Superintendent David Haglund has juggled a number of changes so far at Pleasanton Unified School District in 2019 but is keeping one goal in focus for the new school year: simplify and improve what's already there.
"It's not about doing new stuff; it's about doing the same stuff better," he said during a recent sit-down interview with the Weekly at the dawn of his third year leading PUSD.
That means working to close achievement gaps, increasing academic intervention and support, and clearly communicating the district's policies and procedures to the public.
"When we established those goals at the beginning of last year, we formed an organizational work plan, and we did that because the community was asking for transparency in our actions," Haglund said. "They wanted to know what we were doing to address all of these different things."
Those efforts have included a series of community meetings to facilitate open dialogue with families, students and neighbors, and sharing more informative materials on the district website -- the district's five organizational goals that were established a year ago among them.
With a large shift in key PUSD cabinet positions over the past year, Haglund said that keeping those objectives in mind are helping to stabilize transitional periods at the administrative level.
"When this year came around and we were going to have a new assistant superintendent of teaching and learning ... there was a whole lot of nervousness about what changes bring," Haglund said. "New people means new directions, right? I had to share with my leadership team at our symposium in August that, no, that's not what we're doing this year. We're staying focused on our five goals and we're pushing deeper. We're not going to start a bunch of new stuff just because there's new people. We're going to get better at what we're currently doing."
With the recent retirement of former superintendent of educational services Odie Douglas and the departure of former deputy superintendent Micaela Ochoa for the College of San Mateo, and new principals or vice principals at each of the three high schools, plus leadership changes at several elementary and middle schools, Haglund said some of the changes were expected.
"You want your folks to be able to take advantage of both those types of things -- retire when you're ready and go take new opportunities when those are available to you. You don't want to hold people hostage with regards to that," he added.
It also gave the district the chance to internally recruit for new principals and other administrative roles while simultaneously testing their systemic robustness. "The board communicated to me early on that they had an interest in really trying to develop our people and promote from within, and when you do that ... you also have to fill those positions of the people that are backfilling," he said.
"You haven't necessarily done a lot of turnover, you've grown as an organization so people who were teachers become assistant principals, people who were assistant principals become principals, people who were principals become directors," the superintendent added. "That's an indicator of health in an organization -- very, very different than when you're seeing people leave the organization to go take jobs elsewhere."
The reopening of Amador Valley High School several weeks ago while construction has been underway on new solar panel structures and reconfiguration of the Santa Rita Road parking lot tested the district's organizational strength in real world ways.
After rising early Aug. 12 to help with traffic control around the front of the school, Haglund said he has been "very pleased with the way things have gone and very appreciative of the partnership that we've had with the city" to stem congestion and parking problems.
That being said, "the project's not done yet so there's plenty of other opportunities for frustration -- football games, open house. Those are all going to be new things that the parents and the students are going to have to struggle through."
But until workers meet or beat the Oct. 15 completion date, plans are in place to open the field on the backside of Alisal Elementary so families can park and walk across the street to football games at Amador.
"The good news is that we're ahead of schedule," Haglund said, adding "our 90% date was Oct. 15 and we're confident we're going to beat that."
PUSD is also bumping up its effort to give Pleasanton's youth more chances to collaborate, and even spearhead, on certain issues. One new initiative that Haglund said would be handed over to students this year is a resolution that will call on the city of Pleasanton to take a harder stance on e-cigarette sales to minors.
"(City Manager Nelson Fialho) and I talked, and we talked also with the Liaison Committee about the idea of allowing that energy, the focus on e-cigarettes, to come out of the (city's) Youth Commission," he said. "We're getting the city's Youth Commission ... to develop the plan and propose it, so that it's a solution coming from students as opposed to a solution coming from adults."
It's an idea rooted in the district's mission to see students "make a better world," according to Haglund. PUSD's integrated waste management policy, which largely came from students last year, is one example of the type of drive that the district aims to instill.
"If we don't give them the responsibility and the opportunity to push on those things, then we're not really giving them the skill set they'll need to go out and do that," Haglund said. "It's really empowering our young people to push forward policy that's meaningful to them. You'll probably see a number of initiatives like that this year that are coming from the students to the board."
Just last week PUSD closed its second issuance for $90 million of Measure I1 bonds, which nearly sold out in three hours. Haglund attributed the swift sales and low interest rate to the district's credit rating, community stability and increased assessed values.
With two earlier bonds expiring within the next year or so, the district is set to gauge the community's receptiveness toward continuing the current tax rate a potential new $120 million facilities bond measure with a survey in the coming weeks. Some property owners may not like the idea, but Haglund insisted "there's two ways to look at this particular opportunity."
"One is that in two years, the tax rate related to the earlier measures, that $20 falls off the tax rolls in 2021 and '22," he said. "When you're going through the closing out of a bond, you have a pretty limited time to be able to decide are we going to ask the community to extend the taxing authority or not. The survey's going to tease out hopefully whether or not people are supportive, the community's voters, are supportive of the idea of continuing that tax rate with a new bond."
That support could depend on how some suggested projects are received by polling participants. More than $550 million in various items such as replacing the Amador gym or adding a new performing arts theater at Foothill High that didn't make the Measure I1 project list will be included in the new survey.
"They're going to ask a number of different questions in the poll and we'll be looking at a number of different metrics to determine whether or not this is the right time," Haglund said. "It's not a single question, if you know what I mean, so they'll be talking about whether it would be worth passing a new bond, if it meant replacing the Amador gym, as an example ... Those are all things the community has been asking us to do."
Ultimately passing a new bond measure to the voters is a decision that the Board of Trustees will have to make, "so all I can do is bring a ton of different information to them so they can make a decision, and it's got to be a decision that they each can support," according to Haglund.
The superintendent said that helping the community "understand how schools are funded and the difference between how we've chosen to fund them in Pleasanton and how districts like San Ramon (Valley) or Dublin have funded their schools" is also important, given the varying levels of investment in each community.
"We each get roughly the same amount of money from the state, which is reflective of the general property taxes that are paid, and when you look at the surrounding Bay Area districts and the taxing rates, we're third from the bottom -- and when that 2021 amount drops off, we will be the bottom," he said. "I believe that the community values their schools more than that, so what are the questions that the board's going to want to answer.
"They're going to want to know, does the community understand the need, that's No. 1," he continued.
"Question No. 2 is, does the community believe that we have the capacity to address the needs, given the funding. Are we going to do what we say we're going to do?
"And the third question is, is the community ready to invest in the schools in a way differently than they've invested in the past? I think those are the kinds of things that the board's going to be looking at in the results of the survey."
The survey results are still a ways off but Haglund already has an answer for the second query: "If I have a goal ... it's that we walk through this year with tighter alignment between what we say is our mission and vision and what we do every day when we walk across campuses or into classrooms."
PUSD's five organizational goals
1. To ensure ongoing implementation of research-based assessment strategies that focus on student academic growth and are leveraged to help close achievement and opportunity gaps, as evidenced by CAASPP, district assessments and other metrics.
2. To improve multi-tiered system of supports (RTI 2 and PBIS), including intervention and enrichment, as evidenced by California Dashboard and internal data sources.
3. To strengthen district board policies and administrative regulations which will ensure clarity of direction for staff, as evidenced by board actions and other data sources.
4. To build our professional learning community through strengthening employee recruitment, development, and retention strategies to ensure continuity of a high-quality workforce, as evidenced by hiring data, professional development participation, and exit surveys.
5. To improve overall customer service ratings and stakeholder perceptions of the district and of each school within, as evidenced by the ratings on the annual Benchmark Survey.