ACSA Superintendent of the Year Sarah Koligian has responded to the diverse needs of students in the Folsom Cordova Unified School District since being named superintendent in 2017.
Koligian leads with compassion
October 18, 2021
Name: Sarah Koligian, Ed.D. Award: Superintendent Administrator of the Year Title: Superintendent, Folsom Cordova Unified School District ACSA highlights: Member since 2000; presenter at ACSA Academies and Superintendents’ Symposium; Region 3 Rep., Leg. Policy Committee, 2017-2019; Region 11 Rep., Superintendency Council, 2014-2017; Legislative Action Day, Regions 11 and 3, 2011-2019.
Sarah Koligian is a visionary and personable leader that is recognized for her impeccable reputation and flawless professionalism. As superintendent of Folsom Cordova Unified School District, she provides compassion, hope and stability to others and considers it a blessing to be able to give back.
With a desire to both highlight accomplishments and tackle challenges — which she has termed the “glows and grows” — Koligian has led the district to many accomplishments since taking the helm in 2017.
She addressed disproportionality and decreased suspension/expulsion rates utilizing early intervention services. She developed supports for homeless and foster students, as well as for an influx of students from Afghanistan through community partnerships including faith-based organizations, non-profits and local businesses. Koligian also developed and expanded the district’s LCAP goals by creating programs to respond to issues and diverse needs. She implemented SEL programs at all school sites and a district level SEL/Equity Guiding Coalition. She enhanced the district’s CTE programs, established an IB Career Program, and oversaw construction of a new CTE Building.
But above all, Koligian understands developing relationships with staff, families and the community are critical to positive student outcomes.
“Sarah is an outstanding and imaginative leader, collaborator, and a kind and caring colleague,” said David W. Gordon, Sacramento County superintendent of schools. “Her district is a unique mix of affluent, working class, and immigrant communities. For the leader this presents tremendous challenges in wisely deploying resources, but more importantly, keeping the board and community together in supporting policies that give all district students the opportunity to succeed. Sarah has been masterful in striking this balance.”
During school closures, she worked with the board, district leadership team, bargaining units and community to progressively bring staff and students back to in-person instruction. She developed a Learning Loss Mitigation Plan and new virtual learning platforms for students and teachers, provided Chromebooks for all students and hot spots for students needing internet, and additional professional development days for teachers in distance learning.
“Not only is she whip-smart and able to meet the intellectual challenges of the crisis, but she is guided by a solid moral compass,” said Kathryn Allaman, who recently retired as assistant superintendent of secondary education. “Throughout, she has put students first and maintained the trust and loyalty of her staff. ... Sarah is a leader of ‘leaders,’ and she leads with ‘heart.’”
What’s your favorite book or quote on leadership? One of my favorite books on leadership is “Heart” by Timothy Kanold. My leadership team and I read it as our book study when I first joined the FCUSD team as superintendent.
Favorite quote: “What heart print are you creating and how did I make a difference?”
What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given? My mother was one of my greatest cheerleaders and confidence-builders, who reminded me often that you can do anything you set your mind to doing, as long as you apply yourself, work hard and be true to yourself. And, don’t forget kindness, compassion and gratitude along the way.
What’s your best strategy for work/life balance? Know and act upon your “true north” or “core beliefs.” The work is demanding and takes strength, wisdom and patience. Prioritize each day with what gives you the fortitude; for me those priorities are my faith, family and a healthy well-being. What are some life hacks that you would recommend for a new administrator? Whether you are a new or veteran administrator, give yourself grace. None of us are perfect. Some of our best life-lessons are accepting that we are human. Mistakes are part of life’s lessons. How we respond to success and failure helps build our internal core as leaders.
What would people be surprised to learn about you? I love music of many genres, from the music that represents my Armenian heritage, to special hymns and praises, to my love of classic rock. Whether I’m meditating, relaxing, or pursuing my daily work-outs, music is an integral part of my life. It soothes my soul.
What made you want to become a school administrator? Becoming an administrator was not my original career path when I started college. My undergraduate degree was in business administration and I truly thought that I would be running either my father’s business or my own business someday. However, at the same time I had a deep desire to become a teacher, so I pursued teaching. I loved teaching and sharing a part of myself to help my students build new knowledge and confidence in themselves as learners.
What are you most proud of accomplishing? I can think of several proud accomplishments throughout my 34-year career and the one common thread with each of them are the teams of my peers that I have had the privilege of working with over the years. I am reminded of a quote by Walt Disney that emphasizes the power of team: “Of all the things I’ve done, the most vital is coordinating the talents of those who work for us, and pointing them toward a certain goal.”
How has ACSA supported you in your career/current position? In my 20-plus years of being an ACSA member, I have always been part of my local ACSA chapters. The greatest benefit from ACSA is the relationships that have been forged with many outstanding leaders throughout our diverse state. ACSA has been the medium that has brought us all together to amplify our voices with other inspiring leaders throughout this great state.
In serving on various ACSA committees I have developed a strong relationship with our ACSA Governmental Relations team who are consistently responsive to questions and challenges that face educational leaders, especially this past year. And, it fills my heart with joy to be able to give back to our aspiring leaders as a mentor and as an invited presenter at various ACSA Academies.
What has the impact of the COVID-19 worldwide health crisis taught you? This past year in education has been one of the most challenging years of my career. Every superintendent and school leader is deserving of the “Administrator of the Year” recognition as we have all navigated this past year together in a pandemic with a world filled with many unknowns.
As educators and leaders, we prepare ourselves with anticipating what lies ahead, to best plan and execute our vision, mission and goals. We have all had to lead this past year without the ability to predict the impact of a worldwide pandemic on the physical and emotional well-being of our students, employees, families and ourselves. Not only has this year been counter-intuitive to the framework of education, but it has been a year of “building the plane while flying it.” The fear of the health landscape unknowns, what we control or do not control, and the frequent changes to health guidance and legislation have tested all of us in ways we never imagined.
However, as the well-known Chinese proverb states, “out of crisis comes opportunity.” The challenges have brought leaders together as multipliers to collaborate and problem-solve together. My employees and colleagues are a constant inspiration to me and the many lessons learned over this last year are proof that we can accomplish anything together as a team.
My hope and prayer as we “safely land the plane” is to maintain the initiatives that, while pushing us out of our comfort zones, brought about innovation and creativity for learning. I truly believe the best is yet ahead.
2021 Superintendent of the Year Sarah Koligian.
2021 Superintendent of the Year Sarah Koligian.
2021 Superintendent of the Year Sarah Koligian.
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