New Interim Superintendent Erika Sanchez not only has a long history with the Hollister School District as a teacher and administrator—she also grew up attending Hollister schools.
“I’ve always known I wanted to be a teacher, basically since the first grade,” Sanchez said. “I knew I wanted to come back here and teach, and I did. For me, that has been one of the greatest joys in my life.”
Sanchez returned to her roots and let them grow in San Benito County.
“This is my home,” she said proudly.
The Hollister School District Board of Trustees named Sanchez as interim superintendent following the departure of former Superintendent Diego Ochoa. Trustees knew Sanchez had a local history, as well as immense experience that makes her ideal for the leadership role.
This is her 17th year working for HSD. She started as a classroom teacher at Ladd Lane School and worked her way up the ranks, eventually holding various administration positions before becoming assistant superintendent in her most recent role.
“All these different capacities in which I’ve served have allowed me to be well versed in knowing all the different aspects of what makes the Hollister School District a complex organization,” she said.
Additionally, she is fluent in Spanish, “which will allow me to directly communicate with our Hispanic population here in town,” she added.
Having a thoughtful leadership style is a “very important” priority for Sanchez.
“I see leadership as being able to have a very adaptable and fluid approach to the organization as a whole and all the layers within the organization,” she said.
For Sanchez, this past summer session was a precursor to the reopening of schools Aug. 16. The district had 1,300 students enrolled.
“We were able to demonstrate we can safely receive our students and safely send them home every day without any type of safety breach or outbreak, so to speak, of Covid,” she said.
Sanchez recollected how some families chose to have their students stay on remote learning to finish the 2020-21 school year and others opted for in-person instruction. Some students may have faced isolation issues, while others may have lost loved ones during the pandemic.
She underscored the district will focus on helping students with social-emotional needs. A new team is in place with 12 employees throughout the district focused on social-emotional issues. There will be at least one of these staff members at each school.
“Their focus will be to work with students who are demonstrating social-emotional needs such as anxiety, depression or social-emotional difficulties,” Sanchez said.
Additionally in response to the pandemic, she mentioned plans to keep all schools cleaned and sanitized on a daily basis, along with personal protective equipment and sanitizer readily available at each site.
As for other challenges, Sanchez emphasized that in spite of the county’s growth in recent years, enrollment at district schools hasn’t necessarily followed suit.
“For me, one of the challenges will be identifying how we can better communicate with these families and show them all of the positives, what the Hollister School District is all about.”
She’s looking forward to welcoming students back to school.
“I’m very excited to be able to see children on campus, to be able to see them interact with each other, to see them use those social interaction skills they have not been able to use for the last 18 months,” she said.
She’s also excited about the new site, Rancho Santana School at 1454 Santana Ranch Drive off Fairview Road. Sanchez lauded “hundreds of people who have touched that project from the inception of it to the creation of the facility.”
With regard to staff development, Sanchez understands success is dependent on recruiting and retaining high-quality employees.
“Hiring early is a key to being able to fill all vacancies,” she said, adding it’s particularly important in California with the teacher shortage. She mentioned the district remains active at job fairs and hires international teachers through an exchange program.
Maintaining a high-quality staff also depends on a strong, stable budget. She underscored that district officials—with input from various stakeholders—build the budget through the Local Control and Accountability Plan (LCAP).
“All expenses and all of our investments in education here in the school district are guided through the LCAP — goal by goal, action step by action step,” she said.
Overall, she said having a new superintendent who’s familiar with the community and district allows for a smooth transition.
“I absolutely can’t wait to embark on this new chapter for our organization.”