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Tim Baird, a former school teacher and superintendent of the Ojai Unified School District, took the Encinitas post in July 2009.
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Baird recounts successes, challenges of EUSD tenure

Above: Tim Baird, superintendent at Encinitas Union School District, will retire on June 21 after a decade of service. Courtesy photo

ENCINITAS — It has been 10 years since Tim Baird took the drive down Highway 101 from sleepy Ojai to Encinitas to lead the Encinitas Union School District.

The decade has been full of success and a few challenges, Baird said. But it has all been worthwhile.

But it is time to move on, he said. When school ends on June 21, the district will close the book on the Tim Baird era, as the 62-year-old Orange native retires from the district.

Baird said that he decided to step down for personal and professional reasons. First, his daughter gave birth to his first grandchild, and he wants to spend time with the family, who lives in the Bay Area.

And professionally, he said, the time was right.

“The district is in a great place, it is solid in the people and solid in the programs we have in place,” Baird said. “We don’t have any huge challenges facing us now, so it’s a nice time for a new superintendent to come in place, get her feet placed before she is faced with something like an economic downturn, or another issue, and figure out all that is going on.

“The pieces came together at the right time to hand off the baton to the next leader, and I know the district is in good hands,” Baird said.

“She” that Baird referred to is Andree Gray, the district’s assistant superintendent of educational services, who assumes the post July 1.

“Our district is poised to take the next leap forward, and I had an assistant superintendent who was ready to be a superintendent, and I am really pleased the board hired her to replace me,” Baird said. “She is going to be great.”

Baird, a former school teacher and superintendent of the Ojai Unified School District, took the Encinitas post in July 2009. Coming to Encinitas, Baird said he was aware of the district’s sterling reputation and came in wanting to build on the good work of his predecessor, Lean King.

“I don’t know that I had expectations in terms of things that had to be changed, or mountains to move, things like that,” Baird said. “I already knew it was excellent and the good works that were being done and the staff was in place, so my expectations were to see where things were and ask a lot of questions, get to know the people and develop the relationships and figure out where we were going from where we were.”

Within months, Baird said, he began work on his first major initiative — fostering unique identities at each of the district’s nine campuses.

“One thing I did notice was that we had great things happening at the different schools, but a lot of it was being more directed from the district office,” Baird said. “And the team wanted to decentralize the workings of the district while creating a strong, central core of beliefs. That way, the schools would be working towards the same goals, but look different.”

Baird said that the district encouraged each of the campuses to find the thing that made the school unique, and build upon that.

“We emerged with nine schools with a unique profile, which has created a school of choice situation,” Baird said. “All from the question of how can we personalize our schools, help personalize learning within that school based upon the passion and interests of that school community itself.”

Two of the schools — Capri and Paul Ecke — have a focus on dual language immersion. Ocean Knoll is an International Baccalaureate school. La Costa Heights has the Leader in Me program.

El Camino Creek has a civic learning program, Mission Estancia is a “school of wondering” focusing on questioning and analysis; Flora Vista’s emphasis is on civic engagement and environmental science; Olivenhain Pioneer’s focus is science, technology, research, engineering, art and math; and Park Dale Lane is a collaboration of teachers and artists.

Each of the schools operates on the district’s four pillars, which also were a brainchild of Baird’s administration team — academic excellence, 21.5th Century learning, health and wellness and environmental stewardship.

Baird said that he has never emphasized raising test scores during his tenure. Rather, the district administration’s focus was more holistic.

“In my first speech, I said that my job is not to raise test scores, we are about student learning,” Baird said. “If you are doing a good job at student learning, test scores will follow. Our focus has been teaching the whole child, and that includes a lot of different things.”

The district created a different type of science, technology, engineering and math program called DREAMS — design, research, engineering, art, math and science. The addition of design and research, Baird said, was critical for 21st century students, because it drives a lot of today’s learning.

“The idea is that they acquire new information, analyze it and ultimately apply it in a real-world setting,” he said. “And getting kids to the application is important.”

The other major milestone in Baird’s early days as superintendent includes the successful passage of Measure P, a $44 million bond measure passed in 2010.

The bond money transformed the district into a modern one, including new technology — EUSD was one of the first districts with iPads for students — solar installed at each campus and major modernization efforts within the classroom.

“We really re-conceived what the classroom of today should look like,” Baird said. “And while it all wasn’t bond related, the bond definitely allowed us to reimagine what schools should look like and feel and what kind of learning it supports.”

The bond measure also allowed the district in 2013 to open the EUSD Farm Lab, a 10-acre farm that includes several laboratory and maker spaces inside of modular units on Quail Gardens Drive.

The lab in its sixth year now hosts sixth grade students for a week, and fourth and fifth grade students for multiple days, where they are immersed in what Baird called “high level design and research work.”

The farm also doubles as the prime source of many of the vegetables in school lunches.

While Baird lists the farm lab as one of the district’s biggest achievements during his tenure, he acknowledges that it has also been the source of criticism from people who feel the district has underutilized the property and that the lab itself is a financial drain on the district.

“What people don’t realize — they think the farm lab is just a farm,” Baird said. “While we do grow organic produce, it is almost secondary to the real focus of that campus. That is our DREAMS campus, that is where our district’s design and research happens.”

Baird said the lab benefits both students and the district’s teachers.

“Yes it’s going to have its detractors, every new idea gets criticism,” Baird said. “And yes you can spend your money in different ways, but at the end of the day, people value it more because people can see what it can do, and we are doing a better job telling the farm lab story.”

The other major challenge of Baird’s tenure surrounded the district’s yoga program. The program, which began in 2012 with a grant from a group called the Jois Foundation, became the subject of a 2013 lawsuit that advanced to the doorstep of the state Supreme Court, as well a separate controversy in 2016 when a group of parents railed against the district over a proposal to spend $800,000 to keep the program going after the grant funding dried up.

The district prevailed in the lawsuit after the Supreme Court declined to review the Court of Appeal decision, and the program has continued after district officials compromised on a funding plan in 2016.

“It was a challenge, no district likes to be sued, or have parents protest against it,” Baird said. “But at the end of the day less than 1% opt out, and it is part and parcel of what our health and wellness program looks like.

“I believe the yoga program has been successful in the way that we said it would be,” Baird said. “It promotes physical health and flexibility, and helps kids focus and reduce stress. In many ways, it is one aspect of physical education in this day in age. Kids do come with a lot of stressors and they need to focus.”

Baird said while he won’t miss the controversial times, it represents a fraction of his time at the district, and he will miss it.

“I am going to miss the people, the students, the excitement of being at schools and being around young people learning, and the challenge of how we can do things better,” Baird said. “I am very fortunate to have worked in education my whole career. I love learning, teaching, the whole process of seeing when something clicks and suddenly, they got it and understand it at a deeper, conceptual level.

“I am inspired by great teachers,” Baird said. “Who knows, I am not moving anywhere, maybe I might volunteer in a kindergarten class.”

Baird also didn’t close the door on another form of service: running for elected office.

“I would never say I would never do anything,” he said. “If I felt like I needed to support the district in some way, maybe down the road, but for the immediate future, no.”