Visalia USD named
2023 Governance Team of the Year
The Golden Gavel Award recognizes a board’s exceptional governance skills
Visalia USD staff receiving their AEC award
Visalia Unified School District received the 2023 Governance Team of the Year Award on Dec. 1 during CSBA’s 2023 Annual Education Conference and Trade Show in recognition of their exceptional governance culture and practices.

“This award is given to a governance team that governs effectively, communicates a common vision, focuses on learning and achievement for all students, applies an equity lens to guide decision making and exemplifies best practices in effective governance and boardsmanship,” said 2023 CSBA Vice President Bettye Lusk.

Visalia USD Board President Walta Gamoian accepted the award during the conference’s Second General Session.

“On behalf of the Visalia Unified board, I would like to thank the California School Boards Association for this award. We are a unified governance team, but this was not always the case when many of us began our journeys as trustees in Visalia Unified,” Gamoian said. “Within the five years I have been a trustee, we have seen multiple changes in leadership at all levels, trustees who have left their positions prior to their term, contentious interactions with the community and amongst ourselves. We did not have a clear understanding of our role … [and] our actions created the conditions that brought further confusion to the district. We did not take the time to value each other’s perspectives like we should have.”

That changed in March 2022 when, after a national search, the district announced it had hired Kirk Shrum as its superintendent.

“[Shrum] understood systems, he had experience building a strong governance team and he knew that our students needed authentic connections to be successful in school. Soon after his arrival, he guided us to develop our core beliefs and commitments that were unanimously approved and owned by this board,” Gamoian said. “To build further clarity for all our stakeholders, we developed our theory of action — which ensures that all of our students succeed. We finally defined our roles as board members, which allowed our superintendent and his amazing staff the ability to do their work. This team has varying views; however, we listen, we empathize and we respect one another. I am proud to stand with this Visalia Unified governance team.”

“This team has varying views; however, we listen, we empathize and we respect one another. I am proud to stand with this Visalia Unified governance team.”
Walta Gamoian, board president, Visalia Unified School District
In unison with fellow members of the Visalia USD governance team, Gamoian said, “I believe in, I belong in, I am VUSD,” before leaving the stage.

Recent actions have renewed the public’s trust in the district.

In addition to efforts aimed at educating the public on the role of the school board, the district has produced a “Get to Know Your Board” social media campaign, participated in community events and implemented an online system that makes agenda packets easier to navigate. Under the board’s leadership, the district has partnered with local universities to guarantee admission for qualified students and has invested more than $15 million in school safety initiatives.

The district also connects students to meaningful activities outside of the classroom through its One Visalia Connected initiative and has expanded learning opportunities for students.

Governance team members have participated in CSBA’s AEC and Leadership Institute as well as its Board Presidents Workshop, Orientation for New Trustees, Institute for New and First-Term Board Members, Masters in Governance® and Legislative Action Week, among other activities and learning opportunities.

The honor is part of CSBA’s Golden Gavel Awards program and includes induction into the Golden Gavel Hall of Fame. Visalia USD, located in Tulare County in Central California, is the second local educational agency to receive the accolade. Encinitas Union School District took home the inaugural award in 2022.