By October 26, 2022 0 Comments Read More →

Interview – Dr Sara Noguchi

by Chris Murphy

Dr. Sara Noguchi – Modesto City Schools

I think we are at a point in time where education as never been more important. The ability to understand, analyze and navigate in our community and in the world is becoming more difficult all of the team. Problem solving and teamwork is a learned skill and knowing how to work together is a big part of the educational process. My mom was a teacher here in Modesto and as a kid growing up, most everything we would do was some sort of educational experience. With our own girls, the experience of school, the ability to learn at many different paces and to find your way in around the world, comes from education. I love the public school system, and our kids did the Lakewood, LaLoma, Modesto High path that lead them to UC Berkeley. The Lakewood Youth Theatre and the IB experience at Modesto High where game changers that really prepared them for what lay ahead. That path worked for our girls, but we live in a diverse world, where so many different skills are needed for all levels of ability, goals and dreams. It is an amazing thing to have school systems that meet those needs. On a cultural note, for the people of Modesto really love MoBand concerts in the park, we need to be thankful we still have music in our schools as that is where the MoBand performers got their skills. So you see, it all goes back to a solid education.

To take on this daunting challenge, the person at the top needs to set the tone. Modesto City Schools is led by Dr. Sara Noguchi. She is a northern California native and developed her education background in the greater Sacramento area starting as a math teacher. She has been dedicated to education justice and equal opportunities at all levels, creating an Equity and Racial Justice Task Force and is very optimistic about the possibilities for all students and recently worked out a direct admission program to UC Merced. She has her Doctorate from University of the Pacific, her Masters from CSU Sacramento and a Bachelors from San Diego State University. She has three children and two grandchildren. Let’s learn more about Dr. Noguchi.

ModestoView: Modesto City Schools serve a wide range of student diversity and needs, what do you think the biggest challenge is today?
Dr. Sara Noguchi: Our greatest challenge is meeting the mental health needs of our students, staff, and parents. Since the pandemic began, Modesto City Schools has increased our social emotional and mental health support by approximately 3.5 million dollars. Additionally, we have increased our school counselors and behavioral support available at our school sites. Our challenge is staffing a number of hard to fill positions. Stanislaus County struggles to find qualified mental health providers, more specifically mental health clinicians. Ensuring our students and families have access to any needed mental health support is both a challenge and a priority for our school district.

MV: COVID really made it hard on education and teachers, what is something good that came out of the pandemic plans and what are the big challenges getting up to speed again?
DSN: While the pandemic was difficult for everyone, our district has greatly benefitted from some of the changes that have resulted from having 100% of our students learning remotely. Currently, all of our students have a personal computer and internet service. This is important because it leveled the playing field for all of our students and their families. Having a personal computer in every household, not only allows for all students to access learning outside of the school day, but it provides parents with a tool to access Parent Workshops which has significantly increased over the past three years.

MV: Modesto is fortunate that MCS leadership has kept music in the schools as a priority, I believe, and I think data backs this up. Having music and the arts in school helps the thinking process and actually helps in test scores. Do you find this to be the case?
DSN: Offering students of all grade levels an opportunity to participate in the Visual and Performing Arts (VAPA) is an essential piece of a well-rounded education. Students who have an opportunity to practice and perform gain self-confidence and discipline that transfers to other domains in their life. Finding passion through music, dance, art, and other VAPA disciplines provides students confidence and a path to a possible life-long talent. Our vision at MCS is to greatly expand VAPA opportunities for students. Currently we are in the beginning stages of offering Folklorico and Mariachi at a few school sites. We are very fortunate to have amazing community partnerships with The Gallo Center, Modesto Junior College, CSU Stanislaus, and other community-based organizations. We are excited to be a supporter of the future Modesto Children’s Museum, currently under construction.

MV: With unemployment being so low, do you view the role of education even more valuable to develop a ready workforce?
DSN: Central to any community is the public school system. Every community needs their youth to be educated both with skills to support college-going aspirations and today’s workforce. I believe that students need both sets of skills to be college and career ready. The majority of college students need to work, so by supporting them in learning a workforce skill, they are better able to support themselves as they go through college. For those students who choose not to pursue college, the learned skills and certifications gained through our Career Technical Education pathways will support them as they go into work-based learning, job shadowing, and internships. All components of our programs provide students with exposure to local opportunities and the skills needed to be prepared for college or career. Our teachers look to our local businesses for their input on what soft skills and technical skills are needed to best prepare our students for the workforce. Our goal is to ensure we provide a comprehensive education that will provide a pathway to our student’s future success, whether it be by way of post-secondary education or immediately upon graduation.

