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Thursday, August 23, 2007

Davis Joint Unified School District Finds a New Superintendent

Last night, School Board President Jim Provenza had two huge announcements for the community.

The first and the reason that the entire community it seemed made the meeting was the announcement of the hiring of the new Superintendent James Quezon Hammond as the new superintendent.

Trustee Provenza said:
"The Board is pleased that Dr. Hammond has accepted the offer to lead our oustanding schools to new levels of excellence and achievement... Throughout his career as a teacher, coach, principal and superintendent Dr. Hammond has demonstrated intelligent and inspiring leadership, and a deep passion for well being and academic achievement of all students, including those who are struggling to succeed. He is a rising star in public school administration. We are lucky to have him."
The other announcement that the Mr. Provenza told the community was that the school district had won their appeal and will now be able to recoup the $4.5 million lost when a deadline was missed on a grant during the construction of Montgomery Elementary School. Hard work on behalf of the school district to get their financial house in order and strong advocacy on the part of several elected officials led to this victory for the students of Davis Unified.

The meeting was largely ceremonial with each of the school board members speaking to the hiring of Superintendent Hammond.

Davis Board member Gina Daleiden expressed confidence that Dr. Hammond is the right leader for the Davis schools.
"Our extensive conversations with Tukwila school, parent, and community leaders revealed that Dr. Hammond is widely regarded as an extraordinary leader. Colleagues describe him as courageous in his decisions, and have enormous respect for his superb communications and managerial skills.”
Board Member Sheila Allen, who later was downright giddy added:
“The Tukwila staff emphasized that Dr Hammond fosters a culture of collaboration and teamwork that brings out the best in people. His enthusiasm and energy are contagious!”
Board Member Tim Taylor:
“Dr. Hammond has the extensive experience and proven leadership qualities our board desired in a new superintendent. He also has a genuine affection for students, and in return has their trust and admiration. It’s a pleasure to welcome him to the Davis Joint Unified School District.”
Board Member Keltie Jones:
“I am delighted with Dr. Hammond’s appointment. He brings a fresh level of energy and creativity to our district.”
A number of members of the public also spoke to congratulate Dr. Hammond who continues the recent tradition of hires from the Seattle area. He actually grew up however in Whittier, California and then went to Western New Mexico University and St. Martin's College before receiving his Educational Doctorate from Washington State University in 2003. He has been a teacher, a basketball coach, an assistant principal and principal in Tacoma.

Most recently Superintendent of Schools for the Tukwila School District in Seattle, Washington, where he has held the position for over 3 years. Tukwila has received local, state and national distinction as a school district in the following areas: for passing $60 million in bonds to construct all new school buildings; for implementing research-based school programs to improve student achievement; for developing collaborative partnerships to improve student learning with community, government agencies and foundations; and for responding to the needs of a culturally, ethnically and economically diverse student population. Most recently, the Tukwila Community School Collaboration was given the National Award for Excellence by the Community Schools Coalition and was recognized on Capitol Hill (Washington DC) in June of 2007.

Asked by the Vanguard about the duel announcements, Board President Provenza spoke to the Vanguard and made it clear that the Superintendent was number one with a bullet.
"The Superintendent is number one because a superintendent, a strong leader for the school is essential in everything we do. But the 4.5 million dollars sure doesn't hurt, we needed that money. Now we have money to continue our facilities fund to begin addressing the structural problems at Emerson and the other facilities issues in the schools."
Provenza emphasized Dr. Hammond's leadership, his ability to connect with people, and his compassion for all students.
"In his other districts he has been personally engaged whether they be the high achiever, the average student, or the student who is at risk or needs special help in school."
One the key focuses for the new superintendent will be on the achievement gap.

