Following a desegregation order handed down by California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, Sausalito Marin City School District has appointed Itoco Garcia superintendent to lead the charge for diversity and to close the inequality gap within the education system.
A Marin County native, Garcia has spent 10 years in the classroom, a principal for six years and an instructional coach for two years. The work he has planned and that which he has already implemented aims for unification in Sausalito and Marin City’s schools.
Garcia graduated from Marin County’s Tamalpais High School in 1992; he is a passionate public servant that took the mission personally when the call was made to him.
“When I saw the opportunity come up, I applied hoping that I might be able to come give something back to the community that gave so much to me growing up,” said Garcia. “And I’m really blessed and humbled to have the opportunity to do just that.”
Garcia is excited to create change to invigorate the two schools in the district: Bayside MLK and the charter school Willow Creek Academy. Bayside’s enrollment, according to Garcia, is made up mostly of students of color. He hopes to address the staff turnover—one of the primary issues at Bayside MLK—by implementing a more diverse staff. As he explains, academic research has shown that students benefit from having teachers of color, and he has already received tentative agreements with the University of San Francisco, Compass Education Group and 10,000 Degrees (a nonprofit that helps low-income students get to and through college) among other entities, to create a “teachers of color pipeline” for the school district.
As he puts it, he’s been preparing his whole life for this moment. Before this undertaking, Garcia had spent 20 years in Alameda County working in Oakland and Hayward to improve some of the lowest performing schools there. Having been an educator, administrator and now superintendent, Garcia is confident in his knowledge of urban school reform and his ability to create high performing schools that emphasize diversity. While he was the principal at Cherryland Elementary School in Hayward, there were 35 teachers, of which only five were people of color. When he left, the number had increased to 17.
“As a former teacher of color, I spent 10 years in the classroom,” said Garcia. “I was a bilingual Spanish teacher and taught kindergarten for most of those 10 years. I’m here to tell you, you can’t just post a job and expect teachers of color to apply. And you can’t just randomly hire teachers of color and think they’re going to stay. Especially not anywhere, but in a county like Marin.”
As superintendent, Garcia is committed to unifying the two schools and is working toward a single school solution that is high performing, dual language, and pre-K through 8th grade. He is confident in the children’s willingness to be a part of a unification. Garcia believes it’s important to have roots in culture and community and feel positive about your identity, but it doesn’t aid a child’s development to be kept in an enclave.
With his experience as a kid growing up around Marin City, but also having friends around the more affluent areas of the county, Garcia feels he is especially qualified to handle the particular challenge.
“You know the numbers are real different, but back then I was one of 10 Latino kids at Tam High,” said Garcia.
A pivotal event in Garcia’s career was his first time as a substitute teacher in East Oakland. When his last day there came, he announced to the class that he would not be returning and thanked his students.
“This one little kid he raised his hand and he goes: ‘Hey. ¿Què haces por aca?,’” recalled Garcia. “And I was like: ‘Well I’m your sub, I’m following this lesson plan,’ and he was like: ‘No, no, no. What are you doing here? I ain’t never had a teacher like you.’”
The student told Garcia that he looked like his older brother or uncle. Garcia explained that he wanted to show them that people like him could be teachers and it’s an asset to be bilingual.
Garcia is currently holding unification meetings that will go into December. He is also setting up work groups for the community in order to gauge opinion and give them a voice. There will be a desegregation advisory group meeting this month, followed by another in January 2020.
Story by: Kirk Stevenson