Q&A with Paso Robles Schools Superintendent Curt Dubost
–Dr. Curt Dubost is a lifelong resident of Paso Robles and our current superintendent of the Paso Robles Joint Unified School District. Based on the Q&A below, he’s led an interesting life and it was good to hear from him in regards to our local schools and the current COVID-19 issues. This year hasn’t been easy for anyone and I imagine it’s even more difficult when you are in a position like superintendent. Thank you to Dr. Dubost for taking the time to answer my questions.
Q&A with Superintendent Curt Dubost
Are you from Paso Robles originally? If not, where are you from and when did you land here?
I was born in Paso Robles in 1954 in the old hospital up on the hill, but I did not grow up here because my parents divorced when I was very young. I grew up first on the Cal Poly campus where my mom was the first female to earn a bachelor’s of science degree and later on in San Diego. I returned to the North County in 1987 as Principal of Templeton High School, then became superintendent there.
How long have you been in your current position?
I’ve been in my current position for about 15 months.
What were you doing prior to this current position?
I was superintendent in San Miguel for eight years, before that I was briefly retired and opened our family winery out in Adelaida. Before that, I was the superintendent of Taft Union High School District for five years and in Templeton for about 15 years. Before coming back to SLO County, I was a site administrator in the Sweetwater Union High School District in Chula Vista, CA.
How have you been coping with COVID-19 personally? Professionally?
I have been trying to follow the rules as they are updated as best I can. Both my wife and I are over 65 and have preexisting conditions and are very concerned about that, as well as concerned about setting a model for everybody to comply with mask-wearing and other preventative measures. My wife and I own Dubost Winery and it has been very important that we model compliance with all of the mitigations for our customers there as well. At the school district, we have been trying to find the balance between being reasonable and responsive, staying in compliance, and also thread the needle on so many issues that have been raised.
How have you seen COVID-19 impact Paso Robles from your perspective as superintendent?
It was an incredible event to have to close down schools literally over a weekend last March and move immediately into distance learning as best we could. We tried to hold out hope that we would return last year because we wanted our seniors to come back and participate in graduation and the rest of the kids to be able to finish out the year. We were very concerned that if we announced too early that we would not be returning to campus, kids would lose interest and not complete their work, particularly when they were told they would be held harmless and their grades couldn’t go down. Unfortunately, that is exactly what happened. We tried very hard to have mini graduations at War Memorial Stadium but at the last minute that plan was vetoed and we ended up at the fairgrounds, but we made it work. I hope that the public is seeing we are trying every which way we can to make it as reasonably normal as possible while complying with all of the regulations with which we all must contend.
The community like the county, has been divided, with some people adamant about wearing masks and others just as certain they are an unneeded government over-reach. Probably the most difficult thing for us to deal with was in the middle of the shutdown with the intense pressure to wear masks, there were local demonstrations in the streets. It was hard to explain, for example, how it was okay to have a peaceful demonstration but not some other gatherings, like a gathering of fully-protected parents and students for a mini graduation? Or, how is it okay to have child care for essential workers but not have school? The nuanced exceptions have been very hard to explain to people because a lot of them just don’t make sense.
Has the district done anything to pivot during this crazy time other than just the distance learning?
Yes. We have tried to strategically plan for enhanced homeschool long-term and really build and expand our homeschool program, especially for families that decide to stay in homeschool. We have tried to build on our long-term technology capacity and use the one-time monies that we have received through the CARES Act for infrastructure and training to hopefully come back better than we were. I do believe the very nature of “normal” schooling is changing and I hope for the better with more options for teachers and families.
What is your vision for the Paso school district over the next few years?
Our goals remain the same. First and foremost, our goal is to maximize the number of students reading at or above grade level by grade 3. The statistics are irrefutable on that, if you are a student in 3rd-grade, reading at grade level, able to read to learn for content, you like school and you know the rules, it is almost 100-percent certain that you will graduate on time and do well. Tragically, conversely, if you are not, all of the remedial programs will have a hard time catching you up.
