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New Cloverdale Superintendent Betha MacClain is an artist who’s interested in focusing on the district’s STEAM, social emotional learning and project-based learning programs. Photo provided

Betha MacClain’s first day with the CUSD was July 1

School districts have been put through the wringer in recent months, having to manage constantly changing regulations, unreliable budget forecasts and the possibility of partially reopening campus for a new year while in the middle of a pandemic. For Cloverdale, the shift of the past months includes an additional item — welcoming in a new superintendent. Betha MacClain, the district’s new superintendent, started her position on July 1. 

MacClain came to the district from Two Rock Union School District, where she served as the superintendent-principal. She took over the position from former Superintendent Jeremy Decker, who is now the superintendent for the Windsor Unified School District.

In an interview with the Reveille shortly before her start in Cloverdale, MacClain said that she was excited to get started — and that she’s looking forward to getting to know the town and the school community. 

“The schools are an epicenter and parents are really engaged. For the size of the community, having 65 members of the community on a Zoom call is really good community engagement,” MacClain said, referring to the attendance of the June 24 school board meeting. “In terms of developing a sense of Cloverdale, I know it’s really important. When I was hired, it was made really clear to me that there is a desire for the person in this particular role to really know the community and to not be an outsider coming in and making decisions.”

She said that, in addition to helping figure out what school will look like in the fall, her schedule for the first few weeks of her being in the district will consist of a lot of meetings. She said that she knows that getting to know the ins and outs of Cloverdale will be a “long haul process,” though.

“I had to take time to really get to know my community,” she said. “My impression is that the schools in Cloverdale mean a lot to the community. In a smaller town or smaller community, your schools really are a hub.”

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Betha MacClain

Shaping schools

When asked why she was interested in working in Cloverdale, MacClain said that the unique nature of Cloverdale’s district — a single district with only one school for each set of grades — opens it up for students to have a more connected, cohesive educational experience.

She also noted that she was drawn to the emphasis the district puts on educating in a way that better prepares students for the world outside of school, like Cloverdale High School’s Career and Technical Education (CTE) pathway, and the utilization of the high school’s Maker Space. 

“You’re learning things that can be applied in the immediate moment and, at this moment in time, more schools are starting to think like that but it’s amazing how removed we can get from meaningful experiences in school,” MacClain said.

MacClain said she was also drawn to the district’s work with promoting social and emotional learning — Jefferson Elementary adopted new social and emotional learning curricula and programs last year — as being a point of interest.

MacClain said that much of her own professional and educational background has been focused on STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics) education, social and emotional learning and project-based learning. 

“School needs to feel meaningful — it’s not a means to an end,” she said. “If all you’re doing is developing skills, you miss this opportunity to create meaningful experiences in the here and now for kids.”

As such, MacClain said that she wants to work to help further support those types of programs.

“I have a background in creative program design and, with the restrictions of the budget, am looking for creative ways to sustain the vision of college readiness, career readiness, hands-on learning, integrated learning — those are areas that I also have experience in.”

Additionally, she said she wants to help take advantage of the interconnectedness of Cloverdale’s schools by examining how the district can use early intervention to help students be better prepared and feel more supported later on in their educational career. 

“(Looking at) what are the proactive supports you can put in place so that students can’t get to the point where there’s a crisis,” she said. “That often means engaging families in conversations, I have a lot of experience developing systems for (integrational supports) and multi-tiered support.”

She said that by addressing issues that students have while in lower grades early on, it can make a difference in how they succeed later on in high school.

“I often felt like we were making the same decisions for kids that are in high school, that were made for kids in elementary school,” she said. “I always felt that we could’ve done more for this child in elementary school and that would’ve changed the conversation in high school.”

The challenges ahead

When asked about what she foresees as some of the major district challenges going forward, MacClain said that the one that’s at the top of the list is the district’s budget — and it’s a moving target she doesn’t think will go away soon.

“I know we’re not alone,” she said. “Schools in California and throughout the country are really going to be facing some dramatic budget changes, and I don’t think that’s going to be a one-year issue, I think that’s going to be a multi-year issue.”

Viewing it as a long-term challenge, MacClain said that the district likely won’t really be able to predict steadier budgetary footing until there’s a better general understanding of what economic impact the COVID-19 pandemic will have on the state and on Cloverdale.

Additionally, she said that she’s focused on trying to create a school reopening plan for the fall that “fits the community” while also taking into account the rapidly changing landscape of how districts will be able to operate.

She said another challenge will be maintaining momentum for the district’s ongoing bond projects. 

“For me personally, one of the important things is going to be stepping in and making sure the bond projects continue and that we make use of the bond funding,” she said. “I do think, even though we’re confronting a budget reduction, our bonds make our facilities stronger and that’s a positive.”

“As a new superintendent, there are those things that are urgent and need to change immediately, but whenever you have a transition it takes time to build trust and it takes time to build a relationship,” she said.

A bit of background 

In her 12th year of school leadership, MacClain’s held a variety of different roles, and she’s worked with students in elementary school through high school.

Prior to starting as a superintendent-principal at Two Rock, MacClain was an administrator at Petaluma’s Casa Grande High School. She’s also worked as a grant coordinator and visual arts teacher in Santa Rosa High School’s ArtQuest program, and as an assistant principal at a high school in San Francisco.

She received an undergraduate degree from U.C. Berkeley after studying studio art and theatrical costume. She then went on to receive a master’s degree in culture and spirituality from Holy Names University in Oakland.

MacClain said that her identity is first and foremost being an artist, and that being an artist is one of the reasons she became an educator. 

“The arts really saved me as a student … that led me to become a teacher and that led me to become an administrator,” she said.

“I was a costume designer and a visual artist and I just didn’t want to be in a studio … I wanted to do something that made the world better, and for me, that was teaching,” MacClain continued. “I never really expected that I would end up doing the work that I’m doing, but I feel like it’s important. What drives me is trying to make the world better for children. I’m very idealistic and I feel like we can get so in the weeds of running schools and districts, but I still have the belief that the children we educate are going to be the ones that (create a better future).”

She hopes that by being an administrator, she can help facilitate a better, memorable educational experience for students.

“I want kids to have the feeling that you had when you were in kindergarten and school was magical. I wish kids would have that feeling the whole time,” she said. 

“I know that Jeremy was in Cloverdale for six years and for superintendents, that’s a stretch,” MacClain said. “I definitely feel a sense of responsibility. I want the community to feel like they can trust the person who’s stepping in and that it’s not going to be someone who’s going to do their time and then leave.”

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