15 Questions for Retiring Superintendent Edwin Diaz

Diaz sat down with Patch a day after his surprising announcement.

Soon-to-be-former PUSD Superintendent Edwin Diaz sat down with Patch reporter Chris Bertrand just a day after his resignation announcement stunned attendees at a school board candidate forum in Pasadena on Wednesday. Questions were assembled by John Stephens, Sierra Madre Patch editor, and Dan Abendschein of Altadena Patch, along with Bertrand, the education reporter for Sierra Madre Patch.

Relaxed and comfortable in his decision to pursue another direction in his career, Diaz took time to review and analyze the state he will leave the district in come Aug. 2. With a photo of his family facing us over his shoulder at his desk, he took a look at his tenure, progress in the district, challenges past and future and his own personal plans during a Q&A session.

Below are highlights from that interview.

What have been the biggest challenges faced by the district?

Diaz: Budget cuts and bringing together such a diverse population to come to a consensus. The strategic planning process  finished recently was key in pulling the district together.

What’s on your wish list for the district for the future?

Diaz: I wish nothing but the best for the district and in particular for the kids. We have kids in PUSD with tremendous needs as well as very talented kids. They both need to be served.

What happens next?

Diaz: We need to be realistic during the transition to a new superintendent and put a solid transition process into place that is professionally managed, then look what’s been accomplished and what hasn’t.

With my August resignation date, the main consideration was to give board a good four or five months to do a good search.  If a little more time is needed to implement a smooth transition, I’m willing to extend a little. I met with the board president today, and we have a special meeting on Tuesday to talk about the replacement process for the superintendent.

Did the election or this week’s proposed budget cuts cause your resignation?

Diaz:  No on the election. No on the budget cuts.

The timing of my decision was based on conversations with my wife and my older daughters over the winter break. We had more opportunity to talk about what our futures are going to be. It’s been tough finally coming to a decision and doing it soon enough so the board has time to hire a new superintendent.

Regarding the budget cuts, I will still be here to lead the budget cuts process. We are still early in the process.  We are reviewing it next week followed by study sessions. I will be here for it.

What are the biggest challenges facing the district in coming years?

Diaz: I have come to appreciate the complexities of this district and the people. One of the biggest challenges will be resources. They’ll continue to be a challenge for the next two to three years  

We need to ID the right programs and strategies to help accelerate the performance of some of our students to close the achievement gap.

The district will be challenged to maintain a focused, community-based effort on improving schools. Engaging a whole community, which is needed, takes a lot of time and resources to maintain. You have to take the time to establish the relationships to move forward together. With reduced resources, that becomes even more difficult.

Another challenge will be governance, making sure the board is operating at the policy level. We need common procedures agreed upon. Then allow the superintendent and staff to implement the goals of the board.

What about the district test scores? Are they coming up fast enough?

Diaz: Test scores never rise fast enough.  We always want them to increase faster.  We’ve had greater gains at the middle schools and high schools, which is really good.

In my perfect vision, they would have gone up more. But to be fair to all of us, they went up at a time when we cut $32 million out of the budget.  

What has been most difficult moment in your tenure?

Diaz: There have been quite a few! The last most-difficult moment was adopting this year’s budget in June 2010 to make recommendations that I knew were not in the best interest of kids and their educational interests. We had to cut $25 million, increase class size and eliminate effective programs. It also impacted the lives of a lot of employees. That was tough.

What has been your relationship with the school board?

Diaz: My first three years, we built a strong positive relationship. I think I have a great relationship with a majority of them. When you’re in this business, it’s a blessing to have the majority with you. When you look at my tenure of four years, it has been positive.

What about the candidates up for school board election on March 8?

Diaz: Some candidates have good knowledge and others have limited knowledge. The determining factor will be whether they are willing to work as part of the team as a board member, remain focused on the kids and operate in the way prescribed in the strategic plan ad culture statement, which clearly describes how people should treat each other. Tom Selinske and Renatta Cooper [incumbents] have that mindset.

Candidate comments have been made that the district is still top heavy in its administration. Your thoughts?

Diaz: The only thing I know is that when I started, a management audit done in conjunction with our communities was sitting on my desk. It actually recommended adding half a million to district services. Instead we had to cut $3 million and plan another $1.5 million in cuts.

It was rumored that you were offered a federal job by the Obama administration, possibly in the Department of Education. Is that true? Why reject it?

Diaz: I wasn’t offered a position in the Obama administration, but when Obama was first elected, I was contacted by Secretary of Education Duncan to submit papers in consideration of one of the positions. I decided I didn’t want to be so far removed from the classroom.

What will your monthly CalPers (retirement) payout be? How does leaving now affect that number?

Diaz: (Chuckling) First of all it’s CalSTRS. I honestly don’t know what it would be. Having me retiring at age 58 versus age 61 would be a significant reduction. I imagine in the next month or two I will figure that all out.

I’m told you’re moving back to Gilroy to be with your family. Is there a chance you’ll be taking your old job back?

Diaz: We still have a home in Gilroy, and we will likely return there or somewhere in the Bay Area.

I am making the change because I don’t want to be a superintendent any more. My next position will NOT be a superintendent position. As for Gilroy, I am sure that Gilroy has a strong superintendent now.

You said in your resignation statement, “It’s a very demanding job.” Describe the perfect candidate to replace you.

