February 1, 2023
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Second Chances a Hallmark of Frann Wageneck’s Career in Santa Barbara School District | School Zone

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Life is about second chances. When you receive them, you tend to want to give them.

For Frann Wageneck, those second chances drove a more than 30-year career in public education.

A longtime Santa Barbara Unified School District assistant superintendent and administrator, Wageneck departed her job June 30. It was a low-key exit, but an act in character with her style over the past three decades.

Quiet and tempered, when she spoke it was with meaning and purpose, with an air of empathy and connection.

At 55, Wageneck decided to retire from the district a year earlier than she had intended.

“The pull of the magnet to stay was much weaker than the magnet to leave,” she told Noozhawk. “The culture and climate didn’t help me to stay. It weakened that magnet.”

Wageneck was part of a torrent of voluntary district departures, about 26 in the past year, and she plans to start her own education consulting firm, Flux Coaching, to utilize her hard-won experience and perspective.

She’s worn many hats over the course of her career, including counselor, assistant principal, principal, assistant superintendent, even softball and basketball coach.

After graduating from Chico State and UC Santa Barbara, the Goleta native began her career at San Marcos High School with a patchwork of jobs, including counselor, coach and teacher. Shortly after, an opportunity arose to coach UCSB’s softball team, and she swung at it.

“I was a better coach than player,” she laughed.

She stayed for three seasons, then left for the Bay Area. She described that time of her life in the 1990s as the height of her drinking addiction and acknowledged she made some “bad decisions.”

But it was a process she had to go through, and it led to her eventually coming out as gay.

Around that time, a friend was moving to Santa Barbara with her boyfriend to open a coffee shop they named The Daily Grind & Juice Station. Wageneck helped her get the shop started at 2001 De la Vina St., working as its first manager.

Frann Wageneck
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Then-Santa Barbara school district Assistant Superintendent Frann Wageneck addresses student protesters outside the district office in June 2020. The students had presented a list of demands to the district in the aftermath of the George Floyd killing in Minneapolis. (Joshua Molina / Noozhawk file photo)

In the meantime, she did some consulting with the Santa Barbara County Education Office in the areas of homeless and foster youth, and got sober for good in 1999.

Her interest in public education rekindled, she got her master’s degree in counseling and then went to work for the then-Santa Barbara Secondary District.

As an openly gay administrator, Wageneck forced conversations around LGBTQ+ issues, and she advocated for the most vulnerable students in the system as a principal of alternative schools.

If she could just work with students, she says she would, and it’s in that space where she has found the most rewards. She has always gravitated toward those in the system who have been marginalized, a feeling she understands deeply.

“A lot of my life growing up was spent not being able to be who I was,” Wageneck explained. “When I got sober and I came out, all that happened in a five-year-period of time.”

Her experience allows her to empathize with others.

“I know there are kids and staff members and parents who aren’t free and who don’t have opportunities,” Wageneck said. “There are systems that are built to keep them marginalized. We have to dismantle those and take them apart.

“At the same time, as a white woman, I also know I move around the world with a lot more freedoms than a lot of people. I just want to do what I can … to make sure other people are as free as they can be. I can only do that by being myself.”

Wageneck focused on social-emotional learning long before it was popularized among educators.

State Sen. Monique Limón, D-Santa Barbara, has known Wageneck since the early 1990s, when Limón worked for the California Student Opportunity and Access Program (Cal-SOAP), long before she was elected to the Santa Barbara school district board.

Limón said Wageneck centers students looking for a second chance or an alternative path within the traditional school system. For part of her career, Wageneck served as principal of SBUSD’s La Cuesta, Alta Vista and Quetzal alternative schools.

“Her work leading La Cuesta was among her most notable accomplishments for our school district, students and community,” Limón recalled. “She truly believed in second chances, and looked deeply at how we change the vision, opportunities and system in place to give students an alternative or second chance within our schools.”

Wageneck connected students to professional mentors.

“I became a mentor to one of the students at La Cuesta,” Limón said. “It was Frann who connected community members with her school and students.

“I was so proud to see my mentee graduate La Cuesta and had a chance to attend her graduation, but I wasn’t alone. Frann brought many of us on board to connect, learn and witness the different pathways students in our district take to get to their end goals.”

Wageneck recalls her La Cuesta years as the most enjoyable and rewarding of her career. There was something different about the students.

“They were just so real,” she said. “The vast majority of students came as who they were.”

They expected the same from their principal.

“To be successful with students who are struggling, you can’t be fake,” Wageneck said. “They will disregard you right off the bat.”

She recalled making a tough decision to expel a student who she described as a “wanderer, who didn’t go to class a lot” with a record of other behavior-related suspensions. Eventually, she had enough.

The student was 18 at the time, and she heard through the grapevine that he had gotten a job cleaning swimming pools.

One day, when she was leaving La Cuesta, she ran into the student, who wanted to talk to her. He told her he had changed and that he wanted to come back to school and graduate. He returned as a fifth-year senior, and graduated early.

Wageneck said he was a model student.

“It’s that whole thing of ‘don’t ever give up,’” she said. “You can be too easy on kids and sometimes they need that big wake up. Sometimes people just need second chances.”

In recent years as an SBUSD asssistant superintendent, Wageneck has focused on ways to help students who have experienced suicide ideation. As the primary decision-maker on expulsions, she has worked on a more restorative approach.

While she has always been an advocate for marginalized students, the aftermath of the 2020 George Floyd murder in Minneapolis that rocked the country marked another point of change.

A week after Floyd’s killing at the hands of a police officer, more than 2,000 people, many of them students, marched from the Santa Barbara waterfront to district headquarters at 720 Santa Barbara St.

They gathered in the parking lot, and presented a list of equity demands. Wageneck was on hand to accept them on behalf of the district.

Shawn Carey, a fellow longtime assistant superintendent who also left the district in June, said Wageneck left a “powerful legacy” with her focus on inclusion.

When Carey was principal at Dos Pueblos High, she worked with Wageneck as DP became the first school to explore and ultimately establish all-gender restrooms as well as other practices specific to the rights and experiences of LGBTQ+ youth.

“As assistant superintendent, Frann transformed the role to optimize the ways in which schools serve all students and families, with a particular focus on supporting the most vulnerable and marginalized,” said Carey, who now works for the county Education Office as director of school and district support.

Kate Parker, a former Santa Barbara school board member, said Wageneck exhibits “calm, cool competence amid even the worst chaos imaginable.”

“When I was on the Santa Barbara Unified board, I knew four things: that if Frann was involved, a task would be completed to perfection; that she would always put students first; that I could rely on her to tell me the truth — no matter how unpopular that truth might be; and that if all hell was breaking loose, she would make things better.”

Parker said Wageneck’s retirement “will leave a big hole” at the district.

Wageneck said she is uplifted by the movement toward equity in schools, although she acknowledges the fierce criticism from parents during the COVID-19 pandemic took its toll.

“It is about equity of access from the very beginning,” she said. “… The system was built to produce the results it is getting.”

Wageneck recently had an epiphany.

“Our community needs to take a long hard look at itself and ask who we are,” she said. “We need the people who want to move forward to step up and be as loud as the people who want to take us backward.”

— Noozhawk staff writer Joshua Molina can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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