San Bernardino School District Brings In Superintendent From Bakersfield

Just under a year following the departure of former San Bernardino City Unified School District Superintendent Dale Marsden, the district’s board members voted on Tuesday night, March 16, 2021, to hire Harry “Doc” Ervin to head the district.
Ervin is to replace Harold Vollkommer, who has served as the district’s interim superintendent since Marsden’s departure.
In a prepared statement, Erwin said, “I look forward to ensuring every San Bernardino City Unified School District student has the support they need to be successful. The San Bernardino City Unified School District has a lot of great programs in place for students, and I look forward to taking what they have to the next level.”
Ervin’s hiring was unanimously ratified by board members Gwendolyn Dowdy-Rodgers, Scott Wyatt, Barbara Flores, Mayra Ceballos, Margaret Hill, Danny Tillman and Abigail Rosales-Medina.
Ervin, currently the superintendent of the Bakersfield City School District, will begin with San Bernardino City Unified on July 1.
Marsden privately informed the district’s board members of his intended resignation effective at the end of March 2020 at the school board’s meeting on December 10, 2019, and he made a public announcement the next day. Mystery has attended the circumstance, as there were no overt signs of dissatisfaction with Marsden among the school board’s members.
Both Marsden and Erwin were members of the U.S Military. Marsden served in the U.S. Air Force for four years before attending college, after which he went into the teaching profession. Ervin is a U.S. Marine Corps veteran.
Erwin has a bachelor of arts degree in liberal studies and master of science in education administration from Alliant International University. His administrative credential was earned at California State University, Fullerton. He and his wife have three sons and one daughter.
An African American, Ervin is fluent in Spanish. His 25 years in the educational field range from classroom teaching to principal, assistant superintendent and superintendent. He was superintendent in Bakersfield since 2016.
In 2012, Marsden replaced Dr. Arturo Delgado as San Bernardino City Unified’s superintendent, where 54,000-student were then enrolled. Just under 90 percent of the district’s student population at that time lived in households below the federally defined poverty level. That statistic has not changed for the better in the nine years since. About 2,800 of the district’s students are homeless.
The number of students in the district dropped during Marsden’s tenure, such that there are now roughly 49,000 students enrolled throughout the district, from kindergarten to 12th grade. The district at this point stands as the ninth-largest school district in California.
Academic progress across the spectrum in the San Bernardino City Unified School District has been spotty over the years.
Marsden made some inroads while with the district. Of those that managed to make it to the 12th grade, 91 percent of the senior class in San Bernardino City Unified high schools in 2019 graduated, surpassing the county, state and national average.
Marsden was praised for having put into place a community engagement strategy to deal with issues interfering with students’ ability to focus on their studies, and heading off behavioral and attitudinal problems, which was deemed at least partially successful in increasing the district’s graduation rates and achieving a 50 percent reduction in student suspensions and citations. He also championed a “career pathway” focus for students to instill in them the skills necessary to find work, while not necessarily aiming at preparing 100 percent of the district’s students to attend college.
At the same time that Marsden was being lauded, the district was loathe to acknowledge that only 28.3 percent of its students met college course requirements. According to the California State Department of Education, 49 percent of students in San Bernardino are performing below state standards in math, 39 percent are not meeting standards in English language arts/literacy and 45 percent are testing below the standard level in reading.
The school board was stymied in its effort to replace Marsden because of issues relating to the COVID-19 pandemic. A nationwide recruitment was resumed in January. Erwin was selected from among 20 applicants.
The school board was impressed with Ervin’s career emphasis on striving for equity and student engagement, and his efforts to make education possible for economically-disadvantaged students from culturally-diverse backgrounds, according to a statement put out by the district.
San Bernardino City Unified School Board President Gwen Dowdy-Rodgers said the board “listened closely to our SBCUSD community about the qualities we should look for in a new superintendent.”
With Ervin, she said, “We are confident we have found a transformational leader, as his experience at all levels of the educational system will help us effectively navigate the opportunities and challenges that come as we recover and grow from the COVID-19 pandemic.”
The school board is set to approve Ervin’s contract April 6. Salary figures and the benefit package Ervin is to receive have not been publicly provided.
There had been some criticism leveled at Marsden over his level of compensation.
Just before the onset of the school year in 2017, Marsden negotiated a four-year contract worth $1.2 million in base pay, consisting of an annual salary before benefits of $307,546. Calculation of his total compensation included another $124,271.32 in yearly benefits, including contributions toward his pension plus $24,000 worth of annual life insurance deposited into a trust account, another $12,000 per year put into a tax-sheltered account for him, a $14,400 annual housing allowance and a $9,120 auto allowance. The contract provided him with 24 vacation days and 30 sick days per year and full lifetime medical and dental coverage for himself and his wife upon his retirement. Marsden was given a district-issued credit card for expenses incurred while at work, and the district entitled him to reimbursement  for all necessary business-related expenses he personally paid in the conducting of his duties. Thus, Marsden’s total annual compensation package stood at $432,817.32, making his four-year contract worth $1.7 million all told.
-Mark Gutglueck

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