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Dr. Dave Ostash, current Superintendent of the Sierra Sands Unified School District, resigns. / Laura Austin Photo

SISC appoints Dr. Dave Ostash as CEO

Ostash to resign as SSUSD Superintendent June 30, 2023

KERN COUNTY SUPERINTENDENT OF SCHOOLS Mary C. Barlow, Superintendent, January 19, 2023–

I am delighted to announce that Dr. Dave Ostash, current Superintendent of the Sierra Sands Unified School District, has been selected to be the next CEO of Self-Insured Schools of California (SISC), effective July 1, 2023. Dave brings years of leadership experience and a keen understanding of school insurance to this position. Dave will work closely with Nick Kouklis over the next several months to ensure a smooth transition.

Please help me celebrate the career and many accomplishments of Nick Kouklis. Nick joined SISC in 2011 after a tremendous career at the Lakeside School District, where he served as Principal of Lakeside Elementary School from 1995 to 2000, and as district Superintendent from 2000 to 2011. Nick also worked previously for the Delano Union Elementary School District and the Fairfax School District. 

His many impacts on SISC are too numerous to list here, and we are forever grateful for his contributions locally and statewide. In searching for his successor, board members shared their hope that the next CEO would have the same vision, empathy, and judgment as Nick. He is a compassionate leader who, above all, understands that the health and safety of school employees are paramount. 

Dr. Dave Ostash will assume leadership of SISC effective July 1, 2023. Dave brings years of experience working directly with Local Education Agencies.

Dave has served the Sierra Sands Unified School District in Ridgecrest, California since 1996. He started as an English teacher at Burroughs High School (BHS). Over the years he has served as a Dean of Students, Assistant Principal, and Principal at BHS. In 2014 Dave was promoted to Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources and in 2019 was selected as Superintendent, where he led the district through the 2019 earthquakes in Ridgecrest and the COVID pandemic with grace and compassion.

Dave earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in English from the University of California Los Angeles, his Master’s degree in Curriculum & Instruction and his teaching credential from Chapman University, his Administrative Credential from California State University, Bakersfield, and his Doctorate in Education from Azusa Pacific University. He is also a graduate of the School Business Management Certificate Program /Chief Business Official Certification from the University of Southern California and the Association of California School Administrators Superintendents Academy. Dave has served on the SISC I & SISC II Boards since 2021.

Dave has served as an Adjunct Lecturer for CSU, Bakersfield, and California Lutheran University. He is very active in local community organizations, including the Ridgecrest Economic Development Corporation, the Ridgecrest Chamber of Commerce, the Alta One Federal Credit Union, Ridgecrest Regional Hospital, and the RidgeProject. Dave was honored by ACSA Region 11 as the Secondary Principal of the Year in 2010 and from 2012-2017 he served as a Chair on several accreditation visits for the Western Association of Schools & Colleges (WASC).

Please join me in thanking Nick Kouklis for his many contributions to SISC / KCSOS and education in California and help me welcome and congratulate Dave Ostash on his new role as CEO of SISC.

By LAURA QUEZADA News Review Staff Writer–

Dr. Dave Ostash, tells The News-Review, “I am accepting a very special opportunity to be the next CEO for Self-Insured Schools of California (SISC). The job will start on July 1. I’m grateful to Nick Kouklis, the current CEO, for his commitment to a smooth transition and mentoring all along the way. Starting with the announcement last week on Thursday, he and I have already been talking and there will be multiple opportunities between now and July 1 to build a strong smooth transition so that when I start in July, I truly can hit the ground running.”

Ostash is certain that SSUSD School Board will have a new Superintendent ready so that Ostash can help with a smooth transition for SSUSD. “I want to thank Dr. Barlow, our County Superintendent, who has made it clear to me that as we move forward into the second half of the year if at any time the newly installed superintendent would like to seek any information or to receive any input from me that I’ve been granted that discretion to provide some time for the rest of the year to make sure that there’s a smooth transition on both sides. I have no doubt that there will be a smooth transition on both sides.

“SISC is a nonprofit Joint Powers Authority, a JPA, that started in the late 1970s. SSUSD was among the very early districts when the JPA was first initially formed and created to allow public school districts to be part of a pool so that you could get better pricing and better products in health and welfare, administration, workers comp, property, and liability. SSUSD is among the 500 school districts in California that belong to the pool. So about half of all the public school districts in the State of California belong to SISC.

“SISC started just in Kern County as SISK  but in the late 1990s SISK had developed such a strong value for public school districts that the three boards at SISK voted to approve its renaming to Self-Insurance Schools of California.” It then became SISC. “500 of the approximate 1000 school districts in the state of California from the top of California at the Oregon border down to the Mexican border and from the ocean to the desert school districts are eligible to be considered for joining. SISC is the largest JPA for public schools in the state and in the nation.  

“I did not anticipate this transition. But when it materialized, it made perfect sense because particularly in the last 10 years of my career, where I’ve made choices about where I wanted to continue my education and my training and get some real, particular experience and certification. All of those decisions ended up aligning perfectly with this new job.

“Another thing that aligns perfectly is that I spent a little over 10 years volunteering at Alta One Federal Credit Union. Nine of those years I was on the Board of Directors and as a board member I really deepened my belief system and my passion for that public, nonprofit member-owned organization. You know, credit unions exist really only solely for one purpose – to serve the member. It only exists to make shareholders profit. They don’t exist to grow for the sake of growth. They really exist to serve the member. And whatever it takes to serve the member best is what is going to drive decisions for that credit union. 

