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Arrival of Superintendent Chris Funk Marks a Pivotal Moment for DUSD

July 22, 2021

After a comprehensive search process, the Dublin Unified School District Board of Trustees confirmed the appointment of Chris Funk as its new Superintendent. While his actual employment commenced on July 1, 2021, he invested time in June to meet with key personnel and stakeholders to facilitate his transition. This hire could not be more critical as DUSD is entering into both a dynamic phase and one that could benefit from greater stability from the superintendent’s office.

Dublin Unified School District Superintendent, Chris Funk. Photo by: Michael Utsumi

To be frank, the district has experienced a fair amount of turmoil in leadership over the past few years. After the abrogated tenure of Dr. Leslie Boozer in 2019, DUSD was fortunate to tap into a known quantity in Dr. Dave Marken. He came out of retirement after serving as superintendent of schools in Newark Unified. However, he elected to depart suddenly and Dr. Daniel Moirao agreed to serve as the interim superintendent for the 2020-21 academic year. To gain some perspective, it is interesting to consider some employment data from the academic world. As two references, we cite a study conducted by the Council of the Great City Schools and a post from the American Association of School Administrators. Between the two sources, the average tenure of a superintendent varies from 3.2 to 5.5 years. One of the explanations for the variance is that some surveys only account for large/urban school districts vs. treating all of them in the same manner. Regardless, the district has been led by three different leaders over the past three years.

The importance of this hire should also take into consideration what is in the near-term future for DUSD. The world is still attempting to successfully and safely emerge from a global pandemic – one that is now complicated by the novel Delta variant. Until vaccines are approved for those under the age of 12, every possible safety precaution will be employed. Of similar importance is the ability to gain a firm grasp on a modified master facilities plan which is highlighted by the construction of Emerald High School. While there are multiple construction items that are in play, the vivid reality of crafting a budgeting and financing plan will be omnipresent. So, this may be where vision and experience will play a prominent role. OneDublin.org had the opportunity to sit down with newly minted Superintendent Chris Funk. He comes to Dublin after a long career at the East Side Union High School District (ESUHSD) in San Jose and served as its superintendent for the past nine years. The conversation was an enlightening glimpse into his management philosophy and an opportunity to recognize some of the challenges and potential solutions to be delivered.

OneDublin.org: As a matter of scale, you are moving from a comparatively massive school district in San Jose to DUSD. That said, please share any best practices that you gained from your experiences that many benefit this school district.

Chris Funk: “There are several lessons learned from my previous district that I can apply to Dublin USD.  Taking a system approach to solving problems is important to having consistency and standardization throughout the system.  Schools are their own unique culture, and one size does not fit all. However, there are certain policies and procedures and expectations like enrollment, teaching, assessment, and grading should be consistent across the Board.  The goal is to move schools from working in silos to work in alignment as a system.

Another lesson learned is the ability for a school district and leadership within the district to openly partner with outside organizations to improve the quality of education for all students.  Co-creating with internal stakeholders and external stakeholders allows for early buy-in and a greater success for systemic change.

Stakeholder feedback is critical to implementation, monitoring and pivoting when needed.  I often hold “Leading Learner” chats throughout the year at school sites, with students and parent stakeholder groups and I like to survey throughout the year.  Giving stakeholders multiple opportunities to provide feedback is important for an organization to constantly try and improve as a system.”

OneDublin.org: Every school district in the nation experienced the trauma/stress that COVID-19 dumped upon staff, students, and families over the past 15 months. You edified the importance of addressing the PTSD of this phenomena with district employees during staff development. Describe how you plan to respond to this issue during your time together. 

Funk: “Everyone has faced some type of trauma over the last 15 months.  In education, we had to build the plane while in flight, literally in just two weeks when we shut down schools and moved to virtual learning.  There was tremendous anxiety on staff, students, and families.

That trauma continued with distance learning the following fall and spring semesters.  In most cases, teachers have not connected with their colleagues in over a year and students have lost connection with their peers and friends.

It is important for us as a system to help our teachers reconnect before school starts so that they will be better prepared to receive our students in the fall.  We are focusing on providing professional development around trauma informed practices.  This will provide a framework to support our staff and our students.

We simply cannot start school like we have in the past off and running at full throttle on the first day.  We have kids at all levels that have never stepped on the elementary, middle school or high school campus.  Kids will respond inappropriately because of the trauma and lack of socialization being isolated for so long.  Adults must respond to student behavior differently than in the past.  Focusing on the whole child and responding with an open heart will be critical to having a smooth transition to in-person, full-time learning.”

