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Marken: District on 'great trajectory' after year of uncertainty

Interim Superintendent Dave Marken opened up about the turmoil experienced by the Dublin Unified School District as well as his optimism for positive progress ahead. (Photo courtesy of DUSD)

Since taking the reins barely a month ago as interim superintendent of Dublin Unified School District, Dave Marken has already overseen a number of significant developments in a short period of time.

The departure of former superintendent Leslie Boozer and a Board of Trustees down to barely a quorum have tested the district's resolve over the past year, but Marken said they are now on a "great trajectory" as the search for a new leader gets underway.

A former Dublin school administrator and Newark superintendent, Marken emerged from retirement in April to lead DUSD on an interim basis through the end of the school year, following Boozer's sudden separation days earlier. Marken said he "didn't have any immediate desire to go back into this world" but felt connected to the community where he had "served the big, big part of my career."

Since then, Marken has been living a "nomadic" existence between hotels in the Bay Area and weekends at home in the Central Valley while working to help stabilize the district.

"It's a little nomadic, I am not necessarily used to it but it's working at this point," he said during a recent interview with the Weekly. "If I can help them get through this time, we will see what transpires through the superintendent search."

That search is "on a pretty fast track" since the window for feedback from DUSD staff and families closes in a matter of weeks. San Francisco consulting firm Hazard, Young, Attea & Associates was recently brought on board to facilitate the process with an "aggressive timeline" as the deadline to connect with teachers, administrators and parents approaches.

"Their No. 1 priority is to get input from those stakeholder groups," Marken said. "We have basically 3-1/2 weeks left, so our plan is to get all of those (interviews) done by then. Then they start to compile a list of candidates, and it's probably in its preliminary stage but it's on a pretty fast track because we have a shorter window."

Several people have approached Marken about submitting his own candidacy for the permanent position; he hasn't ruled out the possibility but said going through the process is a valuable experience for the district.

"They need to get input from all of the stakeholders -- the teachers, the classified administrators, parents, students -- and put together a profile of what they want in their superintendent," he said. "At that point, then I'll make my decisions based on what the community wants and what would be best for myself and my family."

The challenge of filling two empty positions on the five-seat Board of Trustees also continues to loom over the district, which Marken said "creates unique opportunities because in order to pass any item you have to have unanimous decisions."

Two candidates are running for one of the seats in next month's special election for Trustee Area 4, and another election could be scheduled for November to add the other new member to the board. From there, Marken said it's all about building trust, transparency and coherence, and moving forward among staff, administrators, parents, students and the board.

"It's a multi-faceted situation," Marken said. "Over the last couple of years, the district has parted ways for a variety of reasons with a number of administrators, so that creates a strain on the organization, absolutely."

"All of those things are very interesting dynamics in trying to end the school year on a positive note, which we believe that we're doing," he added, including the Measure E parcel tax renewal just approved by Dublin voters and recently finalized negotiations with the classified staff and teachers union.

Marken said the passage of Measure E is proof that the community hasn't lost sight of its priorities amid the administrative upheaval.

"It shows several things; in a year of uncertainty, our community still believes very strongly in its programs, in its schools, in its students," he said. "That's a very strong testament because clearly this year has been a difficult year, a year of some uncertainty, so we have been able to help bring some folks together and ... we're very excited about it."

Measure E succeeding -- weeks after completing tense labor negotiations -- was crucial for gaining momentum on other issues "because absent of that, could potentially require some cuts that will now not have to be made" and departments can finally start planning together, according to Marken.

Lately, that's meant a number of meetings with the DUSD community "doing a lot of building and work on all of our schools," he said. "It's a great trajectory; it's really actually kind of exciting."

"When there is uncertainty as has occurred in our district ... what happens is people tend to revert into silos," Marken said.

"They look inwardly and they just do their job," he added. "So we need to get coherence in all of our departments, provide some hope. I wanted to end the year making sure that people felt hopeful, that they could begin to renew trust in each other and in the district, which includes a level of transparency."

Public input on superintendent search

The Dublin Unified School District is scheduled to hold two community meetings next week seeking input as it formulates the leadership profile for its new superintendent:

* Monday (May 20) from 7-8:30 p.m. in the career center at Dublin High School

* Tuesday (May 21) from 7-8:30 p.m. in the multipurpose room at Fallon Middle School

An online survey is also available (http://bit.ly/DUSD-Superintendent-Survey) for interested community members to provide input. The deadline for the survey is Thursday (May 23).

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