Diaz: Whoever comes into this district has to have an ability to establish relationships and partnerships with a diverse community. By diverse, I mean we have Altadena, Sierra Madre and Pasadena.

The perfect candidate has to have an instructional focus.  Because of the complexities to serve three different communities, it would be helpful to have someone experienced in a diverse community. Someone who has worked without our particular student demographics.

What advice would you give to the next superintendent?

Diaz: PUSD has a lot of opportunity to improve public education so that it works for all kids. There are so many resources and assets. Strategically use those resources to provide more rigorous engaging education.

Don’t try to do this job in isolation from the community. It has to be a visible, community wide endeavor. Make sure that you have a personal relationship with folks.  It’s one of the things I like to do, The work load is all day and all night, which adds to the personalization.

When I arrived, PUSD was still operating like they were still the bigger district of 32,000 students that they were 10 years ago. They were still operating like that with too many layers.  They held to an image s that they were a larger urban district.  The processes were less personal. Our district is still small enough that I can get out to a school. It’s a good size to have that personal contact. 

I’d also pass along my favorite list of great restaurants.

mister altadena February 25, 2011 at 10:33 PM
....do what you gotta do as you don't have a school voucher option here. I'd like to think/believe that a smart, disciplined child will be/do just fine in PUSD. Meaning, in schools that have low scores, there are always some kids that score high. Take a closer look at the school scores via the PEN or PUSD websites. The overall API scores are what we see (i.e. 830, 860, 780 etc) but hat I find interesting is the (usually) large spread btwn ethnicities. I don't know if there's a disconnect btwn teachers & students in certain ethnic groups &/OR issues at home that prevent parents from being active in their child's school (I'm a huge on that but I've heard how some Spanish speaking families/parents may have a more difficult time helping with homework due to language barriers).
altadenateacher February 26, 2011 at 07:50 PM
If only the answers were black or white instead of shades of grey. There are too many variables that are involved when looking at test scores and student success. What I do know is that just because a school has lower test scores it is NOT always a because of the lack of a quality education or inferior teaching. I will even say that MANY teachers working in lower performing schools have to work MUCH harder than teachers at high performing schools; something that is not seen when you look at test scores. What are some of the variables that play into the equation? Resources, parent support or lack of support, administration, socio-economics, education being viewed as a priority......the list goes on....lack of language skills, vocabulary and exposures to the world around them put children at a disadvantage from the beginning as compared to students who have parents read and talk with their children, who explain how things work, who take their children places and expose them to the world, who instill in them pride and respect and the importance of education......I could go on.....I just know as a teacher from a school in PUSD that does not have higher test scores.....with a child who attends a school that does.....I know how hard most of the teachers work at my school and schools like mine.....and yet unfortunately people are always trying to make it just about test scores.......and it just breaks my heart........
Gaylaird Christopher March 06, 2011 at 08:32 PM
Edwin Diaz is the reason behind my candidacy for School Board. His inspired request - delivered at All Saints Church four years ago - that every PUSD high school student would have a mentor, initiated my involvement as Co-Chair of the Muir Mentoring Program at All Saints. Superintendent Diaz had some outstanding ideas concerning the improvement of our schools. The challenge comes in building impassioned support among District staff and our community to carry these ideas forward, making them a reality; to hold everyone accountable for the results expected in implementing these educational programs. Nearly four years after that memorable address at the All Saints Sunday Forum, there are many volunteers ready to mentor students who are unable to do so, simply because the District has not matched those mentors with interested students. The “Re-invention of Muir High School”, another notable idea initiated during Diaz’s tenure, seems to have had little effect on student achievement at that campus. The District will now search for another thoughtful, energetic superintendent, similar in character and dedication to Superintendent Diaz. It is my hope that PUSD’s new leader will focus the talents and efforts of all District staff and community partners, enacting productive, contemporary education programs that offer all District students abundant opportunities to excel. Gaylaird Christopher Pasadena Resident & Business Owner Candidate for Seat 6 PUSD School Board
Gene Stevenson March 07, 2011 at 07:08 AM
Obviously, the loss of any key PUSD administrator (or teacher or support personnel, for that matter) at this point in time, can be somewhat of a setback to efforts of the district to meet its obligations to the young people of this community. That is no less the case with Mr. Diaz and we are indebted to him for the efforts he has given and believe that he will have left his mark with the successes achieved over the past several years. At the same time, there are many miles ahead of us in moving our district towards the goal that all of us would like to see it achieve - becoming the school district of choice for both those living within its boundaries and without. We certainly have the resources in abundance within the Pasadena area that we should be able to call on to assist in making that happen. And, we have the talent within district staff. The elections on Tuesday, March 8th will allow us to bring on the experienced, new leadership to our Board that can assist in moving us closer to achieving our goal. Gene Stevenson, MSW, MBA Candidate, Seat 4, Pasadena Unified School Board
Joanne Louisa March 08, 2011 at 03:25 AM
With Alice Petrossian leaving, I have hopes that Gene Stevenson is right and we can move towards being a high-achieving district. Her tenure has been marked by intimidation, cronyism, and poor management. Hopefully we will get a new professional with an investment in the PUSD community and some decent interpersonal skills to heal the wounds Petrossian is leaving among the staff and parents of this community. I wish the new board the best of luck in choosing a Superintendent who can hire well for Chief Academic Officer, and who will *manage* his/her chiefs rather than handing off most major responsibilities to them.


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