The William S. Hart Union High School District tapped social worker Ira Rounsaville to lead the “promotion of positive culture and climate” in its schools following a contentious year regarding the matter.
Rounsaville worked as a social worker for four years before his promotion, which the Hart district said was due to his calm demeanor, communication skills and ability to work with diverse groups to “resolve conflict and achieve consensus.”
A native of Chicago, Rounsaville studied at Purdue University before earning his Masters of Social Work at Indiana University, later moving to Santa Clarita in 2017.
Rounsaville said he’s been impressed with the leadership at the district since he’s been there and that when it launched its strategic plan it sounded good — but he wondered how the district would put its words into action. He feels his promotion is a step in the direction of doing that.
“The same confidence I had in the leadership before this job was created, and before the job was offered to me, I have more confidence in this leadership (with) the fact that they, in essence, are putting their money where their mouth is,” said Rounsaville. “I feel like I’m the person to do that and I’m gonna hold myself accountable to their words and hold them accountable to what they’re saying by just operating in this position, to the fullness of my ability.”
In March, the NAACP’s Santa Clarita Valley chapter called on the Hart district for better policies and training on hate speech after a viral video showed Valencia High School students using a racial slur in the school’s parking lot.
The NAACP held a press conference in response to the incident, in which its president, Valerie Bradford, said the point of holding the conference was not just about addressing the incident, but also about changing the attitudes and behaviors that fostered the incident in the first place and preventing future incidents like it.
“That’s not to say that we won’t need to continue to push (the Hart district), because it’s about this incident, but it’s also about them having something in place that will prevent this from happening again, or that students will know, ‘If I do this, there are going to be consequences,’” Bradford said. “And I don’t feel like there’s anything in place right now that says that, and so students feel free to say and do whatever they want. And so the board, I say the district, not the board, but the district, needs to implement policies, if there’s none in place. They need to implement policies that address this.”
Hart district Superintendent Mike Kuhlman implied the conversations that took place in the wake of the video are what contributed to Rounsaville’s hiring.
“As a school district, we believe that every student deserves to feel valued and supported, regardless of their background or personal circumstances,” Kuhlman said in a press release announcing Rounsaville’s promotion. “Recent conversations about race and culture have only highlighted our need to prioritize these as areas of focus.”
Rounsaville’s new duties will include working with students, families and staff members to create a culture of inclusivity. He’ll also be in charge of creating and implementing new programs, training teachers on how to create a positive environment within classrooms and working with administrators to help execute these practices.
On a day-to-day basis, Rounsaville said it may take the first semester, if not the first school year, to gauge the culture and climate of every campus within the school district — but he’s willing to do whatever it takes to accomplish that.
“I’m looking at data, so part of it is not waiting for fires to flare up — like what happened at Valencia, but being more proactive and also getting the voice of the campuses,” said Rounsaville. “So I envision probably my first couple of months, if not the first school year, at least the first semester, I want to be entrenched in the campuses.”
Bob Jensen, Hart district president, said Rounsaville’s promotion is in an effort to further materialize the core values of the district and its strategic plan.
“I think it’s important for everyone to understand that we want all students to feel included, to feel welcome and to feel like they’re truly a part of the Hart school district. So, we feel this is a way to do that. This is a way to make that happen.”
Rounsaville acknowledged his work may not be easy and it may, at times, be uncomfortable, but that it was necessary to insure the mission of the district, and his goals in his new position, come to be.
“This is an opportunity for our community to grow and to be more inclusive. I want parents and the community to know that it takes all of us that while I’m in this position. I don’t see myself as the cure-all for all the ills of the Hart district or all of the other tensions that happen,” said Rounsaville. “However, I do want to be a catalyst for change. I do want to be the person who introduces uncomfortable conversation (and) the only way we’re going to grow and evolve is if we’re willing to have uncomfortable conversations.”