Meet Dublin Unified School District Assistant Superintendent Dr. Lisa Gonzales
DUBLIN, CA–The Dublin Unified School District has gone through significant leadership changes over the past year, while experiencing continued rapid growth. Building on our series of interviews with the new leadership team, OneDublin.org recently met with DUSD Assistant Superintendent Dr. Lisa Gonzales. Dr. Gonzales earned her Ed.D. at the University of La Verne, was most recently the Interim Superintendent at the Lakeside Joint School District and is currently the President Elect of the Association of California School Administrators.
Mary Morehead: What is the role of assistant superintendent?
Dr. Lisa Gonzales: “I see myself as a leader of leaders. I work with many different directors in different departments, who have staff under them, who support teachers, classified staff and instructional programs all working together for students. Programs include curriculum and instruction, assessment, special education, ROP/CTE, student services, educational technology, and adult education.”
Morehead: What are the biggest challenges facing California public education?
Dr. Gonzales: “That’s a really loaded question these days, partially because when I watch the news there is more uncertainty, particularly at the federal level. We’ve been working to implement the ESSA (Every Student Succeeds Act), which was signed into law during the last year of the Obama administration. There are states all across the country now going in a specific direction, aligning instruction and assessments, that are implementing Common Core, and now we’re hearing mixed messages on that direction. We’re even hearing that there might not be a U.S. Department of Education and that special education funding will look different than it does now. For those of us working in the system it’s really stressful because we need to allay the fears of the staff you work with, and the parents that are hearing information and aren’t sure how to process what they’re hearing. The instability and uncertainty is a major challenge but at the same time we have to keep moving forward with our short and long-term planning, knowing major change is likely.
“I listen to the news, I have conversations with colleagues, I follow federal and state briefings, and try to anticipate how what may happen could impact our LCAPs [Local Control and Accountability Plan] and the day-to-day work we are doing with students. The reality is at this point we don’t know.”
Morehead: What attracted you to Dublin?
Dr. Gonzales: “There is an amazing energy in Dublin, and that matches my personality. I was attracted by the challenge of Dublin’s rapid growth, going from a small district to a medium-sized district almost overnight. As I visit with school sites I ask about the impacts of rapid growth. Growth is impacting leadership and staff in ways that I wouldn’t have expected. For example, if a school’s enrollment increases by 200 students in one year how does that impact the culture and climate? How does the rapid increase in teaching and classified staff to accommodate that growth affect the relationships between staff members? Schools need a strong culture and relationships between staff members in order to best meet the needs of students. Our administrators are experiencing growing pains across the district and my primary goal is to support them.”
Morehead: What have you learned working with the Association of California School Administrators (ACSA) that you can bring to the Dublin Unified School District?
Dr. Gonzales: “I’ve learned that leadership matters. As a leader I need to grow every single day, just like teachers need to grow. I need to be cultivating leaders, and mentoring future leaders that can replace me. Who are those teacher leaders that are ready to move forward? Who are those classified staff that can move into teaching roles? How do we identify and bring forward new principals as our baby boomers retire? That was my niche at ACSA – mentoring and coaching. ACSA connected me with a network of experts across the spectrum of education disciplines, from experts in English learners to assessment to crisis management to technology to mentoring and more. I have this powerful network I can tap into just by picking up the phone.
“ACSA also taught me how to be clear and articulate about what individual school and districts need from legislators who are setting education policy. Having state level contacts while we’re experiencing such unique needs due to rapid growth and infrastructure expansion will be invaluable. I hope to draw on my experience with legislative policy and advocacy as Dublin works through the challenges of rapid growth. I’ve been able to see how legislation and state-level policy decisions can have a direct impact on students in the classroom and plan to continue to tap into my experience to benefit our students and community.”
Morehead: What are your priorities for the first six months?
Dr. Gonzales: “I’ve been reading this book, ‘The First 90 Days‘, and it talks about how to avoid common mistakes when onboarding.
“My first priority, on my very first day, was emailing every principal and asking when I could come to the school site and meet for 2 hours. I want to get to know our district leaders, take the time to talk about the obstacles and challenges of each school, and what are the most promising opportunities. And I ask the question, ‘if you were me what would you do first?’ These help me discern and understand the uniqueness of each school site.
“I’ve been able to walk through classrooms, talk to students, and make sure as many educators as possible understand that I’m not there to evaluate but to understand their world.
“A key challenge when a small district evolves into a medium-sized district is putting in place systems and structures, which is one of my areas of expertise. My job isn’t to come in with all the answers, but rather to help those closest to each problem design the best solution.
“I also need to reassure the staff and the public that we’ll have strong academic programs at each school, regardless of growth. For example, when we open a second high school, will that school have strong programs? Absolutely – that’s my commitment. I have eleven year-old twin girls and the decisions I’m making here are the same decisions I would want leaders in their district making that would impact my children.”
Morehead: After working through the first six months what is your longer-term vision?
Dr. Gonzales: “My vision needs to be shaped by what is taking place in the district, and the needs we have to meet. I never see it as ‘my vision’ but rather ‘our vision’. I have had experiences with programs that could be good fits for Dublin, but I’m not a believer in top-down leadership; rather, I believe in collaboration with those closest to the problem. That approach may mean adjusting the culture in Dublin Unified.”