Group of colleagues planning strategically to increase alignment within systems.

Join Dr. Janet Pilcher as she engages in a conversation with Dr. Shelly Viramontez, Superintendent, and Ms. Whitney Holton, Associate Superintendent, of Campbell Union School District in Campbell, California. Dr. Viramontez discusses her commitment to leadership development, particularly focusing on aligning systems and streamlining processes so leaders can focus on meaningful and impactful work. She also shares specific examples of process improvements that have achieved significant outcomes. Additionally, Ms. Holton highlights how the district is implementing continuous improvement down to the classroom level. Listen now to hear Dr. Viramontez and Ms. Holton explain how the organizational shift from compliance to commitment is fostering a positive culture within the district.

This episode addresses questions such as:

  • How does collaboration across departments boost organizational efficiency?
  • What positive results are achieved through intentional data collection in monitoring classroom progress?
  • How do you empower teachers to lead the work of continuous improvement at the classroom level?

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Episode Transcript



[Intro music plays in the background.]

Janet Pilcher: Hello, everyone. Welcome to today’s Accelerate Your Performance podcast. I’m your host, Janet Pilcher. Thank you for tuning into our show today.

This podcast is all about leadership, and I don’t mean leadership as a position. It’s about how we can all see great leadership in action so that we can all be leaders in our organizations. And the focus of leadership is connected to the Nine Principles Framework highlighted in my new book, Hardwiring Excellence in Education.

Let’s jump into today’s episode. I’m excited to introduce you to our guest. Joining us on our show from the Campbell Union School District is Dr. Shelly Viramontez and Whitney Holton. Dr. Viramontez serves as Superintendent and Whitney serves as Associate Superintendent of Teaching and Learning. Campbell Union School District is located in Campbell, California.

Before we begin, let me tell you a little bit about our guest. As Chief Executive Officer for Campbell Union School District, Dr. Viramontez overseas all aspects of the district’s instructional, operational, and fiscal programs. She’s known as a skilled communicator and a leader in forming innovative district and community partnerships that maximize support for students and their families.

Her long history with the district began with attending Cherry Lane Elementary School, which is now home to the New Campbell School of Innovation. She began teaching in 1996 as a special day class teacher at Rolling Hills Middle School. Her roles over the years have included teacher support provider, assistant principal, principal, director of special education and student services, Associate Superintendent of Human Resources. She became district Superintendent in July 2017.

As an administrator and instructional leader, Shelly has earned several distinctions, including four awards from the Association of California School Administrators Region Eight Woman of Inspiration, Negotiator of the Year, Administrator of the Year, Professor of Education, and Administrator of the Year Personnel. She was also awarded the Educator Community Hero Award from the County of Santa Clara Behavioral Health Board.

And let me tell you a little bit about Whitney. Whitney Holton has served the Campbell Union School District for more than 31 years. She currently serves as Associate Superintendent of Teaching and Learning as an educational leader. With a passion for empowering students and educators, she has dedicated over three decades to shaping the future of education.

Her full career has been with Campbell Union School District where she has held a variety of positions. The positions in which she has served include teacher, school administrator, Expanded Learning and Preschool Director, Director of Teaching and Learning. Whitney is passionate about creating empower teams that drive positive change.

Whitney is relentless in her pursuit to create educational systems that better meet the needs of every learner, she holds a bilingual bicultural teaching credential and master’s in educational leadership from Santa Clara University in Santa Clara, California and shields a clear teaching credential and administrative credential.

Shelly and Whitney come to our show today with great expertise and to showcase and talk about the work that they’re doing together as leaders in Campbell Union School District.

It’s my pleasure to welcome Shelly and Whitney to our show today.


Janet Pilcher: It’s with great pleasure that I welcome Shelly and Whitney to our show today. Thank you for joining us.

It’s- so glad to have you with us and look forward to hearing the work that you’re doing with your teams and the impact that you’re making with students and family. So, thank you, Shelly and Whitney, for being with us.

Shelly Viramontez: Well, thank you for having us. It’s very humbling actually to be asked to share our journey.

Janet Pilcher: We look forward to it. So, let’s- let’s start Shelly with you. You’ve been committed to developing leaders and aligning your system, you know so important to us in the work that we do.

So, if you would just share with us why that’s important to you and the impact that you’re seeing with your leaders.

Shelly Viramontez: I’d be happy to. So, we really started engaging in this work seriously, right, as we were coming out of the pandemic. So, like most districts in and around the nation, we received a large amount of one-time funds.

So, what we wanted to do knowing those were one-time dollars, was work to build capacity in our system so that when the money goes away, the system could continue the good work. And then we also were mindful of all of the additional demands that seem to be being placed on our school principals.

