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Meet Dublin Unified School District Superintendent Dr. Leslie Boozer

August 25, 2016

DUBLIN, CA–The Dublin Unified School District has a new Superintendent to lead Dublin schools through a period of unprecedented growth and change. Dr. Leslie Boozer, who earned a Doctor in Education from Harvard University and was most recently Superintendent for the Fontana Unified School District, sat down with to share her vision for Dublin public education.

IMG_2653 You completed grad school with a degree in law and started your career as an attorney. What drew you to education?

Dr. Leslie Boozer: “I loved law school and the study of law. When I was practicing law, I was a litigator for a big firm and I realized I wanted to do something more in public service. When I thought about what made me the happiest and had the greatest impact on my life it was always school. I had to move around quite a bit growing up; my father worked for State Farm and was transferred a lot, so I ended up moving in the 2nd, 4th, 6th and 8th grades. Every time I went to a new school I realized how welcomed, supported and cared for I was by the teachers and staff, and I loved school. I moved out to Los Angeles at a time when they were recruiting for teachers and kept seeing billboards about openings. During law school I was as a teaching assistant and loved teaching, and realized that was where my heart was. I spoke with some of the high school teachers I’d kept in touch with, shared my interest in teaching and they believed it was a perfect fit for me. Ever since I’ve known education was the right path for me.” How did your experience as a classroom teacher, working with children, impact you personally?

Boozer: “I loved being in the classroom. I had amazing students and worked in a very troubled, large, comprehensive high school in South Los Angeles. I was a P.E. and English teacher working with students with high needs. We were a 100% free and reduced lunch school and many of my students were reading at an elementary grade level, most at a 2nd or 3rd grade level. It was a passion of mine to help open doors for these students, to help them see what opportunities there were beyond high school. I not only wanted to help these students achieve the level they needed to achieve to graduate but also to apply for college, go into the military or a vocational career path. It was incredibly rewarding to help these students, and one student in particular comes to mind. The student was a Gates Scholarship winner and I was fortunate to work with her parents to help her understand why she should go to UC Berkeley. Her mom didn’t want her to go away from home; her daughter was the first person in the family to go to college, so I had to help her mom understand why going to Berkeley would be such a game-changer. It was a remarkable experience that welcomed me into education; I learned as much from my students as I taught them.” You went back to Harvard for a second degree in education and ultimately a PhD. Were you considering a career in academia at that point and what drew you to administration?

Boozer: “When I applied to Harvard I was in an administrative program. LAUSD had a program where teacher leaders could get their administrative credential through the local district. I was in the program to get my credential in order to become a principal during a time when my school was going through serious problems. There were large riots that were on the news and it made me want to learn more about how I could help troubled schools turn around. I researched doctoral programs and discovered Harvard’s program which was specifically designed for administrators wanting to become superintendents, the Urban Superintendents Program. The program’s message was high achievement for all kids, a message I fully embrace. The program was very small, there were six people in my cohort, and was designed to be a strong blend of practice and research. During the program I interned with the Long Beach Unified School District under Chris Steinhauser, who is still the Superintendent. It was an intense program with classwork, interning and working on your dissertation all happening at the same time.” What do you view as the most pressing challenges facing today’s educators and why?

Boozer: “I think the demands on our kids are even more intense than when we were growing up. We live in such a global society, information is so fast and changing, that as educators we have to prepare our students for a world that doesn’t exist yet. We need to prepare our students to be competitive in a global environment that’s highly technical and very rapidly changing. I think that’s our biggest challenge right now is to continue to prepare children so that they can succeed in whatever their future holds.” In your discussions with Dublin teachers, staff, trustees, parents and students so far what do you view as the most pressing problems facing Dublin students?

Boozer: “We have great kids and wonderful programs in our schools. I’ve heard over and over that we need to prepare our kids for the future, with a well-rounded education, where kids can be competitive in whatever field they choose, and have lots of options after graduation. I’ve read some of the stories on OneDublin and see that our students are going all over the world and are successful at all types of careers.” What most excites you about the Dublin Unified School District, that you want to reinforce, and what areas do you see that need improvement or need additional focus?

Boozer: “What excites me the most is the intensive collaboration and teamwork – Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) – that has been embraced in Dublin. The teachers, administration and staff all work together to improve the educational outcomes for our kids. I want to continue to see that environment flourish.