MV: How do you balance the needs of the students that need good vocational education along with those who are able to excel?
DSN: As mentioned above, you can do both. In addition to Advanced Placement (AP), International Baccalaureate (IB), and AVID opportunities, Modesto City Schools offers over 65 Career Technical Pathways at our high schools. We have opportunities to meet the needs of every type of student learner. Our School Academic Counselors and Career Navigators work with students to educate them on the various pathways available to them to ensure the needs of all students are met while they are in high school. We have master schedules that allow for students to ballot for whatever coursework best aligns with the students post high school goals: workforce, trade school, or college.

MV: What are the plans to strengthen the International Baccalaureate program at Modesto High?
DSN: The International Baccalaureate program is an excellent program for students who are looking for a rigorous course of study that will prepare them for the best educational options post-secondary education. We are pleased that our IB program represents district demographics and all student groups are represented in the program. Additionally, students demonstrate success year after year through their mastery of content demonstrated on IB exams, but also through their acceptance rate into four year colleges following completion of twelfth grade.

As with any of our successful programs, we continually examine ways to expand, improve, and innovate. As we build back from the pandemic, this is definitely a program that we will continue to recruit students into, as well as publicize and celebrate.

MV: If you had unlimited budget and personnel, what would you do to change the school district for the better?
DSN: Wow- what an awesome question!
I am deeply committed to building structures and systems that ensure ALL students have equitable access to education and opportunities. I would work hand-in-hand with our labor partners, and community partners to create the right conditions for all students to succeed. Together we can build a district where every student thrives- regardless of the neighborhood he/she lives in. A district, where every student soars to their highest levels of success. We want our average students to stretch and achieve exceptional levels. We want our struggling students to catch up to their peers, so they too can achieve amazing things. We want our high performing students to learn the skills needed to compete in any 4-year college of their choice. How do we create this? We ensure that all students have the academic, social-emotional, and mental health supports they need to thrive. This takes a talented and dedicated workforce all working together in service of our students, and their families.

MV: What do you want people to know that they may not know about Modesto City School?
DSN: You already know about our high quality programming, but people might not recognize that Modesto City Schools is a huge employer for Stanislaus County. Currently we have approximately 4,500 employees. MCS is deeply committed to building the capacity of all their employees; therefore, we have our own Professional Learning Department which works to provide professional development for all classifications. I strongly believe that if you invest in the people, then the district will grow stronger and more effective each year.

MV: What is the best way local businesses or individual people can lend a hand and get involved?
DSN: We absolutely need local businesses to support our Career Technical Education (CTE) programming through mentorships and internships. We also need to hear from them, regarding their needs. Modesto City Schools is a family, and many individual community members are connected to someone who works in the school district. I would ask individuals to support the school workforce, as each and every day, they work their hearts out and it truly is a hard job. Empathy and understanding can go a long way.

MV: Describe your normal day as the Superintendent?
DSN: I have never had two of the same days. There are no “normal days” for a Superintendent.

MV: Finally, the most important question, Beatles or Stones?
DSN: Beatles.

Follow Dr. Noguchi’s on Twitter @MCSSuptNoguchi

Posted in: news

About the Author:

Chris Murphy is the President and CEO of Sierra Pacific Warehouse Group and Publisher and Founder of ModestoView Inc. Chris worked globally in the cycling industry returning to Modesto in 1996. He is also the founder of the Modesto Historic Graffiti Cruise Route, Legends of the Cruise Walk of Fame, Modesto Rockin’ Holiday, the Modesto Music History Organization and co-founder of the Modesto Area Music Association. Chris is married to his artist wife Rebecca since 1985 and has two daughters Madison and Abigail, both graduating from Modesto High and UC Berkeley. He is lead singer and guitarist for his band, Third Party that donates their performances to non-profits.