BUSD Supt. Katie Kolker talks goals, building trust
Katie Kolker took over as Bishop Unified School District (BUSD) interim Superintendent on November 4, 2019, following the conclusion of former Superintendent Jon Ray’s tumultuous tenure earlier in the year. At that meeting on November 4, BUSD Board Chair said of Kolker, “We trust this is the person to calm the waters.”
For some, Kolker is a familiar face: she serves as principal of Palisade Glacier High School, Bishop Independent Study, and Keith Bright Juvenile Court School. She came to Inyo County in 2009 as a school counselor for the Jill Kinmont Boothe School and Big Pine K-12, having previously worked as a school counselor and administrator in Orange County. In 2012, she transitioned to a K-12 administrator role in BUSD and became Alternative Education Principal for BUSD in 2015.
Kolker reported that the transition process has been smooth, noting that “I feel fortunate to have received a lot of support from staff, fellow administrators, and community members.”
At the board meeting where she accepted the position, she told the crowd “I will be a conduit for your voice,” and in a letter to the BUSD community on November 7, Kolker explained that “I value collaborative and informed decision making, effective communication and authentic relationship building. We can’t move forward without trust.”
In a conversation with the Sheet, Kolker reiterated this message. She explained that her two goals were 1. “to really listen to the people closest to our students (parents and teachers) to get input and perspective in making district wide decisions,” and 2. “to re-establish strong relationships and trust with stakeholders.”
“I believe that relationships built on trust aren’t something that you ever just get done,” said Kolker.
“It’s something that we always need to work on and keep as the foundation of doing business so that we’re never in a position to work in isolation or make uninformed
She also noted that “One thing we can take away from the Fall of this year is how strong and united our community is in having a voice for what’s best for our students and schools.”
Kolker also noted that BUSD is atypical compared to other school districts in California, citing its remote location as a potential roadblock to collaborating and communicating with educators outside of the area.
“I do find that once people come to Bishop, they stay in Bishop,” said Kolker. “We have a strong community here that really cares about each other.”
Ray’s brief time as Superintendent was marked by controversy over a number of issues such as transparency, implementation of MAP (Measures of Academic Progress) testing, and a letter sent to parents about underperforming students.
Kolker aims to address those concerns head on. She pointed to MAP testing as a key concern that she’d been focused on already, explaining that she’d met with administrators and teachers from each BUSD school to discuss using MAP as a K-12 “performance screener” and had plans to adjust practices accordingly.
Kolker has also overseen the formation of a Dual-Language Committee for staff and community members representing the Dual Language program. In addition, the District Safety Committee has partnered with the Bishop Paiute Tribe’s Parent Advisory Council to provide input on a potential school resource officer, funded by a grant from the Bishop Police Department.
“One message I continue to receive is gratitude for asking for input in making important decisions,” said Kolker. “Even if people don’t necessarily agree with the ultimate decision, most appreciate the transparency in being asked, especially when they know that their perspective was heard and taken into account in the decision-making process.”
Kolker acknowledged that there is still much to be done, but expressed optimism in BUSD’s capacity to succeed in their goals. “We have ground to cover but a lot to work with, especially in terms of the quality of our human capital,” said Kolker. “Our staff at BUSD is fantastic, and dedicated to students and our schools.”