Funk: How my successor can succeed by focusing on equity
The East Side Union High School District office is pictured in this file photo. Photo by Ramona Giwargis.

The East Side Union High School District Board of Trustees last month announced that Glenn Vander Zee would be the next superintendent of schools for the district. Currently, he is my associate superintendent for human resources. I am very grateful that the board decided to hire a homegrown person to be East Side’s next superintendent.

Glenn has been part of my leadership team for the past seven years. Prior to joining the district leadership team, he was principal at James Lick High School for seven years, where he led transformational change raising student test scores for five straight years with the highest growth of any high school in Santa Clara County during that time.

Hiring a superintendent is one of the most important roles of the Board of Trustees. The board is hiring a CEO to run the district’s day-to-day operations and work with the board on developing policy, budget and the vision and mission of the school district.

Glenn has the advantage of understanding the various nuances of our school district and understanding the underlying currents that every district must manage. He already has an established relationship with the entire administrative team, union presidents and board members.

Glenn can hit the ground running at a sprinter’s pace, but with the luxury of knowing just where all the bumps in the road are located. I can honestly say that Glenn is inheriting the strongest leadership team that I have ever had the good fortune to work with during my nine years at East Side.

Every new leader must go through the stages of forming, storming, norming and performing with their new team. These stages take a little time, but Glenn has the added advantage of working closely with many on the leadership and governance team.

With that said, there are a few key issues that Glenn must immediately address as I hand over the baton. These are in no particular order and some will happen in parallel.

He needs to fill current leadership vacancies. Although his well-rounded experience and knowledge benefit from performing many jobs, it is challenging for a CEO to wear multiple hats running two divisions.

Everyone wants to know if schools will reopen in the fall for full, in-person learning, every day, all day. The answer should be an emphatic “yes.” The question to be answered is what will the public health guidelines (restrictions) be because that will determine if we return to pre-COVID-19 school bell schedules or if we will have some type of modified bell schedule. Even a modified bell schedule means in-person learning every day.

The second question that Glenn needs to lead is what type of support will be provided to families who choose not to send their child back for in-person learning? We still need clarity from the state on that type of flexibility, but each district needs to plan for this reality.

In East Side, our vision as a district continues to be focused on building equitable communities where all learners are welcomed as they are, strengths and areas of growth for all learners are known and supported, adults positively respond to the social-emotional, wellness and academic needs of all learners, and all learners engage with tasks that develop the strategic thinking skills for full participation in their local communities and the global society. Glenn and his team helped to craft this language several years ago. We cannot simply return to normal in the new school year.

Our staff and students have not returned to school full time in over a year. Everyone will need time to adjust, adapt and reconnect. How the district approaches the mental health and renewed school connectiveness will be critical for a safe and supported start to the new school year.

Keeping his eyes on equity and using his equity lens while leading will be the immediate, short-term and long-term responsibility of Glenn’s tenure. He has been side-by-side with me in this work and has an amazing team to help the district continue down the path of creating more equitable communities where all students are provided a world-class education.

Glenn is certainly up for the job.

San José Spotlight columnist Chris Funk is current superintendent of East Side Union High School District and future superintendent of Dublin Unified School District. Contact Chris at [email protected] or follow @chrisfunksupt on Twitter.

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