Twin Hills welcomes former student as new superintendent
By Camille Escovedo, Staff Writer, SoCoNews, May 24, 2021
Anna-Maria Guzmán is returning to the Twin Hills Union School District (THUSD) for what one might call the ultimate graduation.
On May 13, the THUSD school board approved her contract as the district’s next superintendent. Growing up, Guzmán attended the elementary Apple Blossom School and Twin Hills Middle School before it became a charter.
Trustee Melissa Betchel was absent at the meeting, when the board gave final confirmation of the contract signed by Board President Terry Beck and Guzmán in April.
“She brings a wealth of experience. She’s very collaborative and has worked at all levels of education and as you know, Twin Hills is a unique district,” said current superintendent Barbara Bickford.
Bickford looks to retire after nine years leading the district, placing its four schools into Guzmán’s hands in July: Apple Blossom for kindergarten through fifth grade, Twin Hills Charter Middle School for sixth to eighth grade, the K-12 Orchard View School and the K-8 SunRidge Charter School. All but Apple Blossom are charter schools, according to the Sonoma County Office of Education’s district directory.
Guzmán ascends to the role from her post as the assistant superintendent of the Santa Rosa City Schools (SRCS) for the past eight years, dedicating 25 years in many different roles there in total.
Through her experience at SRCS. Guzmán said she grew as a teacher, principal, director and assistant superintendent, “I think first and foremost, I always see myself as a teacher,” she said.
But, like a student, the learning never ends. Guzmán said she’s feeling “very honored, blessed, excited” to find herself at this role.
Growing up in rural Sebastopol on seven acres, Guzmán said attending her “neighborhood school” felt like an extension of her family and home. She said she finished middle school in 1986 and found the district environment to be inclusive, with caring teachers and the community she needed, being an only child.
Guzmán said the schools have since swapped locations with each other and undergone facility upgrades, but the feeling is the same. Staff welcomed her at both sites recently, “and so many amazing memories rushed back and feelings of just familiarity,” she said.
Her utmost goal is to build relationships with students, faculty and the community, “really understanding their culture and who they are and becoming part of that community,” she said. That togetherness is the district’s strength, she said, noting the sense of pride on the community panel that was involved in her first interview for superintendent, over Zoom.
Bickford said a panel of teachers, parents, principals, directors and community members conducted the first interviews in the hiring process, and were followed by interviews conducted by the school board.
Stepping into negotiations
At the same meeting Guzmán’s contract was approved, leaders of the Twin Hills Teachers Association (THTA) announced the union had authorized a strike if the district cannot agree to prioritize students and teachers by way of contract negotiations, citing inadequate salaries and health care benefits that led some teachers to take second jobs.
According to bargaining chair Leslie Konvalinka, the California Public Employee Relations Board certified the two for a fact-finding hearing on Monday, May 24, and if they don’t close an agreement, the door opens for a strike.
In a May 14 interview, Konvalinka said that because the new superintendent comes on in July, “it may end up that the process starts with one and ends with the other.” If a strike occurs, “chances are it would take effect next school year,” she said, adding the union hopes to avoid that outcome.
When asked about her approach to the potential strike, Guzmán said she doesn’t have any information on the issue beyond what she’s read in the news, but that she hopes the district and THTA can forge an agreement.
Her contract begins July 1, she said. As assistant superintendent with SRCS, she’s been on a negotiation team for eight years and can only speak to that experience, Guzmán said, adding, “I have faith that both sides will come to the table and will work things out.”
In a May 13 email, Bickford said THUSD wasn’t financially in a position to raise salaries and benefits beyond cost of living adjustments, as the district experiences limited state funding and declining enrollment.
Guzmán said enrollment is sinking throughout the county and the state, not just Twin Hills, and that the district will need to take up this reality and “make sure that we’re reaching out to our families and our stakeholders about the amazing programs we’re offering within our schools.”
Current superintendent to focus on family and see what the future holds
“It’s been the honor of my career to be here,” Bickford said in an April 30 interview. As the school year comes to the close, so concludes her career of nearly 45 years in public education.
“And leaving is bittersweet, as I’m sure you can imagine, but it’s time for me to move on and for a wonderful new person to come in and help develop the vision for the district for the next nine or 10 years,” she said.
Bickford said she achieved most of her goals for herself and the Twin Hills district, while her husband has been retired for years. “And it seemed time for me to step down and step into the next phase of my life.”
The outgoing superintendent said that aside from long walks and more time with her family, mentioning her granddaughter and possibly traveling with her husband, she doesn’t quite know what she looks forward to most in retirement yet.
“People ask me this question. I have been so busy this year with the reopening plans, working with public health guidelines, working with my principals and teachers and the board to make sure we reopen safely and that we’re planning for next year that I haven’t had a real chance to think about what I’m going to do,” she said. “I figure I’m going to wake up July 1 and have an opportunity to explore.
Applauding the teachers and administrators, Bickford said, “The Twin Hills district is an amazing place with four unique schools that give choice to our students and families to pursue the kind of education they think is best for their family and environments that are positive and kind.”
The April 30 interview took place before THTA announced the authorization for a strike. At the time, Bickford said a main challenge facing the district will be fully reopening in August and planning the best curriculum and activities possible for students, including programs to address learning loss in the past year that Guzmán will help plan when she joins in the summer.
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