“We’re stronger when we’re together,” is a theme that seems to run through the programs that Dr. Vicki Barber has built and supported in her 19 years as El Dorado County Superintendent of Schools, through her community involvement and now, through her announcement of retirement.
“None of us can do it all. We aren’t as strong when we work in our own little silos. Making connections maximizes who we can help,” said Barber in her office at the El Dorado County Office of Education. On Jan. 8, Barber, 61, announced her retirement, which becomes effective on June 30 of this year, a year before her current term as superintendent is up.
She takes great pride in the special education programs, alternative education options, child development and professional development programs she and teams of staff have built through her five terms of office and she wants to keep them going. That’s one of the main reasons Barber is leaving a little early — she’s planning for continuity and a smooth transition.
“When you get a new superintendent, they bring in a whole new group of people, but our teams are so strong and the programs we offer are high quality, they need to be maintained,” said Barber. “Also, despite the passage of Prop. 30, finances are still a problem, so we need a person who understands both the finances and the programs.”
The County Board of Education requested EDCOE Deputy Superintendent Jeremy Meyers, on Barber’s recommendation, to step forward on July 1 to serve as County Superintendent for the final year of Barber’s term. This decision will receive official approval on Feb. 5 at the County Education Board of Directors meeting.
“We employ 600 people and work with about 6,000 throughout the county. We want our high-quality, service-oriented programs to continue. A new person will bring new perspectives and that’s good, but our culture of collaboration and our core values need to continue. This is too big a responsibility to create a void,” said Barber.
Year by year, Barber and the EDCOE staff have realized a series of goals. “We wanted our special educations services to be able to offer programs for autistic students and as of the 2012-2013 year; we can offer that now,” said Barber. Another goal was to increase the options available to meet student learning needs. “We’ve been very aggressive in making more options like online programs available almost every hour of the day or night to support student learning.”
Creating a culture of collaboration for both school districts and community was another goal. “We have 15 school districts and we have worked cooperatively to maximize our resources. I take a great deal of pride in our school districts and in providing leadership for them,” said Barber. “We have one system with 15 individual districts.”
Entrepreneurial isn’t a word usually associated with a county office of education, but through Barber’s involvement with charter schools and the high-quality child development programs, income flows into the county education coffers. “The State Board of Education asked us to oversee about 100 charter schools throughout the state and that gives us some financial resources,” said Barber.
In addition, wanting to bridge the achievement gap for social disadvantage and English as a Second Language students, EDCOE put focus on creating high-quality preschool and child development programs. “We offer subsidized programs and are the only Headstart providers in the county,” said Barber. “According to a UCLA study, our programs were found to have high-quality outcomes. The data is very persuasive that children who go to preschool do better in school, so we have child development on school sites in almost every district in the county. In recent years we opened them up to parents who can afford to pay as well. Parent fee supported child development programs have been a big success.”
Barber is known statewide for her expertise in special education, charter schools and school accountability. She was honored as Superintendent of the Year in 2005 by the Regional Association of California School Administrators and in 2006 by the Small School Districts’ Association as well as being selected as one of the Women Who Mean Business by the Sacramento Business Journal in 2004. In 2011 she received the Ferd Keisel Distinguished Service Award as well as the outstanding school administrator in the state title from the Association of California School Administrators and in 2012, she was honored as an Exemplary Leader by the American Leadership Forum.
Her community involvement is huge and Barber is a member on many community organization boards. Growing up in a small town in Iowa, Barber said that most people were involved in the community, including her parents, but her choice to become involved was pragmatic. “It makes sense. Schools are part of the community. Doors should be open so that information flows both ways. So much more can be accomplished when schools and communities work together,” she said.
Bob Edwards, former teacher, principal and superintendent of Buckeye and Mother Lode school districts has known Barber since she worked as a school psychologist for El Dorado County in the 1980s.”In 1994, during her first term, Vicki called folks in her office together and asked for their input about what was needed. I said a youth center. She put it on the white board and made it a goal. People had tried to start clubs for kids seven or eight times previously, but she really supported this and that’s how the Boys and Girls Club came into being,” Edwards said.
Another major community contribution was the Cameron Park Rotary Observatory. “Vicki built a partnership between the Cameron Park Rotary, Los Rios College and the County Office of Education to use Veerkamp Park, the land behind Indian Creek School to build an observatory,” said Edwards.”It opened in 2006 and we’ve had 30,000 visitors, including classes from Sac State, Los Rios and local middle schools. I’ve worked for five superintendents and Vicki is head and shoulders above all of them in her community involvement.”
Los Rios College Dean of Instruction Dale Van Dam has worked with Barber in the community for years. “She and the EDCOE team have implemented great programs, both in a strictly educational sense and to address other community concerns, that are truly inspiring,” he said. “She is not deterred by the first ‘no’ response that all of us often encounter when we try to do new things. She is also a flexible and collaborative leader willing to accept a course change (on those rare occasions when someone has had a better idea) and willing to spread the credit when a project or an initiative goes right.”
Barber has been married to her husband, Lou Barber, former California assistant state superintendent, for 31 years. They have a home in El Dorado Hills and one in Arizona where they are enthusiastic Arizona Cardinals supporters. “But if the Cardinals can’t be in the Superbowl, it’s got to be a California team,” Barber said.
When Lou Barber became assistant state superintendent, Vicki Barber came to work for the El Dorado County Office of Education. “I was working as a consultant in education with contracts all over the state and when he became assistant state superintendent, we didn’t want any conflict of interest with contracts,” she said.
She doesn’t plan to leave El Dorado County or the community organizations she is part of. “For the first six months after my retirement I want to donate my services to the COE and then, after that, if the superintendent chooses, I may continue to work under contract, probably with charter schools.” She also has a passion for special education and public school accountability and may work in those areas as well. Under the Pension Reform Act, Barber is allowed to do CalSTRS eligible work for up to $40,000 a year without limitation on retirement benefits.
With her “can do” mindset, gracious, down-to-earth approach, generosity with credit and frugality with blame and a commanding expertise — Barber is going to be a challenge to replace.
Contact Wendy Schultz at 530-344-5069 or [email protected] Follow @WSchultzMtDemo