So, we really wanted to ensure that they were working on the things that really matter and make a difference. So, we wanted to cut out the extraneous chatter for them and get really clear on our focus areas.

And so, the continual improvement practices that our leaders are implementing really supports in them being able to have quick huddles, identify a challenge, make some agreements, take action to make it better, implement, assess, refine, and then celebrate. One of the things we’re finding too, as we’re getting more into this work is it’s actually improving the morale in our system.

So, our leaders are really focused on the things that are making a difference. And then that expression of appreciation for those who are coming alongside and helping with the work is really permeating in our system to create this positive culture.

Janet Pilcher: Yeah, so good. Sometimes, you know, people think that you just sprinkle this magic fairy dust and then you know that just it makes workplace environments much more engaging.

But you know, Shelly, what I really like what you’re saying is its intentional work. I mean, it’s really focusing on the system, it’s focusing intentionally on developing your leaders and focused on the work that really helps build your teams to move in a productive way, achieving the goals that are that are significant to you. You know it.

The other thing that comes to mind thank you for prioritizing your leaders because sometimes people think that’s a nice to have not a must have And I’ve and my- the latter part of I’ve 3 decades into to professional work. I’m like, I don’t understand how that’s a nice to have it’s a must have in terms of how our leaders need to be developed and supported.

So, thank you just for making that commitment.

Shelly Viramontez: And I have ordered more dust to sprinkle because it’s there’s still work to be done. It’s having a positive impact but there’s still work to be done.

Janet Pilcher: Yeah. And it’s hard work and I think that and you’re willing to do that hard work and that’s it’s the heavy lifting piece. There’s the magic doesn’t really occur. It’s heavy lifting and the outcomes that occur. So, you know, let’s talk about that a little bit.

So, if you would, go ahead and share the impact of the improvement on let’s focus on something that Dr. Greco connected to with your scheduling, middle school students, you know let’s give an example and tell us what you’re seeing there.

Shelly Viramontez: We’ve had a number of problems of practice that we’ve been able to lean into and improve outcomes. But this was one that our middle school administrators brought to our attention last year and basically, they said that it was taking three or four people about 40 hours at the very beginning of the school year to make all of the adjustments to the schedule.

And so, in addition to that sense of inefficiency at that, we also realized that the very time that our leaders needed to be the most intentional in building relationships being present with parents being in classrooms, instead they were stuck in their offices working on tweaking the schedule. So, we went through a practice of understanding what the current process was, determining some training needs and then implementing that. And one of the metrics that we had was that they would have the schedule 80% completed in June before they left for their one-month summer break.

And so, what we found by implementing this process was we essentially gained in one instance they gained 124 hours back because it only took two staff spending about 8 hours, so 16 hours in total. And so that was like an 875% improvement for them. And then another site said it took about three people a total of 48 combined hours, which again was a gain of 92 hours back and almost 300% improvement.

So, the metrics sound really great, but I’m focusing on what that allowed those administrators to be doing in building their school culture right from the very beginning instead of focusing on the systemic changes. And one of the things that they really leaned into was understanding the system and how our scheduling system could take control of some of that time consuming work. And then it took the human power to just look and assess and make sure that the system did what it was supposed to do.

So again, this was a efficiency that we gained this year, but it’ll be something that we gained throughout our system year over year.

Janet Pilcher: Yeah. I mean you gave the problem kind of back to them to solve too, right? That they were able- instead of having the solution come down on top of them. You really gave the problem back to them to solve so that they could look at the aspects of what it would mean to go into that solution finding exercise.

And again, it’s systematic. It changes the system. Not just a one time it might work here, but not maybe tomorrow. But now we’ve created a whole new system.

Shelly Viramontez: Well then, we were also really intentional in making sure that there were a number of people in the system who knew how to work this system. Because before we had a situation where a lot of information was stored in one person’s head. Part of this process was really having everyone working on the challenge, understanding how the system worked.

So, we’re not as vulnerable as we would have been a couple of years ago. I often say if the person got hit by the bus, but Pat says if they won the lottery which probably.

Janet Pilcher: Yeah, of course I love it. Yeah, so good. Such a great, great, great example. We know these examples, so would love to continue to use that because you’ve got very specific measures of impact and then also how it impacts the lives of the leader so that they can do the work that’s most important and the one, the work that they enjoy doing.

So, let’s talk a little bit about communication. One of the things that we find is that communication is one of the areas that most organizations need to focus on, and you’ve really excelled at enhancing communication across departments.

So, tell us a little bit about what you’ve done there and the impact that you’re seeing.

