2017-04-27 / Editorials

Coming to grips with the superintendent’s resignation

What does the decision by Ann Bonitatibus to resign as superintendent of Conejo Valley Unified two years into a three-year commitment say about her as a professional and the school board as a functioning body?

It’s a question we’ve been asking ourselves since her sudden announcement earlier this month that she will be leaving the school district at the end of June.

The timing of the announcement leaves just a few months to find a permanent replacement before the start of the next school year and, given the apparent dysfunction on the school board, it’s hard to imagine the district would be able to attract a top-notch candidate on short notice, if at all.

So the question becomes: Should trustees select the next chief of schools from their own crop of talent—which they will probably do as an interim measure—or conduct a nationwide search, as they did with Bonitatibus?

The East Coast native who moved from Maryland to accept the Conejo Valley job demonstrates perfectly the perils of bringing in an outsider.

Even after immersing herself in the community—she was literally everywhere during her first year on the job—Bonitatibus failed to predict the wave of bad publicity the district would receive by targeting a K-5 private school in Westlake (Carden Conejo School) during the musical chairs game of relocating Conejo Valley High School. The same goes for her doomed attempt to put CVHS in the Waverly Heights neighborhood.

On the other hand, as an outsider, Bonitatibus was able to make several sorely needed changes in a short amount of time because she was concerned not about keeping friendships, but about what was best for CVUSD. Unlike previous superintendents, Bonitatibus tackled the problem of “pay-to-play,” an illegal-yet-quasi-accepted practice of making parents think they must contribute financially if they want their son or daughter to participate in extracurricular activities. She also brought CVUSD into the 21st century by beginning the live-streaming of board meetings and bringing to life the district’s social media channels. Bonitatibus bucked the status quo when needed and performed well in the duties of what she called “gatekeeping.”

Like all of history’s trailblazers, the first female superintendent at Conejo Unified inspired as many detractors as she did fans, a situation that undoubtedly played some role in her early exit.

So it’s with a feeling of uncertainty for the future that we wish Bonitatibus well in her next venture, whatever it may be. We hope residents will take advantage of her final weeks in office to thank her for the effort she made on behalf of the district’s 19,000 students, whether people agreed with all of her decisions or not. She didn’t always get it right, but she did fight for what she believed in, even in the face of intense opposition.

We hope CVUSD’s next chief of schools will demonstrate the same courage.

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