We also want to improve our reclassification rate for our English language learners so that they make the transition to English language proficiency more swiftly and are so designated under the law. We want to maximize the number of students who can succeed in Algebra in junior high as those skills are a gateway to many opportunities in high school college prep and other classes. We have benefitted from the pandemic in that we have saved about $1.4M in money that was not spent last spring on transportation, utilities, substitute teachers, and other costs inherent in having students in classrooms. Our reserves are much expanded from where they were, though much of that money is one-time from COVID-19 relief.
As a result, we do now have the wherewithal to reinstate some of the popular programs that we had, such as elementary sports, that we think are critically important as kids come back to school and can play outside, socialize, and enjoy physical education. We also hope to bring back visual and performing arts (VAPA) programs outside of athletics for band, choir, and dance. At each of our elementary schools, I would like to see a thematic approach. Georgia Brown Elementary, our dual-immersion program, is the most successful example of a magnet program in the history of our school district and I would like to see if we can expand on that with STEAM, Core Knowledge and Great Books, or any number of themes for each school to be most noted for.
We think we are going to have a lot more capability for technology. Hopefully, we will have more opportunities to do flipped classes, as an example a taped class that high-schoolers could watch as their homework and then come to class and have a Socratic dialog with the teacher and classmates. Also, If a student is unable to attend class, they can hopefully tune in to the lecture from home. There are lots of ways we see that we can come back from this situation stronger, better and nimbler than before.
2020 really has thrown so many curveballs at us. What is something good that has come from this year and what has been one of the more difficult things for you, teachers, etc.?
I think we have had to look at ourselves and see what our core purposes are. We have seen some holes in our operation as far as technology and training. We think we will be much more technologically adept when we come back to normal. As I mentioned, the savings that we incurred since March and the one-time monies for relief have gotten us out of the financial stress that we were in, at least for the short term.
If you had one message for students and parents, what would that be?
Thank you for your understanding so far and please continue to have patience. We are all going through uncharted waters and I am sure there will be continued hiccups. Nobody thought that when started school this year that it would be 118 degrees with smoke-filled skies, rolling energy blackouts, and internet issues. We have all had to continue to do the best that we can. I will continue to try to find common ground and make decisions I am hopeful will be unifying not divisive.
What do you enjoy doing outside of work?
I enjoy working at our family winery where I make pizzas on the weekends and I most enjoy, over anything in the world, spending time with my grandkids – I have eight and a ninth on the way.
What are some of your favorite aspects of the Paso Robles community as a whole?
I am a life-long resident of Paso Robles and my family has been here since 1882. I am enjoying the transition of Paso Robles to an internationally-known destination for tourism and wineries. Our family winery was the site for the recent Wynona Ryder and Keanu Reeves movie “Destination Wedding”, and I think it’s symbolic that Paso Robles was picked for this. Having Paso Robles evolve has become fascinating to watch and having both the business and being superintendent during that time has been very challenging yet extremely rewarding.
Is there anything particular that you’d like to see improved upon in the Paso school system?
I think we continue to need to find the sweet spot where we emphasize the total child and have opportunities for physical education, social-emotional development, developing arts and other talents but also have a very, very rigorous academic program so that no student will feel ever confident of their chances to compete for the most prestigious universities coming out of Paso Robles High School. I was blessed to be able to attend Stanford University from a similar public high school and will always have that as a goal as superintendent.
When do you think kids will be able to go back into the schools?
Barring new development in November, either partially under a waiver or district-wide if our County is off the purple monitoring list.
When they do eventually go back do you foresee schools operating completely differently than they used to?
No, but we will be in some kind of hybrid at least to start, with morning and afternoon or every other day depending on the elementary school. For the secondary schools, I hope with all of the enhanced technology and what we have learned from this, we can come back stronger than ever, even if to start it is with alternating days of classes and continued restriction on the size of groups.