According to Mr. Provenza:
"He brought his prior districts achievement level significantly up past other districts and focused on problems of English learners and students that were having difficulty achieving in school, all the while bringing the overall achievement up for all students. And he did it not only by engaging teachers and students, he did it by engaging the community. He brought the city and the police chief and every other government official together and said what should we do to improve our schools. And they all worked together, in fact they were given a national award for community-school achievement in that district."
Board Member Provenza also emphasized that attention to closing the achievement gap and minority hire is a huge reason for his hire.
"That will be one of his strengths. He brings diversity in that he is a minority himself. He also comes from a background where he grew up with students who were struggling in schools and he knows personally the challenges that they face. At the same time, he has a PhD and he is an expert in education and he'll be able to address the problems of all of our students. He is truly a superintendent that will serve our entire community."
Dr. Hammond spoke to this issue as well emphasizing the importance of embracing diversity.
"I think the biggest thing is that diversity is important and has to be embraced. It has to be accepted. And diversity means acceptance and tolerance for all sorts of dynamics, not just race or culture but religion and gender, sexual orientation, the whole nine. I think to really understand what diversity means and embrace is a very important component."
Superintendent Hammond then went into detail with me on four gaps that make up what we call the achievement gap.
"As far as the achievement gap for me, I think it's been a very popular slogan for educators or even people in popular society to use. Really what we are talking about is a performance gap on standardized tests. So really getting our eyes to look at a performance gap on standardized tests and particularly looking at our demographics on African Americans, Hispanic and Native American Students and how there's disparity with Caucasian and Asian Students and really what causes this performance gap is really a multitude of other gaps."
First the preparation gap where some students begin well ahead of others in terms of things like vocabulary. Second, the opportunity gap which has do with expectations for success that we place on students. Third, the relationship gap where we create a school environment where the staff proportionately resembles the make up of the student population.

According to Dr. Hammond,
"Kids will perform better once they know people care about them."
Finally there is the parent-school gap where some households, often with people who are trying to make ends meet and they may have poverty and social issues that they bring to the fold in addition to education issues.
"All of those factors to me lead to the performance gap or what you call the achievement gap. I think it is a very complex sophisticated question that's going to require a lot of intentional work, a lot of research, a lot of data, a lot of student evidence to dictate our behaviors. So I'm hoping that we can begin that work because of the urgency behind the need."
Superintendent Hammond then added:
"I think that is going to be one of my biggest challenges. I think that and a lot of other things are going to be a huge part of my learning curve over the next few months, absolutely."
This was a much larger applicant pool than expected or even hoped for. According to Mr. Provenza,
"There were 33 applicants. That was larger than the search firm that we hired, Leadership Associates, that's one of the main search firms for superintendents in the state of California. They told us not to expect many people and that it would be very hard to hire a superintendent. Instead, we got the 33 applicants and they said that was more than they received for any other school district."
Board Member Provenza attributed that to the make up of the Davis Community and the quality of the district as a whole.
"I think Davis is a great place to live and a great place to work. And I think our school district has a reputation for excellence. And a community that is particularly committed to the schools. There's very few other communities where you will see bond measures and parcel taxes pass every time. Where you see the amount of volunteerism and the amount of parents. Where you the community that so supports the schools as in Davis. People want to come here."
The reception from the board members and the community was overwhelmingly glowing. As I mentioned above, Board Member Sheila Allen seemed to be on cloud 9.

I asked Board Member Jim Provenza when he knew this was the right fit for this district.
"When we interviewed him. He had very stiff competition and we had some very good applicants, but he really shined in the interview, he really connected with us and impressed us with his ability as a leader. He truly is a leader."
For his part, the new superintendent seems excited but a bit overwhelmed.
"Just a little sense of being overwhelmed but at the same time very excited. From my initial interactions, just an exciting dynamic community. People value the schools. People value the kids. The quality of education, so it's just an exciting time for me personally."
Dr. James Hammond will officially take over on a full time basis on November 8, 2007. Until then he will be transitioning with the able help of Interim Superintendent Richard Whitmore. Dr. Hammond will travel down a number of times over the next two and a half months as he prepares to succeed David Murphy as the new superintendent. This was indeed an exciting time in Davis and we shall follow this transition as the board and district continues to face key challenges.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting