assistance, clothing and food.  Kawaguchi also noticed that many students were in need, both academically and economically. With more than 23 languages spoken in the district, she supported staff to increase academic achievement for English language learners. She also made sure that schools with Title I funding maximize the use of those funds to support disadvantaged students.  Kawaguchi’s drive to listen to student needs and her ability to collaborate with groups — both inside and outside her district — have served her students well, even during the COVID-19 crisis. “The pandemic has taught all of us to ensure that we are still working together as a community to deliver an exemplary education to our students, and strive to provide resources to students and families in need,” she said.  
Sulphur Springs Union School District Superintendent Catherine Kawaguchi visits booths during the Many Families One Community Family Resource Fair.
Name: Catherine Kawaguchi Award: Marcus Foster Memorial Award for Administrator Excellence
Title: Superintendent, Sulphur Springs Union School District
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