Shelly Viramontez: Well, and I would say it’s better, but definitely a continued work in progress. But you mentioned a few minutes ago about the importance of having the people closest to the problem work on the problem. And so that’s really something that we’re leaning into a lot.

And the example that comes to mind is we noticed that there was a lot of inefficiency and also inaccuracy in our hiring practices specifically again with all of the infusion of one-time dollars, each of those had to be tracked specifically for the budget plan that they came from. So, we could report back how our progress on spending on those particular budgets.

So, what was happening is our site principles would have to determine the budget and then the HR department would work on the front end and then personnel would work on the back end, and it was a really clunky process.

So, we brought HR and payroll together to really analyze their system from each of their areas and identify what we needed. And what we were able to do was eliminate a lot of the burden on the site principles and have the fund account be started at the very beginning from Payroll. So, once we authorized the position then we could assigned the number to that position. So, we made sure that the number was always accurate.

And so, by bringing our HR and payroll department together, we could determine this is ESSER fund, this is COVID Relief Fund, this is Art Music block grant funds. And then that was all assigned taking all of that worry away from the school site principal.

And it also allowed our HR department to keep eyes on open positions. So, we were able to fill those positions more efficiently than when the site principals were having to be mindful of, oh, we’ve got this position in this position. And also, what we found was it increased efficiency, but also the accuracy. So, it eliminated the need to go back and make sure that the account numbers were correct.

And so that’s just one example of how we’ve brought our departments together to look at something that we felt was clunky and implement a change process, assess it and tweak it and then get it to a place where it’s much more streamlined. And again, taking our school site principles out of that mix really allows them to focus on the things that are happening at their school site that need their attention.

Janet Pilcher: Yeah, I mean that’s two circumstances that you’ve provided. Where it really helps them focus on the right work and you know as we kind of close out this, this, this part before we get to the classroom piece.

Shelly, do you see, I mean as you think about your principles and the relationship that they have with your service departments, I mean do you see that relationship improving because of the way that you’ve built those processes in?

Shelly Viramontez: It’s interesting because I’m just finishing my 90 day rounding for folks who are new in a position, so new as principal, not necessarily new to our system, but new in principals and so asking them specific questions about that.

Every single person has said I know I can pick up the phone and it doesn’t matter which department I’m calling. I know that they’re going to be ready and willing to help me. And for me, that’s always what I have thought was our role as a district office. Our role is to support the school site.

And so having our school leaders actually say that’s what they’re experiencing, that’s something that I’m really proud of.

Janet Pilcher: Yeah. You should be. And that’s really powerful. It’s it seems common sense that that would be the way we would function in our service departments. But it’s not always practiced common sense.

And I mean great examples for how that’s occurring and the and the way that you build just a team approach to how you’re solving those problems.

So, let’s, let’s go down to the classroom. Whitney, let’s, let’s talk a little bit about the classroom and you’ve focused on scaffolding this work to the classroom level. Why is that important to you and how did you know it was time to get started to do that?

Whitney Holton: Shelly provided some amazing examples of work that we’re doing. And really this was about our leaders going first in the work and really understanding the improvement that we needed to make.

And I saw how that improvement is really creating a synergy with our leaders as Shelly talked about. And we saw how our system is starting to move in alignment and we’re all rowing in the same direction with the same values, the same goals. And our pillars were really getting strong. And so, we felt like this is a really great time to move it down to the classroom level.

And I had an opportunity to take a team to the Estacada School District and that was really, really a powerful experience for our team. In Estacada we saw classrooms where teachers were leaning into the work. We saw students owning their learning, setting goals. We saw data up on the classroom walls that was tracked, and students understood that data and they were able to talk about it. And then there was also student lead PDSA cycles.

And so the team and I got really excited about this work and we knew it was just the right time for us to jump in because really our goal is to cascade the work down to the classroom level so that we can have more empowered students and so that our students can see themselves as expert learners and our teachers understand what that looks like in- and how to get there with them.

So, it was just really the perfect next step in our journey, and we’ve been really fortunate to get a great coach and Tina and so far, we’re off to a great start.

Janet Pilcher: Yeah, so good. You know, thanks for going to the Estacada site visit to see it is magical. That is the magic, right. It’s when you really begin to see that in place.

So, you know right now then Whitney, your building capacity, you know, to align the work to support your teachers, right? You’re just you’re building that capacity.

So how do you predict this process will help and how are you getting started as you’ve taken those next steps?

Whitney Holton: Sure. I think it’s really important first of all that we do have our Tosas leading the work and that really demonstrates that we believe that they that our teacher leaders can be the ones in charge of helping us launch this work and lead the work.

