A bell signaling the beginning of class rings as young people across Merced prepare for their first week back at school.
On the agenda: new teachers, classrooms, and as of July 1, a new superintendent to oversee the Merced City School District (MCSD).
Her name is Diana Jiménez.
“I tell people I’ve only been here two minutes,” she says with a laugh while sitting inside her office. “But in those two minutes, I’ve been getting to know all the ins and outs of this community, and I’ve visited all the campuses and taken very detailed tours so that I can know about the facilities.”
Superintendent Jiménez is no stranger to education. With more than 30 years in the field, she is a born leader whose main goals align with providing scholars and families opportunities to succeed all while highlighting and giving acknowledgment to the people behind the scenes who work tirelessly every day to keep schools in operation.
“I think that is part of the job of the superintendent — to highlight the work that staff do that normally does not get a lot of attention,” she explains. “I also think of other departments where people don’t typically realize all that they do. For example, every day, hundreds of children get to school on a bus. They get picked up, dropped off, and then sent back home. But we don’t really peek behind the curtain to see who is behind the scene: The Transportation Supervisor, who ensures that drivers have all the training that they need, that they meet all the regulations, that each driver has to inspect their bus every time it gets boarded and every time it gets exited. That you have mechanics that work behind the scenes in the district who are looking at every bus and making sure that it’s efficient. Then you got people who are doing training for the bus drivers.”
Whether it be teachers, custodians, cafeteria cooks, or construction workers, Jiménez recognizes that it takes a team to succeed.
“It sort of just happens by magic everyday but there are so many things that happen behind the scenes and it is part of my job to highlight and show the community that all these people are working hard so that scholars have the services they deserve. My job this year is really to highlight that with all the departments and really show all the great things they do.”
One of the ways her team is currently highlighting the hard work behind the success of the district is by the creation of “Marvelous Merced Mondays,” a series of social media posts celebrating staff members that is sent out to parents and posted to the MCSD Instagram every Monday.
The success at MCSD, Jiménez explains, is also built by team readiness, specifically regarding the unpredictable Covid surges that are bound to happen.
“We do have a Covid Supervisor in the district who is the point of contact with Public Health, and we are reviewing very carefully the guidance from the California Department of Public Health. The last guidance was from June 30th. There are not that many mandates as we had before, just a lot of recommendations and we are implementing a lot of them. We are making sure every classroom has PPE (personal protection equipment), every classroom is stocked with wipes, masks, gloves, face shields, and drapes. And then we are making sure, for example, that we are really clear with our protocols. If a scholar feels ill we want them to stay home and that we are able to give them work there. We certainly want to make sure that there is cleaning when there is an exposure and there will be a board presentation on August 9th that will talk about the Covid safety protocols that we are putting in place and an update on the guidance.”
Students and family members will also have the opportunity to pick up free Covid tests at certain school sites in order to increase the likelihood of stopping the spread.
In reference to the monkeypox surge that has been prevalent in bigger cities: “Right now there is no guidance from the California Department of Public Health for K-12 schools. We are just like everyone else — just watching and seeing but would absolutely take charge if there were any changes.”
Along with the increased concern of health safety in schools, school safety is another heated issue many parents are concerned over. Jiménez wants to reassure parents that the safety of their scholars are not only in the hands of the district itself, but also first responders throughout our community.
“One of the things that we are doing is that we have a community safety meeting where we invite the Sheriff’s Department, Merced Police Department, our own administrators, representatives from our labor unions, senior staff, the chief of the fire department, Riggs Ambulance… We intend to meet quarterly as a way to discuss and share with each other some of the best practices to maintain safety, and share what we are doing to keep our scholars safe.”
Perimeter fencing is one step forward in ensuring safety on campus, ensuring that any visitors to the campus will only have one way in and one way out of schools.
“You are funneled through the office, you can’t just walk on any campus. It’s very tactful and ensures that there is a way to get in, and a way to get out. In addition to the safety measures, we practice safety. We also practice fire drills and lockdown drills across the district.”
Jiménez wants to reassure parents that each of the campuses has a safety plan that details what teachers should do during a lockdown or emergency. The plans are revised every year, and on top of that, every school and district has a safety committee that reviews the safety plans together to make sure they are up to date.
“They also take it to the School Site Council, which is a parent committee, for them to review the safety plan and give their input on the things that are of concern. The more eyes there are, the better, and once those plans are done and approved they go straight to the police department.”
Looking to the future, Jiménez says she is focused on growth.
“Part of my job as the superintendent is ensuring that we have great long-term plans for upgrading and updating facilities.”
Current construction plans include major class updates and expansions at Tenaya Middle School and Franklin Elementary School, as well as updates to “outdoor learning places” with new updates for the 2022 school year and planned updates for the 2023 school year.
“For me education is my passion and my calling,” Jiménez concludes. “It’s not my job, it’s who I am, and all I think about. I have been doing it for a long time because I believe in public education and believe that our students deserve a great education by design, and that’s what we do when we plan and work together. I’m excited for this school year, excited to meet our community and our scholars, excited to meet our parents, and see this team in action.”