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June 28, 2022

New leader for SBHS District

With a background and experience in school construction and
fiscal management and as a communicator with teachers’ groups, Jean
Burns Slater is the new superintendent for the San Benito High
School District.
With a background and experience in school construction and fiscal management and as a communicator with teachers’ groups, Jean Burns Slater is the new superintendent for the San Benito High School District.

At a board meeting Wednesday night, trustees announced the selection of Slater to replace long-time Superintendent Dick Lowry, who will retire Feb. 1.

“I feel strongly about her in that she’s very qualified for all the areas we need a superintendent for – curriculum, negotiations, a new campus,” Board President Ken Kovanda said. “She’s had experience in all these, and she’s a people person and gets along well with people. I think that’s very important.”

Slater currently works in the San Rafael city school system as associate superintendent for secondary education. She oversees all instructional aspects of three high schools and two middle-school programs. She manages programs and budgets, supervises all curriculum development and oversees student expulsions and suspensions, among other things.

“I’m extremely excited,” Slater said after being introduced at the meeting. “I came from a district that’s really small. With that in mind, I feel really comfortable in all the different areas because I came from a small district and you just get so involved in such things as business, construction and personnel.”

Slater currently lives in a one-bedroom apartment with her husband in Marin County, north of San Francisco, and said she is “very excited” to move to a smaller, quieter area.

In San Rafael, Slater is also the chief spokesperson and administrator responsible for negotiations with the California Teachers Federation and classified employees – something the current board saw as an asset at a high school where communication between the teachers union, school board and administration has been lacking.

“I certainly feel like I can open communications,” Slater said.

Since she began as a teacher of English and home economics in 1975, Slater has made a career of education. After teaching for 15 years she became the assistant principal at Laguna Middle School in San Luis Obispo and, after four years, became the principal in 1994.

She received a master’s degree in home economics from Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo in 1981 and another master’s of instruction in economic education in 1985 from the University of Delaware. In 1999, the year she became associate superintendent for the San Rafael school district, Slater received a Ph.D. in education from the University of Southern California.

“She’s a real treasure,” said Laura Milholland, San Rafael city schools superintendents secretary who has worked with Slater since she started the position. “I feel like she’s been one of the backbones of the district. She has all the qualities looked for in a leader in schools. She’s compassionate, hard-working, dedicated, personable, very, very knowledgeable and has a great sense of humor. We’re going to be very sorry to see her go.”

As principal of Laguna Middle School, Slater oversaw a $10 million renovation of the school. The SBHSD board values that experience with construction of a new freshman campus underway.

The board also valued Slater’s recent experience in fiscal management, especially after Lowry’s statement at the board meeting that the state will probably impose more cutbacks in school funding in January.

“I’m really impressed with her qualifications and background and really looking forward to her joining the staff here at the high school,” board member Shelly Donati said. “I think she’ll be able to offer great leadership and be a real asset to the community. She has a lot of experience in several areas we were looking at. She worked through school construction, she has a very strong background in fiscal management, she’s good with community relations and will fit in well with the community.”

The SBHSD board hired Leadership Association to help find 80 qualified candidates from a variety of ethic backgrounds from around the state. Slater learned about the opening through the recruitment firm and applied.

The board narrowed down the number of candidates to 11 on Nov. 6 and notified Slater that she was one of them. She then visited Hollister.

“I wanted to make sure it was a community I was interested in,” she said. “I went to a football game, read the local paper about the contention on who was on board and the board elections.”

After the board narrowed the search to four candidates, some board members went to San Rafael to interview Slater, her boss, the people she works with, the Marin County superintendent of schools, teachers at the district, teachers union representative, school board members and San Rafael police.

Out of two “very qualified” candidates, Slater was “a little better than the other one,” Kovanda said.

“I’m just excited,” said board member Judy Rider. “I’m hoping everybody that was here will be really impressed by Jean. I think they’re going to be really happy.”

Lowry, who has been involved with education in San Benito County for 33 years and has been the SBHSD superintendent for six, said he will work with Slater in the coming months.

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