New school superintendent sees potential in Denair; feeling’s mutual

01/26/2014 6:35 PM

01/26/2014 8:48 PM

The Denair Unified School District’s next leader takes the helm with a budget still in the red and relationships frayed after 18 months of dismay and discord. But incoming Superintendent Aaron Rosander said the community will emerge stronger.

“You come out the other side together, and you’re tempered,” he said.

“I see tremendous potential,” Rosander said. “It’s just a matter of setting our compass for where we want to go.”

The first step is communication, he said, “Building understanding comes through good, old-fashioned networking and teamwork.”

The tentative contract that teachers will finish voting on Tuesday, and that trustees will consider Thursday, would help bring the district back into the black in two years. “Over a 24-month period, we’ll climb our way out of the deficit,” Rosander said.

Denair’s financial problems came with lower attendance and state funding cuts during the recession. “Declining enrollment is a reality,” Rosander said. “If the district isn’t paring down, it is an insidious fiscal killer.”

The district ran out of reserves in spring of 2013 and had to get a loan from the Stanislaus County Office of Education to pay its bills. Continued overspending began the process of arranging a state takeover of the district, a cloud expected to clear after adoption of the three-year contract with its teachers.

When Rosander became superintendent of the Mariposa County Unified School District in early 2010, it too was in danger of a state takeover. He led the district through closing three schools and other cuts to get it back on its financial feet.

The new chief will spend the first week of February moving into his Denair job while training a replacement for his dual role in Mariposa County, where he was the elected county superintendent as well as school district superintendent. The single-district county serves 1,800 students spread over 1,450 square miles. Denair Unified, covering 56 square miles, is one of 24 school districts in Stanislaus County.

On Feb. 10, Rosander will be in Denair full time. He said he’s looking forward to wearing only one hat, and to having all his schools within a one-block radius of the district office on Lester Street.

“I’ll be getting to know the lay of the land,” he said. “What are the dreams, what the community really believes in? What do the kids think? I plan to do a whole lot more listening at this point.”

Community members at a school board reception Thursday said they were impressed with the new superintendent and glad to be turning the page.

“I’m excited about a new start,” said board student member Katelyn Lawson. “Maybe get that Denair pride back.”

“He seems like a people person,” said school bus driver Diane Noz. “I think he’s going to get along with everybody.”

“I think he’s exactly what we need,” said Aaron Delworth.

“We’re just so happy to have new blood in here, and positive, hopeful,” said parent Diana Hulbert. “Happy to have good leaders — the school board, too.”

Standing beside her, Marie Hirschkorn chimed in, “It’s just going to be really good.”

“This is a tremendous night for us,” said trustee John Plett. “The thing I noticed, looking out, the crowd was full of smiles. This is a great thing for us.”

Rosander, 57, holds a teaching credential in life science and an administrative services credential. His first teaching job was at an alternative high school in Hollister.

“They ate me alive the first few months,” he said. But with help from other teachers he found his stride, and in 1989 he was named Teacher of the Year for Continuation High Schools.

Rosander became a biology teacher at Mariposa High School in 1992 and was promoted through the ranks to principal. He moved to Tulare County, serving as superintendent of the 400-student Alpaugh Unified School District before returning to Mariposa to be superintendent in 2010.

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