CONCORD -- Newly hired Mt. Diablo schools Superintendent Nellie Meyer is taking over a district rocked by the ouster of the superintendent and general counsel and turnover of board leadership. Meyer sat down for an interview after her unanimous appointment last week to talk about the challenges ahead. Following is an excerpt of that discussion.
Q Do you plan to reorganize the district office, as the previous superintendent did?
A Coming in right away and reorganizing is not at the top of my list because I want to see what currently is in place and what services we're providing. I really strongly support principal coaching and believe the principal is the key with respect to school improvement. Really developing teacher leadership and principal leadership will be critical. But, how we do that will remain to be seen.
Q How could the teacher-to-administrator pipeline be improved?
A When you have people who are invested and committed to the community and know the school really well, it really can help support students in a different way. Some of the things I would like to look at are: How do we encourage teacher leadership? How do we give teachers a voice in decisions we're making in the district? How do we develop site administrators into principals and administrators at the district office, if they desire? Oftentimes, it's also good to bring people in from other places, like myself, and people who have other ideas. Another thing I've seen be successful is when you partner with universities and other education programs.
Q The previous superintendent and board decreased graduation requirements to eliminate summer school. What's your position?
A We increased the graduation requirements (in San Diego) to higher than the state of California's requirements and aligned them with UC's minimum requirements and California State University's minimum requirements. With that come interventions along the way to support and monitor students.
Q Some critics of stiffer graduation requirements say this could increase dropouts. What's your take?
A I believe greater challenge and greater support can prevent dropouts. Prioritization is critical on how the budget is spent because students who are not succeeding should be one of the top priorities. I've seen (districts successfully use) an extended day to repeat courses and summer school. One more cost-effective way is to more closely track and monitor students all along the way, toward proficiency and student achievement. And then really thinking creatively about who the students are and using that to help tailor our teacher support, principal support and student support. Some students may need to try some things online. The No. 1 finding, according to students when I spoke to them for my doctoral dissertation on dropouts, was they needed someone who pushed them, someone who monitored what they did and a relationship with an adult who cared.
Q How will you rebuild trust in the district?
A You build trust by being someone who shows concern about what's going on. I'll work with the teachers and schools and principals. It's solid back-and-forth interaction. I'll need to assess that and see what barriers we may have -- whether it's staffing or whether it's a communication system -- and really get out there and talk to people about what they need. I would also really want to look at a Parent Advisory Council. And I've heard there was a campus that went charter, and I'm interested in understanding what it was that they weren't getting (as a noncharter school). I have high hopes that people are willing to come together and to work with each other respectfully, without drawing lines of us and them. I also see part of my role as advocating for Mt. Diablo to ensure that we're talking to people in Sacramento about what we need and what impact their actions have on our students.
Q The district has been sued over allegations some staff members failed to report to authorities suspected child molestation by a teacher. How will you ensure that employees know about mandated reporting responsibilities?
A Every single employee needs to know that they are required to report, if they have a suspicion. I'm going to be working with our Human Resources department to see what we currently have in place and to see if there are any gaps we need to fill. That's critical because we need all eyes and ears on this.
Title: Incoming superintendent of the Mt. Diablo school district
Previous position: Deputy superintendent of School Support Service, San Diego school district
Education: Bachelor's degree in psychology, master's degree in administration and doctoral degree in education, San Diego State University. Teaching credentials in social science, English, and language development.
Family: Mother was an elementary teacher, father was a principal and husband is a teacher. Son is a college freshman and daughter is in eighth grade. Family plans to relocate to Mt. Diablo school district.