The race to succeed Marin County’s seven-term schools superintendent pits a veteran educator and administrator against a school board member with decades of education experience.
John Carroll, superintendent of the Lagunitas and Bolinas-Stinson school districts, and Michele Crncich Hodge, a member of the Mill Valley School District board of trustees, on the June 7 primary election ballot to run the Marin County Office of Education.
Mary Jane Burke, who has been superintendent since 1995, announced in January she would decline to seek an eighth term. Her term expires on Jan. 1, 2023.
Both candidates say their goal is to forge cooperation and collaboration among staff, parents and administrators in the county’s 18 school districts, which serve more than 30,000 public school students in kindergarten through 12th grade.
“I am answering the call to service by teachers and support staff who know my track record,” said Hodge, 61, of Mill Valley. “I am committed to listening to all stakeholders.”
Hodge, for example, said the Marin schools’ “crisis management” during the pandemic could have been improved through “better communication” from the top. She herself ran a private “micropod” during the pandemic to help families whose children were struggling with remote instruction.
“I would be a servant-leader and put my transformational leadership hat on,” she said. “My strength is in looking at all perspectives.”
She also pledged to close the achievement gap in Marin schools and address “pervasive inequities.”
Over the past 27 years, Hodge has been a teacher, principal, district administrator and researcher in Marin and Sonoma counties. She was elected to the Mill Valley School District board in November 2020. She is a former Miller Creek School District teacher and served three years as president of the teachers union at Miller Creek.
Hodge is endorsed by the California Teachers Union, the North Bay Labor Council and 11 Marin teachers union chapters. She is also endorsed by a number of teachers union leaders, including Erin Frazier and Linda Brune, co-presidents of the Mill Valley Teachers Association.
Hodge has one daughter who went through local schools.
Carroll, 58, of Woodacre started his education career in Marin as an English teacher about 30 years ago. He is the longest serving superintendent in Marin, having held his current post since 2014.
“My epiphany came when I realized it’s all about kids, and what’s best for kids,” Carroll said. “Trust is huge in order to bring people together.”
Carroll said he was impressed with, and participated in, the team alongside the Marin County Office of Education staff who responded to the pandemic.
“It was such a chaotic period,” he said. “Support at the county level was key.”
He has two children, one a teenager and one age 20.
Carroll is endorsed by Burke, who, on his campaign website, said Carroll “always led with the heart of teachers, believing that all students can succeed and that all deserve the best possible education, no matter their socio-economic background or zip code. ”
He is endorsed by most Marin school district superintendents and six who retired or left the district. He is also endorsed by a wide range of school board trustees – including most of the Lagunitas board – and elected officials from across Marin.
The endorsers also include Kimberly Berman, superintendent of the Mill Valley School District, as well as the other members of the Mill Valley board of trustees.
Hodge, who allegedly was heard on an open mic during a board meeting calling the other Mill Valley officials “idiots,” said she believes the issue was that the focus in Mill Valley was going off track. She said she does not recall making the comment, and there was no recording of the meeting.
“Mill Valley has 150 policies that are all 20 years old,” she said. “We need a joint vision, a moral imperative, on how to behave in service to students.”
She said her focus was that Mill Valley “needed a mission,” and that her fellow trustees could have seen the incident as an “opportunity for collaboration and communication.”
“Instead, they endorsed John Carroll,” she said.
Meanwhile, Carroll has gone public recently over the Lagunitas district’s opposition to a new state law that requires the district – and all other so-called “basic aid” districts whose budgets are financed by property taxes – to pay a per-student fee to a local charter school if students who live in the district attend the charter.
In the case of Lagunitas, the district is on the hook this year for 14 students who are attending Ross Valley Charter school in Fairfax. Carroll said he is learning to navigate the various community and government stakeholders to try to work out differences over the issue.
“As a county superintendent, there is a huge importance in setting a tone for how we listen and voice our disagreements,” Carroll said. “It’s been a tough two years, but my response would be to set that tone.”
Hodge said that if she was elected county superintendent, she would “go up a level to the state” to work on charter school financing issues.
“By fighting each other at the county level, I think children are losing,” she said.
Education: Master’s degree in educational leadership, Sonoma State University. Bachelor’s degree in speech communication, California Polytechnic State University.
Experience: Superintendent, Bolinas-Stinson and Lagunitas school districts, 2014 to present; assistant superintendent, Tamalpais Union High School District; principal, Tamiscal High School; assistant principal, Sir Francis Drake High School, White Hill Middle School and Mill Valley Middle School. Teacher from 1991 to 2002 in Richmond, Vacaville and Mill Valley.
MICHELE CRNCICH HODGE
Residence: Mill Valley
Education: Doctoral degree, University of La Verne, education and organizational leadership. Master’s degree, education and reading, Southern Oregon University. Bachelor’s degree, economics and French, University of California, Berkeley.
Experience: Mill Valley School District trustee, elected November 2020. Miller Creek School District teacher, 2001 to 2014, including three years as president of the teachers union. Principal at La Tercera STEM elementary school, Old Adobe School District, Petaluma, 2014 to 2018; administrator, San Rafael City Schools, 2018-2019.