And they’ve been instrumental. We haven’t been disappointed so far. It’s been amazing to work with them and to see their leadership skills shine in this area. And we started by first engaging all of our new teachers to the district, new teachers and those who are not necessarily new teachers but new to Campbell.

And so, it’s a large cohort, we have about 90 in the first cohort, and we do have our assistant principals there. We felt it was important to have some leadership in the room and doing the learning all alongside of new teachers. And we also have all of our support staff, our equity Tosas, our math specialists, and we felt that it was really important that our mentor teachers also be involved.

So, the mentor teachers sit alongside the new teachers and they’re all learning together. And this is really important for us because we felt that it really allows teachers to understand what we’re looking for in Campbell, what do we want right away? What’s important to us?

And we thought why not teach them at their very first entry point in Campbell. And so, I just really predict that what will happen with teachers leading the work is that there will be greater buy in.

It’s not the teaching and learning department coming in and saying you must do this. This is what Campbell believes. It’s here’s what best practice looks like, here’s what evidence-based practice looks like and we’re going to show you some strategies and we’re going to work together through it.

We’re going to model those strategies and then we’re going to come back and talk about our successes and really lean into the plus delta work so that we can grow and get better as we move through the work.

So, so far, it’s been a really great experience like I said earlier and we have scheduled monthly meetings where we have the cohort of 90 come together and we spend time in person just really going through the work that we’ve planned out for them and we get their feedback, we adjust and we move on.

So, we look forward to having a great year.

Janet Pilcher: As you’re talking too, I just think about is the thread that runs through that as you’re engaging people, you know deep into the issues and the problems or building solution finders there. And you know when people ask us how do we get engaged, how do we getting people engaged in their work or connected to their work.

You know, I use I’ve tended to say the word you know when we’re really looking at we’re not looking at motivating people we can’t motivate people, but we can build environments where we get people deeply connected to the work. And you all are providing like, like just example after example of how you’re building systems and processes to get people deeply connected to the work.

So, let’s get an example from the classroom. Whitney, you’ve focused on improving the impact on elementary behaviors at the start of the school year. And Pat Greco tells us a year ago that was a significant concern. But as a result of this improvement process, you’ve seen improvements.

So, talk a little bit about what you’re learning from that.

Whitney Holton: Great. And I think I just want to address one of the comments that you said that you know we’re bringing up the problems.

I think where we’re seeing the shift is people got really good about talking about the problem and really addressing that. And what we needed to get better at was talking about the solution. And so, we could all jump to that solution at a space, but never really think about the data that we needed to make sure is the problem better.

And one thing we’re finding in our work with our improvement work is that it is a lot more work for our leaders when we’re actually having them to be intentional.

So, with this problem of practice, we noticed that students were showing up ill prepared for TK or kindergarten and their behaviors were extreme and keeping them out of classrooms too much and also upsetting the rest of the class. So, we really wanted to look at across the system, what are some strategies that we could put into play that would improve this problem.

So, a team came together. Pat really helped us identify what is the actual problem we’re trying to solve. And then we were able to get the team to create some solutions and we did some really great work. But I think what they realized is, wow, this is a lot. I have to be engaged in the work. You might, I have to and it’s a greater lift, but then there’s also a greater success in the end when you when you see improvement.

And so, for this particular problem, they developed some materials and parent meetings that we invited all parents before they start kindergarten to show them what developmental readiness looks like. And if their child wasn’t at that level, then we gave them some strategies.

We also developed an assessment. Well, we didn’t develop it. We implemented using the assessment called the Ages and Stages Questionnaire. And all of our teachers then were able to give that assessment to students in the beginning of the school year. And it allowed us to see what students might need some additional supports, and then we could respond to those supports in advance, rather than after the problem has already arisen.

And so that has been something that we’ve been proud of. We had a lot of families show up for the training. And then we were also able to teach to do professional development for teachers so that they were able to set up a structure within their classroom on day one to think about what students might need, knowing that behavior problems were going to walk in the door, not if, but knowing that they could be prepared for when they walk in the door.

And so, I think empowering the teachers and helping them understand that they have the ability to solve this problem and then we’re going to track data. And I think that’s one of the things we learned is we were hoping to see a significant decline in office discipline referrals.

And actually, that didn’t happen for us this year. And when we reflected on that, we know it didn’t happen because we weren’t collecting the data in a clean way last year that we asked for, right. So, this year we’re asking them to really, really focus on collecting that data so that we know if the problem is better and so we can really assess it.

