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Santa Barbara Unified School District Superintendent Abruptly Resigns

Whether or not we know it, the administration over our education extends farther beyond the walls of our historic high school. Santa Barbara Senior High School is one of many schools in Santa Barbara County that is represented by Santa Barbara Unified School District. District personnel, particularly superintendents, that work for Santa Barbara Unified School District are responsible for the administration we interact with, and the programs and academies we participate in. To state the obvious, superintendents have a great effect over our educational experience, and yet, many of the dramatic changes in district personnel that have occurred this past month have happened unbeknownst to most of Santa Barbara High School students. 

Approximately a month ago, Santa Barbara Unified School District superintendent Cary Matsuoka abruptly resigned from his position as superintendent, and confirmed that he will not be renewing his contract, which was set to end in June of 2021. Matsuoka has seventeen years of experience as a high school teacher, and twenty-three years of administration experience. He was hired as a superintendent for Santa Barbara High School District in July of 2016. During his time as a superintendent, he was highly criticised for his, “oversight,” in local high school scandals. According to local online newspaper Noozhawk, the bulk of Matsuoka’s criticism stemmed from Fair Education Santa Barbara, a non profit corporation that allows volunteers, presumably parents, “to advocate for their children’s education.” Matsuoka was dispraised for his involvement in demoting ex-principal of San Marcos High School Ed Behrens. Behrens was demoted because of circulating social media threats targeted towards other students, that failed to be reported to their concerned parents. He filed a lawsuit against the school district for wrongful termination, but ultimately lost the case. However he still works for the Santa Barbara Unified School District, but as a junior high school teacher–he has since filed for an appeal. Aside from Matsuoka’s role in Behrens demotion, he was additionally criticized for his supervision of Santa Barbara High School’s Multimedia Arts & Design Academy (MAD). The academy’s reputation was questioned after a former employee allegedly sent inappropriate messages to a student. 

What I have yet to understand, is why Matsuoka was so heavily criticized for his actions as superintendent. Surely Fair Education Santa Barbara and their volunteers wants what is best for their children and other students, so the only explanation that I can fathom as to why they would be so incredibly perturbed by the consequences enforced on Matsuoka’s part is that both Behrens and the MAD teacher in question were well liked. However, their popularity should not justify, nor ramify, their mistakes. Since the barrage of scrutiny has come Matsuoka’s way, many other administrators have spoken in defense of Matsuoka’s character; including Dos Pueblos High School’s principal Bill Woodward, and our own Santa Barbara High School’s principal Dr. Elise Simmons. In a school board meeting that took place at the Marjorie Luke Theater, the same meeting in which Matsuoka announced his resignation, both principals spoke in support of the Santa Barbara Unified School District and Matsuoka, and alluded that they were against the claims that Fair Education Santa Barbara had been making. Woodward, more clearly stating his dislike for Fair Education Santa Barbara said, “this group has continued a false narrative of our superintendent, and by extension, our schools.” He further emphasized that Fair Education for Santa Barbara has been using misleading information and pictures that are defamation to Matsuoka’s character. Later that night, Dr. Simmons spoke to address the matter in a more encouraging way, she said, ““I am here for our students and our families. For more than a year now, I have watched as a small minority of people attempt to control the Santa Barbara Unified School District narrative, and I will not stay silent anymore.” 

Regardless of any further encouragement or discouragement, superintendent Cary Matsuoka has officially resigned and will not be renewing his contract, he will also not complete his current term, and this will be his last school year as an acting superintendent of Santa Barbara Unified School District. 

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