a conversation with…
Suzanne Kitchens, CSBA President-elect
Suzanne Kitchens is a trustee of the Pleasant Valley School District in Ventura County. Now in her 20th year as a school board member, Kitchens has been an active member of CSBA, serving as President-elect, member of the Delegate Assembly, and as a member of the Nominating, Legislative, Annual Conference, Board Development, Bylaws, Compensation Review and Education Legal Alliance committees. Kitchens, who is a tax accountant by trade, has also chaired CSBA’s Finance and Audit Committees and graduated from the association’s Masters in Governance program.
Suzanne Kitchens headshot
Can you tell us a little about your background, including your own K-12 education and professional experience?
I went to school at a public school in Los Angeles. I graduated public high school and went on to get a post-graduate public university education in Southern California. I have an MBA in management. I worked for a famous aerospace company here in Southern California as a financial analyst.

Once I got married and we started a family, I started volunteering for everything at the children’s schools. So, I decided to run for the school board. I was unsuccessful in 1998, but then was successful in 2000. The year I got elected or in the beginning of 2001, I was seated as a Delegate Assembly member. I’ve been a Delegate Assembly member for basically 20 years. My daughter is now a teacher in a Southern California district!

I am an American of Japanese descent and I understand how things can be taken. My mother was born in Long Beach and she was in an internment camp as a senior in high school. By the time she was let out, it was too late for fashion school. History has a way of revealing how events change lives. I think of all the students who faced that this year, and I know we can help them have the tools to face their challenges. And I think every student deserves the chance to work hard with what they’re given and they can sometimes make the magic happen anyway. Not all of us are able, or have the tools, to make success happen. And that’s where all of us — local and state and region — are doing our best to make that happen for those students. I think that reflects my best personal understanding on how I ended up where I am today.

What mode of learning is your district, Pleasant Valley School District, currently in? Can you tell us a little about your board’s experience during this unprecedented year?
I’ve served on a lot of CSBA committees this year and I believe what’s happening to Pleasant Valley SD is in one way or the other replicating what’s happening across our state for all of our regions. Things such as considering the health and safety issues related to reopening schools and the things needed to make that happen, and continue to happen daily. We did, in fact, just open a lot of schools on Monday (Oct. 26) and we have faced the kinds of unexpected challenges that come when you’re dealing with them. But our community, our local region — we’re working in concert together. And as we deal with situations — whether it’s the parent aspect, community aspect or the teacher aspect — we’re trying to find good, solid solutions and strategies.

Our district is moving forward positively. When we reach areas where things go wrong, we sit down and try to make it work. That’s the mode we’re in right now and how we’re dealing with this unprecedented year.

Our district is moving forward positively. When we reach areas where things go wrong, we sit down and try to make it work. That’s the mode we’re in right now and how we’re dealing with this unprecedented year.
What do you see as the most significant challenges schools are facing in providing an equitable education to all students?
Pleasant Valley SD wants every student to reach their potential and we are working hard to create ways for our resources to reflect that in our equity leadership. I encourage boards to have really deep discussion about what you want for your students and what you label as equitable learning and leadership. And I believe that if we take those steps, I believe the magic will happen.
You are a Masters in Governance graduate and you have held positions on numerous committees during your 20 years as a CSBA member. Why did you become active in CSBA and why would you encourage board members to get more involved with the organization?
I have actually graduated from Masters in Governance twice! I took it the very first year I was a board member with our entire board and district administration. It was the best thing we ever did. And at this point where I sit now, it has created a governance team and administrative team that I will argue is without parallel. I really would.

Every governance team should take Masters in Governance together — you will not regret it. Your students will benefit, just as they are at Pleasant Valley School District.

As a veteran board member, what advice would you give to new or aspiring board members?
First of all, when you join the board, you may be a little confused. Like, what in the world did I just do? The answer is: you’ll be surprised. And I will give this advice as a veteran board member — please be patient with those of us who have been there a long time and it seems like we have done everything and know everything about students and the community. We don’t mean to sound like that. We can be a little stuck in our ways or think, ‘why change what works?’ — but give us some time; we will learn a lot from you and we hope you will learn a lot from us. I have a new board member who is a joy to work with. She brings in that different view, the passion and that willingness to serve, which I think is invaluable.

And again, please consider taking the Masters in Governance courses because I believe, over all the years you are a board member, it will set your students up for success and reflect all the passion you have for them. And I really do believe that is what will happen.

What are some of the more rewarding experiences you have had as a board member?
It’s all of it. I’ve been on the board for so many years and we have promoted a lot of students. They are becoming teachers in our district now, so it’s come full circle. I think that’s probably one of the most rewarding things, seeing all your work that you’ve done in governance policies, et cetera — you get to see it in action as it renews. I think is probably the most heart-warming thing as a human being to experience when you know you are making positive differences in the worlds of those students and to what they can do because of it.

I believe the potential is there for every student. Every community member who supports students, the teachers themselves and all of us working as hard as we can with our passion, can make anything happen.

What are some of the biggest changes you have seen throughout your term as a board member?
Things are very different! I believe for many of us who are people of color, we’ve seen the ups and downs and the cycles of when we feel we’re making progress, of when we feel we’re all learning how important every student’s ability to access equitable learning is. And I was lucky enough to land with this governance team in particular, in its entirety. Having it all coming together, all that good, positive energy and working together to keep pushing us forward has our district in a very good place. It shows what can happen if you’re dedicated to exactly what I believe we as human beings should be, which is to make the best of each of us, of all of us and make us all in a better place.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.