And so that was a learning experience for us and and helped us realize that in any problem of practice we do, we have to think right up front about data points, and we have to be great about capturing that so that we can track improvement and so that we can see that that our work is leading to better outcomes for students.

So, that one indicator didn’t lead to massive gains, but all of the other indicators did, and we are learning and growing through the process and getting better at improvement work and I think that’s the goal. We’re not always to see immediate improvement.

Janet Pilcher: Yeah. And it’s, you know, it just what hit me too, a number of things, but just when you’re not, you’re moving out of that compliance mode, right.

I mean so sometimes we take attendance, and we map out that date or we just kind of comply, but now it’s not compliance because we need good data in order to help us make good decisions and build the right improvement actions. And so, we’re not just documenting things out of compliance purposes, we’re documenting them because we need that information to help us understand what to do to get better.

That’s a great example of people just really moving and being empowered to know why they’re doing what they’re doing and document what they’re doing for the purpose of getting a better outcome for students and for them, you know, for the for what they’re doing each and every day.

But just excellent examples you all I mean just excellent examples of how you focusing at the system level developing your leaders and teachers making sure development is important part of that process. Building systems and getting deep into identifying the problems of practice at hand based on the data and working toward the improvements there.

Great examples of how you’ve done that at the district level, department level and the classroom level. Just appreciate your work there.

So, Shelly, I’ll turn it back to you to close this for the day. As the leader, you know you have to be so proud of the work that’s being done in your district and the impact that it’s making. But just if you would leave us with some closing thoughts of you as you’ve engaged in this work, you know what’s the meaning behind it and what do you see for the future?

Shelly Viramontez: Well and as every good leader does you surround yourselves with people smarter than you.

So, as you can hear from Whitney, I’ve been successful in that, and I think one of the things that we’re really doing is throughout the system moving from compliance to commitment.

There are so many things that we used to look at as have to do is to meet someone else’s agenda. Now what we’re doing is leveraging those types of things to say. This is an indication where our system needs to be tweaked. And so, we’re not looking at it as a compliance document to complete, but rather this is something we can lean into and improve our system.

So, we’ve got a number of examples where I believe we really are moving from compliance into commitment. And compliance doesn’t really motivate anyone. That’s not why anyone got into this work. But when they really see that the work they’re doing is having a positive impact on other humans, whether they’re big humans or little humans, that is really inspiring. And that’s the one, one of the things that I feel the most proud of.

You know, I think about like many of us, my mother always said, leave the place better than you found it. And I really feel like when we’re engaging in this work, we’re all gonna be able to feel like we’re leaving things better than we found them. Because we’re continually just improving the way things are done. Just one little tweak at a time.

Janet Pilcher: You will definitely do that, and you’ll build that system and you’ll put that system in place so that you know people down the road who come along into organizations after us, you know, have that opportunity to continue to advance the work and make a difference. Make a difference in the lives of our students and the people that we work with each and every day and the families that we connect with.

You have given a great example of- of our flywheel inspiring workplaces, building strength in people, and accelerating results. And it’s the acceleration of results that spins that flywheel. But it’s hard to do without building the workplaces that allow that to happen. And training and building strengthen our people to do that.

And at the end of the day, you build back that purpose for the people in your organization. Thank you so much for what you do. Thank you for the contributions you make and for being with us today.

Shelly Viramontez: Thank you. It’s been our pleasure.



[Outro music plays in the background.]

Janet Pilcher: I think you can see how dedicated, how consistent, and how planned of an approach that Shelly and Whitney do together to lead the district to excellence. It’s commendable to see how well they put a plan together and execute that plan and the work that we know is so important in our Nine Principles Framework.

It’s been a pleasure to engage in conversations today with Shelly and Whitney, and I know that we’re going to continue to see great things that come from Campbell Union School District. I appreciate their time and know that you’ve learned from them.

I hope you enjoyed our conversation. If you’re enjoying our show, please give us a subscribe. We’d love to have you come back and listen again and connect with us. Send me an e-mail jpilcher@hcg.com if you have any ideas or any thoughts about what you’ve heard or if you wanna just connect about ideas that you have and what you want to hear.

And as always, I thank you for tuning into this episode of Accelerate Your Performance. If you like the episode, again, please share it with a friend. We’re always looking to connect with more people so that we’re making a difference in the lives of our students and families.

I look forward to connecting with you next time as we continue to focus on the Nine Principles Framework so that we can be our best at work.

Have a great week.

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If you enjoy the podcast, explore Janet’s latest book, Hardwiring Excellence in Education. Each chapter focuses on the Nine Principles® Framework offering tools and tactics to enhance leadership skills and elevate organizational performance.

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