“As far as next steps I believe it’s important we continue to incorporate science and technology into our curriculum, and connecting that to college and career readiness. We also need to instill the importance of the arts and wellness – well-rounded students. I want our students to be able to appreciate technology and math, but also be strong writers, understand a foreign language, appreciate the performing arts and committed to wellness and physical education. I think you need all of these skills to be college and career ready.” There is a lot of concern about the stress our kids are facing – from Race to Nowhere to the Silicon Valley Suicide Clusters. What role should a school district play in tackling these challenges?

Boozer: “These are very serious challenges. The pressures on our students are often immense. I’ve spent time talking to schools about Race to Nowhere and I think students need to know where they can go to get support, from someone they trust. Having a support system in place at school sites is critical. We need to help students self-regulate, to manage the pressure they are putting on themselves and to learn that the goal isn’t perfection but rather to be the best you can personally be. We need to help students believe that struggles and failures aren’t a bad thing, that it’s a part of the learning process. I believe it’s a big responsibility of the school district to provide social and emotional support, to train our staff that achievement is not the only goal. We also have to partner with parents to help them understand the pressures our kids are facing and that there are so many options available, that if one path doesn’t work out it’s ok. We need to help both students and parents navigate these challenges.

“The pressures today’s students face, amplified by social media, are much more intense than when we were kids.” Dublin’s School Board strongly believes in balance and wellness. The Homework Committee was re-convened this spring to target Dublin High School’s homework policy. The revised policy begins with this powerful statement, “The Board of Education strongly believes in the balance of wellness and achievement.” How do you plan to help implement this vision?

Boozer: “I applaud that the Board has gone in that direction. I want to define what that looks like in practice, what shifts we need to make as adults to help kids achieve that balance. It will be a change in how we view homework and assessment. It takes time to implement those changes and for people to believe these are great things for kids. It’s not just about removing pressure, but not having kids do things that take a lot of time unnecessarily. The foundation of the revised homework and grading policy is for students to demonstrate what they know, and to be rewarded. If a student doesn’t need homework to succeed then they should be able to succeed based on their performance. Homework needs to serve the purpose of practice.” What is your philosophy about balancing the whole school day, in other words all activities – academic, athletic and extracurricular – that are administered by the district? In the spring of 2015 Trustees directed that guardrails be in place for the entire school day at Dublin High School. DHS administration said at the time: “The shift in culture is about the whole student. We honor that our DHS students are well-rounded and have outside commitments. Our attention must extend beyond the day to include the many extracurriculars our students are involved in.” The parent community is still waiting for this balance to be achieved – how can you help ensure guardrails are in place for our students balancing all these activities?

Boozer: “It’s a tough balance to achieve. It’s important that we listen to the parents, students and staff, and brainstorm about how we are using time in order to achieve that balance better. Are there shifts we can make in the curriculum? in the organization of the day? There are likely a lot of solutions and I look forward to better understanding the varying goals and how we can achieve them together. I strongly believe in balance and wellness, and it’s what college admissions staff want, and what employers want. By supporting balance and wellness we are really supporting our education mission. How can we build a day where students can demonstrate leadership skills, tackle academics, participate in physical activity and be involved in an extracurricular activity, without sacrificing sleep. Sleep is critically important for our young people. As adults in a 24×7 world we struggle with balance.” With growth challenges in some ways overshadowing all other issues facing the district how do you plan to address growth challenge?

Boozer: “Growth comes with opportunities and challenges. I’ve been very impressed with the steps the Board of Education and past administration have taken to manage the growth. We have amazing facilities in this district that are beautiful and conducive to learning. When I think of our next steps and look at the demographic projections it’s about continuing on the path of developing great curricular programs for our new learning spaces that will provide excellent opportunities for every Dublin student. We need to balance new construction with the renewal of existing facilities where needed. We have a strong facilities plan in place, and I want to hear from the community on their desires and wants about how the school district should develop and grow.” We’ve had the good fortune of long leadership tenures at both Dublin High School and in the District. The average tenure outside Dublin is under four years. Why do you think it is so rare to see superintendents spend more time with their districts?

Boozer: “It’s been a struggle that’s been ongoing in our country for quite some time. It can be due to politics in the community and tends to be shorter in urban environments than more suburban environments. Dublin has been particularly blessed to have very long tenure. What we know from the research is that it helps make great schools and great school districts. Long, consistent leadership at the School Board level is also important, and Dublin has been blessed there as well. I believe that has been part of Dublin’s success. I hope to replicate the tenure of Dr. Hanke because that’s the investment of time you need to really see the impact of your work. My mentors have had long tenures.

“When I look ahead for Dublin we need that consistent tenure because we have a lot of work to do in the next decade as we continue to grow. We will need to plan years in advance and I look forward to that work.”

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