What It’s Taken: A Superintendent on the challenges of the past, opportunities of the future


Melih Dookie

The office of the Superintendent

From the start of the pandemic, Lucia Mar has sought to navigate the cascading challenges brought by COVID-19. Now, as the country begins its transition from a pandemic to endemic, Lucia Mar implements changes of their own. Dr. Paul Fawcett highlighted how the district overcame challenges brought on by the latest COVID surge, challenges to the public education institution [as a whole], and why the future of Lucia Mar is still bright.  

Fawcett’s teaching career began in a small Northern California town. He can still remember the difficulties and joys of his first position, teaching a 6th, 7th, and 8th grade combination class. After earning Master’s Degrees in Curriculum and Instruction as well as Educational Leadership, Fawcett went to UC Davis where he earned his Doctorate. His first administrative role was as a Principal in Northern California. He was recruited in 2016/17 to be Special Education director of Lucia Mar and later also held the role of Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources. Since October 2020, he has been the Superintendent of the district. 

“The Superintendent is a liaison between the governance team and the district leadership on carrying out the goals,” Fawcett said. 

A new responsibility to the job came with the COVID-19 pandemic. From March 2020 to present day, the duties within managing the pandemic have also changed.
“From the beginning, we followed what the experts have said because our expertise is not in virology,” Fawcett said. 

The district has been able to develop a routine in which the leadership modifies the safety plan and then provides it for approval to the board. 

The district’s response and safety plan was tested under the most recent Covid-19 surge on the Central Coast. At times, hundreds of students and staff were testing positive, placing a strain on the district. Fawcett believes that the district’s united front toward the challenge is what allowed the school district to overcome the challenges of staff and students testing positive. 

Paul Fawcett acting as a substitute for a Kindergarten Class at Nipomo Elementary. (LMUSD Staff)

“We did it together… every administrative and certificated staff member had to jump in and substitute at one time,” Fawcett said, including himself, when he subbed for a Kindergarten class.

Looking forward, the Coronavirus will continue to be part of the duties, even as the mask mandate expired on March 11th. Questions still loom regarding whether California will institute a vaccine mandate for students, something that Fawcett believes the district would be able to implement with its existing infrastructure.  

“If there were a mandate…our student information system allows us to do that, [we would be able to implement it]” Fawcett said. He noted that the district has encouraged students to optionally report their vaccination status. 

Fawcett believes that the pandemic has also brought some positives. Increased Google Classroom usage by teachers, Parentsquare for communication, and Youtube Live Streams of the Board Meetings were all increased usages of technology that were instituted or accelerated as a result of the pandemic. 

Technology use is not the only thing that has increased in comparison to before the pandemic. The latest student achievement report shows that student achievement is at, near, or in some metrics even above where it was compared to 2019, something the district that Fawcett and the district take great pride in. 

Grade Comparison on the High School level for the 1st Semester (Report to the Board of Education)

“I am pleased to see the rapid regaining of academic skills and achievement, it’s a true testament to the resiliency and hard work of our students and staff,” Fawcett said. However, he believes that returning to previous achievement levels is not enough.

“We need to always strive to move and challenge our students beyond [the] ways our students see themselves,” he added. 

While student achievement has moved in a positive direction, Lucia Mar, like many other districts, has faced discipline and climate issues. Fawcett highlighted the constant collaboration with school leaders and the new advisory program aimed at improving social-emotional learning in order to address these issues. 

The tense climate also surfaced beyond the behavior of students, as it persists in the community and greater country as well. In response, the board approved a civility resolution brought forward by Fawcett. 

“Through passion, fear, and suffering, some of the civility has gone out …when we set aside our differences, and focus on that common belief that our students are our future… A lot of that civility will come back,” Fawcett said. “Everybody needs to be able to speak their beliefs… But we need to do it in a way that is respectful,” something he hopes will replace the current tense climate.

In addition to the new duties added to the job, traditional roles of the Superintendent continue to present themselves as well, including labor negotiations. 

“Our district philosophy and approach to negotiations is that we call our labor groups, labor partners,” Fawcett said, adding that he believes they share the common goal of providing staff fair pay while maintaining fiscal solvency. 

This belief led to the approval of an agreement between LMUTA and a tentative agreement with CSEA both receiving a 5.85% salary increase retroactive to July 1st 2021. 

Dr. Fawcett working to turn the challenges of today into the opportunities of tomorrow (Melih Dookie)

Looking forward, Lucia Mar faces many challenges, yet with those challenges, Fawcett sees opportunities. He acknowledges that the climate where education is under constant scrutiny adds an additional layer of stress to any position, but he still believes that it is the best profession because of its daily positive impact. To restore confidence in the school system, Fawcett wants to utilize conversation and transparency to allow everyone to support the education system in any way. 

Fawcett added that considering the challenges the district overcame, and despite all the challenges of the future, Lucia Mar is moving in the right direction. 

“We are doing great things at Lucia Mar, we will continue to do great things at Lucia Mar, and our kids will go on to graduate and accomplish great things…I am hopeful that there is a great future for Lucia Mar.”