“The same is true of SISC. SISC is a member-owned public nonprofit organization. SISC’s highest aspiration is to serve its member districts. And so for me to have gained the knowledge and the experience from being a member of the board of Alta One for almost a decade,  I’m able to transfer that experience, that knowledge, and that passion for that type of organization now into SISC.”

Ostash became Superintendent on July 1, 2019. Most are familiar with the impact of the timing. “July 4th shook us up, July 5th rocked us,” says Ostash. In his four years as Superintendent, our region had a 7.1 earthquake and the world had a pandemic. “I realized during those particular challenges that communication from the head of the organization became even more important than it ordinarily is. I knew that people needed to feel like there was a cohesive response and a coordinated solution, or a set of solutions through both of those major events. So I responded by communicating on an order of magnitude more than I normally would have.  

“I went in kind of a hybrid drive mode of communicating with everyone: the staff, the community, parents, businesses. I knew that was, from an external point of view,  a huge responsibility. So I embraced that responsibility; I believe, and I hope, that I stepped up to the plate and I was capable of achieving and honoring the community and honoring the staff by becoming kind of the communicator in chief because it was just there. There were a lot of moving parts during the earthquake and pandemic that really required somebody to keep it together.”

Asked to reflect on his time at SSUSD Ostash tells us the low side of his memories: “An untimely death and untimely passing of a student or a staff member, and I can recall many of those circumstances, each one being devastating and trying and having basically a forever imprint.” He thinks he may need more distance from his years here to really gauge his accomplishments. However, he tells us, “I believe that to the extent that I was effective, it was through influence and not power. I never viewed any position that I had, with any positional authority as a strategy, I only ever viewed my value as a leader through influence, so it didn’t really matter what my position was. I don’t feel like I had any more or less influence as a superintendent than I did when I was, say, a principal or an assistant principal. I feel like I’ve always had a tremendous opportunity to influence things in a positive way through my actions, through my tone, through my preparation. 

“Everything that I did, I had to think to myself, ‘How can we optimize district resources?’ There’s always a limitation of resources; you have a certain amount of money, personnel,  hours in the day, you have a certain amount of facilities. You only have so much and so you have to look at all the resources from a leadership point of view and go ‘Okay, how can I optimize everything that I do have?’ Optimize it so that you have the very best value proposition for the student and all those who serve the student.”

Since early childhood, it seems that Ostash was groomed for public service and through the years some key individuals have inspired him in his development of his leadership style. As a child, both sides of his family were rooted in service. “ I knew that I was loved by my family. But at the very same time, I was taught that as individuals outside of the home, we aren’t to consider ourselves as special. We were to consider ourselves as how can we contribute to the greater good. How can we contribute to society to make it a little bit better place than we found it?”

As an adolescent, he had a mentor, his high school principal Ken Biermann. “He was an extremely visible leader. He knew the students at the school. He knew their names, he believed in second chances, and he attended activities and athletics. He inspired me in ways that I didn’t realize at the time would have such a long-lasting effect.”

When Ostash was hired to teach at Burroughs, “Bruce Auld was superintendent when I got hired here.  I watched how Bruce Auld did a lot of the same things as Ken Biermann did, again, a highly visible, optimistic problem solver. No job in the district was beneath him; whoever needed help, wherever it was needed he’d lend a helping hand.”

As Ostash moved into positions of more responsibility,  SSUSD Board of Directors President Bill Farris inspired him.  Ostash observed “how things worked at the top as far as board governance, executive leadership, the responsibilities that are associated with higher leadership.  I began to really pay attention when I was a school principal because I  started to attend board meetings and I would observe the way that Mr. Farris could capture the essence of a really important topic, especially when it was challenging for all different parties to understand, and distill what was going on in it. Every single time that there was an important moment or an important situation for us, Mr. Farris always had and continues to have the ability to bring the words and the explanation and the concepts of something that’s very difficult into ways that we can all understand in ways that we can all maybe listen and reconsider.” 

Ostash will keep his family home in Ridgecrest, live in Bakersfield, and come home on weekends. “ I’ve got to be in Bakersfield and be available to do all of the work and all of the functions and all of every aspect of the position.”

One can tell he is a bit emotional about leaving Ridgecrest and SSUSD, but there is some excitement about the changes. “I’m excited about contributing and moving to another chapter. I’m also excited about swimming every day.  We lost a community pool here and I really enjoy swimming as a sort of physical and mental outlet. So I will work every day and I will swim every day.  I’m looking forward to that.”

SSUSD Dr. Dave Ostash– 

  Dear Sierra Sands Families,

 It has been a privilege to serve as superintendent of Sierra Sands since July 2019.  With strong feelings of gratitude and nostalgia throughout my 27-year career in Sierra Sands, I am announcing my intent to resign effective June 30, 2023.  I will begin a new chapter in my professional journey by serving as Chief Executive Officer of Self-Insured Schools of California (SISC), on July 1.

I really cannot express in words the joy and fulfillment I’ve found in my time here.  I began in August 1996 as an English teacher at BHS.  From my first day on the job, to now, I’ve been “all in.”  The connections made with students and their families is something I will always value.  

I have invested my entire adult professional life in Sierra Sands.  I am proud of Sierra Sands and all that it represents in our community and beyond.  

I wish to thank the governing board members of our district, past and present.  They have entrusted me to lead over the last several years and I have the highest respect for each of them, clearly devoted to the well-being and success of our district.

I look forward to working as hard as ever through June 30, after which time a new superintendent will be in place to help carry forward all the great work of our 600 dedicated employees.  The Board will establish a process for selecting a new superintendent; while my leadership team and I will provide the necessary support to ensure a smooth and seamless transition.

Thank you for everything,

Sincerely, Dave Ostash Superintendent