OneDublin.org: DUSD has experienced great growth in both API and now SBAC performance over the past +decade. However, an academic achievement gap has persisted with some sub-groups in Dublin. One of your notable accomplishments while leading Lincoln High School was to significantly improve API and to narrow the achievement gap. Explain how these improvements could be possible in DUSD. 

Funk: “I was fortunate to be an administrator at Lincoln High School when SJUSD moved to the A-G requirements being the default graduation requirements.  We started at a low bar.  It was important to put several strategies in place.  First, we took away all barriers or pre-requisites to Advanced Placement classes. We began paying for the PSAT for all Sophomores as an opportunity to identify and recruit more students of color into AP.  We also supported our students with after school and Saturday support classes so that teachers could offer Science lab classes for and timed writing practices.

In addition, we offered Saturday Academies for students who earned a D or F in the first semester and focused on skill gaps that allowed students to maintain enrollment in the second semester and it allowed students to make up grades or credits while progressing in the course.  That way, students did not have to wait until the summer to make up the class and kept them engaged for the second semester.

We need to meet students where they are, and we need to develop and maintain a four-year roadmap so that students do not lose their motivation to continue to work towards their diploma and their goal of going to college.”

OneDublin.org: For years, one of the towering issues for DUSD has been the successful construction/opening of a second comprehensive high school. While the development plan is not 100% complete, you expressed confidence that this project will come to fruition. Please share how you and the school board will navigate this process and how options/plans will be conveyed to the public.

Funk: “We are working with LPA Architects to develop a Master Facilities Plan which will be an updated plan from the one created in 2016.  This plan will focus on taking all previously approved projects and budget allocations and creating a new prioritized ranking in order to utilization the remaining funds from Measures C, E, H and J.

Due to many factors that include but not limited to poor planning, poor cost estimating, cost escalation and a philosophical change from modernization to rebuild of older facilities, the Dublin bond program is short funded by over two hundred million dollars.

LPA has held twenty meetings with various stakeholders to gauge interest and develop several options to bring forward to the Board which ultimately will be inserted into the facilities master plan.  At the July 20th Board meeting, LPA and staff will share approximately seven or eight options for the Board to consider.  We hope that by the second Board meeting in August, we will have the options narrowed down to two or three which will then be shared and discussed in a Town Hall meeting.

Ultimately, we hope for the Board to approve the master facilities plan which will include the prioritized projects and associated budgets as the roadmap to move forward.  We hope to move to increment 2 and 3 of Phase One for the construction of Emerald High School by November or December of 2021.”

OneDublin.org: You invested a lot of energy in constructing a 90-Day Entry Plan upon your start date. Please share why you would like the community to understand the value in this exercise and how they can participate in community engagement. 

Funk: “I followed a similar plan nine years ago when I started at EDUHSD.  Because I wanted to be measured on the length and breadth of my work as a superintendent, I wanted to be sure that I completely understood the community and the organization before I truly made or recommended systemic changes. East Side is like Dublin in the sense that the Strategic Plan was completely outdated and there were activities that the district was but was not stated in any plan.  The 90-day entry plan allowed me to develop a roadmap for the first year that carried over into my second-year fall semester, in order to take the organization and community through the strategic planning process.

Dublin already has a strong vision, mission and core values that may not need to be refreshed or changed.  Today, many districts use their Local Control Plan (LCAP0 as their Strategic Plan.  This may also be the case for Dublin.

The whole point of a 90-day plan is to engage as many stakeholders as I can and to hopefully demonstrate that I am not a bull in China shop and I’m think of myself as a thoughtful leader and want to measured not by quick fixes, or major shake-ups but the breadth and depth of systemic changes that lead to growth across the entire system.”

Dublin High School marquee wishing a safe and happy summer. School commences on August 16, 2021. Photo by: Michael Utsumi

OneDublin.org would like to express our gratitude for the opportunity to spend time with Chris Funk in the early days of his superintendency. The commencement of the 2021-22 school year will arrive on August 16, 2021. A myriad of agencies, including the Alameda County Office of Education, will provide up-to-the moment guidance on safety regulations. A link to the Superintendent’s 90-Day Entry Plan is available here: https://www.dublinusd.org/Superintendent/Dublin_Supt_Entry%20Plan_2021-062921.pdf

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