Lodi school board superintendent marks 10th year
By John Bays/News-Sentinel Staff Writer
Sitting at the head of a small conference table in her office on Friday afternoon, Cathy Nichols-Washer looked at a resolution and certificate of appreciation given to her Tuesday night at the Lodi Unified School District Board of Education meeting in recognition of her 10th year as superintendent.
“Cathy, we appreciate everything you do for the district and how long you’ve been here,” school board president George Neely said.
The second-longest-serving superintendent of California’s 100 largest school districts, the resolution said, Nichols-Washer has served longer than many board members, district staff, principals and more.
“I feel very fortunate,” Nichols-Washer said. “This community elected outstanding trustees who really care about the students. Lodi Unified is a strong district on all levels, and I feel very fortunate to be here.”
Since becoming superintendent in 2008, Nichols-Washer has worked to expand programs such as Career Technical Education both at Lincoln Technical Academy and the district’s high schools, she said, to give students a chance to explore different careers before they graduate.
Improving safety is another achievement Nichols-Washer is proud of, she said, along with improving the district’s reading intervention program.
“That’s been one of the main goals of the district, since before I got here,” Nichols-Washer said. “Being able to read is critical not only to life in school, but to life after school as well.”
Nichols-Washer will also oversee a pilot program in which sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade students at certain schools can take home Chromebooks to supplement their studies before expanding the program to the rest of the district.
“Up until now, the Chromebooks have been in the classrooms only. We want students to be able to expand their learning beyond the classroom,” Nichols-Washer said.
Nichols-Washer thanked the voters who passed the Measure U bond, and everyone who helped the Giving Opportunities to Kids (GOT Kids) program raise money to pay for school trips, clothes and supplies for students in need and camps.
“I’m really proud of that because we started from nothing and now we’re able to give $100,000 back to students each year,” Nichols-Washer said.
Although Nichols-Washer enjoys her work, she has faced challenges such as stepping into the position during California’s budget crisis as well as an ongoing shortage of per-pupil funding, and trying to bring back services that had to be cut because of both issues.
“We have a lot of critical needs, and to prioritize them is pretty painful for the board because they know so many of those are so important,” Nichols-Washer said.
The district has also been working to provide “wraparound services,” Nichols-Washer said, such as counseling for students dealing with trauma outside of school so that they can focus on learning.
Although Common Core State Standards brought a host of new teaching methods and materials to the district, Nichols-Washer said, she applauded the teachers for overcoming the learning curve so that they can teach students.
“I think the teachers adapted very well. They don’t have the same angst I noticed when we first started rolling this out. I think the teachers are doing an outstanding job,” Nichols-Washer said.
Parents had to overcome a learning curve of their own, Nichols-Washer said, particularly with math which prompted schools to host “Math Nights,” to bring parents up to speed and enable them to help their children with homework.
Moving forward, Nichols-Washer plans to expand community involvement in the Local Control and Accountability Plan that governs how the district spends money.
With the ongoing economic and population growth in Lodi, Nichols-Washer said, a new school might be in the city’s future as well.
“If anything, a K-8 school might be next for the City of Lodi. We probably need to start having some serious talks pretty soon,” Nichols-Washer said.