San Juan Unified welcomes Superintendent Melissa Bassanelli

By Mia Randall, Editor in Chief, and Emma Canillo, Managing Editor

As of January 2023, Melissa Bassanelli took over the role of San Juan Unified School District Superintendent, and she is now meeting with media and journalism students across the district to discuss her plans for the future.

Bassanelli graduated from Sacramento State University with a bachelor’s degree in social work. Immediately out of college, Bassanelli began working at Mira Loma as a classified employee, who led support groups and aided with student struggles that ranged from friendships to drug and alcohol abuse. 

After her start in SJUSD, she held numerous other positions, especially after she got her school counseling and administrative credentials. Bassanelli has been a part of SJUSD for 25 years and has been in many different roles including a counseling intern at Churchill, a vice principal at Kingswood K-8, a principal at Thomas Kelly Elementary and even a mother to three children, who all attended schools within the district.

Her path through SJUSD was never set in stone, and it was never a true goal of hers to become superintendent, but as Bassanelli worked through the company over those 25 years, herself and others recognized the skills she would bring to the district.

“Throughout my career, I don’t know that I ever saw myself in a superintendent position, but doors had been opened along the way and I have had lots of great mentors help build leadership skills in me, as well as see the potential in me—I think at times where I didn’t see the potential in myself,” Bassanelli said. 

Bassanelli’s parents are from Sacramento, but she only moved back to the city after growing up in several different areas.

“I’ve lived in lots of different places—we moved around probably ten different times when I was growing up—it was hard to find a place that I really called home until I landed in Sacramento, which is where I really grew my roots,” Bassanelli said. 

In terms of the application process for superintendent, she explained that it was a lot more than just papers and recommendations. She talked to people all over the SJUSD area about what qualities they wanted in the next superintendent and also what they wanted for the district. 

“When you think about what you want to be to an organization, there’s a lot of connecting with others to hear what the desires are [for SJUSD] and how my skills match up to that, as well as how I can help take it forward,” Bassanelli said. 

Superintendent Melissa Bassanelli meets with El Camino media students and responds to questions about her new role and changes within the district. Photo by Hannah Schooley

Before becoming superintendent, she was the deputy superintendent and in that position, she explained that you are focused on the aspects of teaching and learning. As superintendent, those responsibilities continue to grow and expand, while also including the operational side. 

SJUSD has gone through several changes recently that have completely altered the school board. In November 2022, the school board grew from five members to seven. In addition to that change, SJUSD moved to by-trustee area elections, and each board member now represents separate areas instead of being elected at-large and being responsible for the district at-large. Of the seven members, three of them are new, along with Bassanelli as the new superintendent.

“There are eight people that now need to figure out how to work together, so that has been a real focus of my work—just supporting the governance team, working together and really managing our district during this transition,” Bassanelli said.

With the expansion of her roles, Bassanelli finds herself involved in much more of the district than she has ever been. Whether it’s attending daily meetings, participating in district activities, performing a school site visit or going to a district awards ceremony, Bassanelli’s superintendent title has created a busy schedule for her.

“Going to these different spaces, being a part of the community and recognizing people when they are getting awards, all of that matters—it’s the fun stuff, the stuff that really fills your bucket,” Bassanelli said.

Bassanelli believes that with the addition of many new activities in her life, an important aspect of managing time is to allocate time to herself. Managing time with her family is a very important aspect in her life, and she now works even harder to make sure that balance is working well for everyone involved.

Thinking about current issues is not the only thing on Bassanelli’s plate, as she has many goals and desires for the future of SJUSD. She hopes to work towards better outcomes and experiences for all students, which can relate to student academics or even student health and wellness.

“We have all been through a lot over the past three years, so my goal is to continue to create welcoming and safe spaces for students—where every student has their needs met every single day, at every single school,” Bassanelli said.

The change of having a brand new superintendent is not always a smooth transition, and Bassanelli’s main goal is to implement the understanding that she, and all other district members, are willing to listen.

“I would want them to know—and I absolutely mean it—your voice matters,” Bassanelli said. “Whatever you want to share related to your hopes, dreams, worries or concerns, we want to hear from you, we are always going to want to hear from you.”

Whether people are feeling overwhelmed or unsure with what is to come in the future, Bassanelli hopes to relieve any stressors and show district families that the future of SJUSD is bright.

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