Funding and implementing large-scale instructional programs presents both significant challenges and unique opportunities for educational leaders in any district. They must navigate diverse student needs, funding constraints, and the ever-changing dynamics of teaching and learning. To shed light on these complexities, we recently hosted a roundtable discussion with two distinguished superintendents, Krystal Lomanto of San Benito County, California, and Michael P. West of Colusa County, California. Moderated by Dr. Gregory Spencer, VP of Bilingual Literacy and Equity Impact at Footsteps2Brilliance, and Dennis Muizers, VP of Literacy and Leadership at Footsteps2Brilliance, this Q & A captures valuable insights on addressing literacy needs, engaging communities, and more. Their experiences and wisdom provide valuable lessons for administrators striving to make a meaningful impact in their districts.

About the Panelists

Krystal Lomanto is the Superintendent of San Benito County, California. This is her 34th year in education. She started as a high school science teacher and has held various administrative roles before becoming the first female county superintendent in 2015.

Michael P. West is Superintendent of Schools for Colusa County, California. This is his 35th year in education. He began his career as a science teacher and coach before transitioning into administrative roles, eventually becoming the county superintendent in 2015.

Q: Can you describe your communities and the students you serve?

Lomanto: San Benito is a small, rural county. We serve about 12,500 students countywide. As a county office, we support 11 districts and several programs within the county office itself. We are predominantly Hispanic with a large population of migrant students and English language learners. About 12% of our total population are identified as special education. We’re quite diverse in district size as well, with some districts having only 4-250 students.

West: Colusa County is also rural and very agriculturally centered. with about 22,000 residents. We have a high unemployment rate, particularly in the off-season. We serve a population of about 80% Hispanic students and have an active migrant camp. Migrant families roll into Colusa County in March and usually stay maybe through November. Those newcomer students need attention and help, but they’re not going to fit in our traditional school year. Overall, we have a really vibrant, involved community.

Q: How do you address the literacy needs of your migrant and newcomer populations?

Lomanto: In California, we receive specific funding for migrant education, and we’ve been strategic with using these funds. We know that strategies that benefit migrant students are strategies that are good for all students. Last year we ran a literacy initiative called “Learning How English Works,” a research-based program out of Loyola Marymount University. We made sure educators could attend these sessions so they could receive the training to go back to support their districts. This initiative not only supported our English language learners and migrant students, but supported all learners. And that’s just one example.


West: When students arrive mid-year, some of our superintendents have essentially had to create new school schedules to accommodate them. We’ve gotten creative and focused on literacy outreach. We provide every migrant family a literacy welcome bag to get them started and show what’s available to them. Clever Kids University from Footsteps2Brilliance, for example, is excellent for getting non-readers started and ready for our reading program, And Literacy for All. It’s a collaboration of literacy partners, education partners, and corporate partners that focuses on getting and keeping everyone in the community involved in literacy.

Q: What are some strategies you use to engage the community in supporting your initiatives?

Lomanto: Community engagement is crucial. We partner with local businesses and organizations to support educational initiatives. For example, restaurants sponsor meals for our training sessions, and we celebrate and amplify their business. We also organize events to celebrate and thank our community partners, which fosters a collaborative spirit.

West: Similarly, we work with local employers to provide on-site literacy training for their employees. This helps improve communication and literacy skills, which benefits both the employees and the employers. We also involve community members in our literacy programs to create a broader impact.

Q: What advice do you have for administrators who face funding constraints but want to implement new initiatives?

Lomanto: It’s essential to be strategic and creative with your funding. Engage your team in finding savings and reallocate funds to prioritize initiatives that benefit students. Look for grants and community partnerships to supplement your budget. Collaboration and determination are key.

West: Work closely with other local agencies and organizations. Pool resources and apply for grants as a group. Building strong relationships within your community can lead to innovative solutions and shared funding opportunities. Always keep the focus on what’s best for the students.

Q: Any final words of wisdom for new administrators?

Lomanto: Surround yourself with mentors and colleagues who inspire you. Always put students first and make informed decisions based on data and needs. Engage with your community and never stop advocating for the best interests of your students.

West: Stay committed and passionate about your work. Understand that education is a collaborative effort, and building strong partnerships will help you achieve your goals. Remember, it’s all about providing the best possible education for every child.

Thank you to our panelists for sharing their insights and experiences. Budgeting for and implementing large-scale instructional programs is challenging, but with dedication, collaboration, and innovative thinking, we can create impactful changes in our educational communities. 

This discussion has been edited and condensed. To watch the discussion in full, click here.

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