East San Jose high schools get new superintendent
Glenn Vander Zee, ESUHSD's next superintendent, spoke about establishing a Teachers Institute for San Jose. Photo courtesy of Yale National Initiative.

A new superintendent is preparing to take the reins in East San Jose and he’s all about leveling the playing field.

Associate Superintendent of Educational Services Glenn Vander Zee, who was named East Side Union High School District’s new superintendent last week, shares a vision of empowering students and creating equity. 

Vander Zee also worked as director of curriculum and professional development, as well as associate superintendent of human resources for the school district.

Beginning in June, Vander Zee will be acting superintendent before taking over the role on July 1. Superintendent Chris Funk, who served ESUHSD for nine years, was chosen Thursday as superintendent of Dublin Unified School District

Funk said Dublin Unified is a growing district, although it creates challenges with overcrowded schools and expansion.

“I’d much rather deal with that than declining enrollment,” said Funk, who writes an education column for this publication. “It’s bittersweet I’m leaving San Jose and Santa Clara County…after my 30 year career, but the same energy and focus I’ve used here I will bring to Dublin.”

Under Funk’s leadership, ESUHSD created new support systems in each of its schools. As a result, it’s had higher graduation rates, higher A-G rates—courses taken for UC/CSU qualification—and increased student engagement, Funk said.

But Funk’s time at the East Side school district was not without controversy. He clashed with the teachers’ union over budget issues

Now Vander Zee is preparing for a tough year in bringing kids back to classes after a year of distance learning due to the pandemic. 

“This pandemic and distance learning may have offered us the opportunity to reset and refocus our efforts on who we need to be for our students and our families,” Vander Zee said. “They experienced a pretty jarring event in their lives and educational paths. If ever there was a time for us to double down on building equitable communities, it’s now.”

Trustee J. Manuel Herrera said Vander Zee brings an ideal set of experiences and a deep understanding of the district.

“He has a strong sense of addressing the gap between what our student learners need and what our system provides,” he said. “There is a sense of possibilities, new strategies moving forward and also a readiness.”

Herrera added that Vander Zee’s record shows he succeeded in making significant changes and expanding opportunities for students from kindergarten through high school.

“He was a transformational principal for James Lick High School,” Herrera said. “He has deep experience having been a teacher, vice principal and principal, and cutting his teeth on education in Mexico.”

ESUHSD is working towards equity for its students, including qualifying to attend UCs and CSUs. Image courtesy of ESUHSD.
ESUHSD is working towards equity for its students, including qualifying to attend UCs and CSUs. Image courtesy of ESUHSD.

At Mathson Middle School and James Lick High School, Vander Zee focused on student-centered instruction and Mathson became the most improved middle school in Santa Clara County—unfortunately, it’s also slated to close.

Vander Zee said he plans to address disproportionate outcomes for students, from graduation rates and college-focused curriculum to responses to student behavior.

“Schools, educators and the community working together can change outcomes for students,” he said. “We shouldn’t just have students whose parents drive to Silicon Valley, but students who drive Silicon Valley.”

Vander Zee takes the reins from Funk as students prepare to return to school in the fall.

“Even though this is a trying time…I’m excited about the transition,” he said. “I’m really looking forward to building these equitable communities, because they’re necessary.”

Contact Lorraine Gabbert at [email protected]

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