PUSD using new 'robust system' to find next school leaders

Measure I1 projects, math pathways also topics at community meeting

The recruitment process to find Amador Valley High School and Pleasanton Middle School’s next principals recently received an overhaul that leaves “a more robust system in place,” Pleasanton Unified School District officials said during a lightly attended community meeting last Wednesday evening at Foothill High.

PUSD’s search for a new principal at both schools has been underway for a while. Jill Butler recently announced her plans to retire at the end of next month after four years as principal at Pleasanton Middle School, and Alberto Solorzano stepped down from his position as Amador Valley’s principal in late February shortly after a high school transcript investigation found that unnamed administrators violated state law by intentionally removing a course from a student’s transcript.

Solorzano, who was Amador's third principal within a four-year span, went on unpaid personal leave just before an accreditation visit from the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) and has not returned to the campus. He will officially resign at the end of June, according to the district. Interim principal Nimarta Grewal has been acting in Solorzano’s place since early March.

The search for new principals was a lead topic during PUSD's quarterly community meeting last Wednesday in which district leaders talked with the small group of parents in the audience about a range of topics that also included updates on Measure I1 projects like the planned portable replacements and science classrooms at Foothill, as well as changes to schools' math pathways.

In addition to involving more people in the new principal recruitment process, there will also be “more candidate data points” collected to give a deeper look at each candidate’s qualifications and background, according to PUSD officials. “It’s not an office having an interview with the candidates,” said Julio Hernandez, assistant superintendent of human resources. “We have a much more robust system in place.”

That system now includes a writing prompt and an expanded panel consisting of both parents and district classified staff. Before the change, candidates would field questions from four or five individuals; now “about 20-plus people” are taking part. “They’re engaged in questions. We want to see what is their vision, what is their purpose,” Hernandez said.

Role-playing scenarios also play an important part in deciding who should lead Amador Valley in the future. “Our candidates are sitting at a desk ... and there’s a fishbowl with a handful of people looking and then one of our participants comes in as an angry parent,” Hernandez said. “The candidate had to address that question, and deal with the angry parent.”

Being able to see “how did that candidate deal with the scenario” has been helpful, Hernandez added. “The reaction of our candidates in that stressful circumstance, we got a great deal from that,” he said, also adding that the district is encouraging more parents to get involved with the recruitment panel.

In other news

* New career technical education (CTE) facilities, two new science classrooms and a new two-story building near the main entrance at Foothill to replace six currently used portable classrooms are still coming next year but project organizers said some funding is still missing.

Measure I1 funding will pay for the new building and science classrooms; staff applied last year for an extra $6 million from the state to supplement the campus with new cutting-edge CTE facilities for serving students enrolled in courses like engineering and bioscience.

“There’s absolutely no guarantee that even though we had those applications pass, that we will be fully funded, so stay tuned,” Pleasanton Adult and Career Education director Glen Sparks told attendees. “We’re just sort of at the mercy of the state.”

“We’re breaking ground in summer 2020 regardless, and we’re going to keep on looking” for other funding, Sparks added. Construction is scheduled to start next summer and finish by the end of 2021.

* Community members also heard about the latest developments for math pathways including adjustments to fifth-grade evaluation. Odie Douglas, outgoing assistant superintendent of educational services, said the assessment system has been effective so far at identifying students on both ends of the academic spectrum.

“We do have a few students -- not many -- who may need extra support,” Douglas said, adding that “our goal is to accommodate them” while also encouraging accelerated learners to take high school math classes.

“They’re going to be taking a zero period at Foothill so we do make some accommodations but the assessments lets us know that we are providing enrichment,” he added.

Because ninth-grade algebra 1 is still one of their highest failure rate areas, Douglas said students who did not pass their first time were allowed to retake the course and partnered with a math integration specialist. The program has been piloted at several schools and so far “both are working out very well," he said.

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