Today’s paper includes an article on new Stockton Unified Superintendent Steve Lowder, whose first day on the job was Monday.
Lowder was kind enough to carve out some time from his busy first day to sit for an interview Monday that lasted close to 40 minutes. That interview was the basis for the newspaper article.
Here’s more of our conversation:
*Lowder gave some insight into an issue that came up at last week’s board meeting. That issue centered around Action Learning Systems, which is a major consultant in SUSD’s implementation of School Improvement Grants at seven low-performing K-8 sites. Last week, Trustee Sal Ramirez tried to delay for two weeks a board vote on the use of ALS. Ramirez was unsuccessful, voted down when district officials said the use of ALS was tied to the SIG funding.
Lowder was very careful in our conversation not to criticize ALS. However, it was clear from what he said that he thinks SUSD might benefit from a more varied approach to staff development. He likes the Professional Learning Communities approach.
“I want to have more discussion about ALS’ role,” Lowder said. “Not that they’re bad, but I want to know what we’re doing and how we’re deploying our money to see how we can most efficiently use the money they have.”
He said at Hemet, the district decided during his tenure that with ALS, it was “time to move on to the next thing.”
Of ALS’ Direct Interactive Instruction, Lowder said, “There are other things teachers today need to know and be able to do. What are the next steps?”
*A brief Lowder biography: His father, who was from North Carolina, only made it to eighth grade. He was working at a cotton mill when he was drafted during WWII. Lowder’s father came to Northern California as a result, and he liked what he saw and never left.
Lowder graduated from Arcata High School in Humboldt County. He has bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Humboldt State and a doctorate from USC.
His background is in science and math. His teaching experience was at the elementary school level. He previously has served as a superintendent in California, Idaho and Oregon. It was in Oregon that he first met Dan Morris, the field representative for CSEA in Stockton Unified.
“I try to tell people the truth as I understand it. When I’m wrong I tell them I’m wrong and I’ll give them the next version of what I know. I try not to hide stuff. Sometimes people play games with budgets and things, and I don’t. I have high expectations for people. I expect people to be ethical and professional. I expect the system to have a customer-service base to it. We’re here to serve the community and the parents and staff. That’s important to me. I think that while I’m sometimes directive I expect them to … say, ‘Let me challenge you on that,’ and to give their side of what’s happening. That whole back-and-forth piece is expected. We tend to get the best outcomes that way. I’m not always right.
On “yes men”: “I’m looking for the opposite. I’m looking for people who are loyal. Loyalty means when we come to a decision point that we agree and we both move forward from there. All of the discussion and argument takes place professionally Once that’s done we’ll make a decision and we’ll move forward. Sometimes it’s directive, sometimes it’s collaborative. Once that’s done I expect people to be on board. Any concerns should come back to me because the door’s always open for that. I told cabinet, too, I said, ‘I don’t expect you to be silent in here. I expect you to tell me I’m wrong.’ But once we move out in the public I don’t want to hear the negativity. That all takes place in cabinet and once we’ve agreed we should all be on board.”
On the future of Stockton Intermediate, which faces possible closure: “I’ve kind of heard both sides of it. I’ve heard people who love it and want it to stay. And then I’ve heard others say it’s not being very effective. My meeting with Wayne (Martin) this morning, one of the things we talked about was getting the cabinet folks to talk about that. There are only so many programs and services the district can afford to provide. We need to make sure they’re running as efficiently as possible. That’s what we’re going to look at. We’re going to look at the success of the program and we’ll make a recommendation based on those discussions.”
On the future of Valenzuela Elementary, which has been slated for merger with Hong Kingston: “It’s an issue. The district is going to have to start doing things to save money. It’s a big deal. We’re looking at $441 per student midyear cut if the budget that the governor’s put together doesn’t go forward. That’s a lot of money, it’s like $15 million for Stockton.”
On the challenge facing SUSD is the governor’s tax initiative is rejected by voters in November: “There haven’t been school-day cuts or big rounds of pay cuts for the staff (in SUSD). So that’s pretty amazing, pretty unusual. That also puts us in a situation where all of the opportunities to avoid those things have probably been taken previously. If this comes up we’re probably in a situation where we don’t have much choice.”
When Lowder was at Lincoln, SUSD Assistant Superintendent Kirk Nicholas was principal at Tully C. Knoles Elementary, and SUSD Special Education Director Kelly Dextraze held the same position at Lincoln.
“I have a vision of what I’d like to see the district do. I just don’t know how much of what is in my vision they’re already working on. One of the nice things about coming on early is I that get a chance to talk to people about what they’re doing and why. Sometimes it’s a tweak, sometimes it’s a change, sometimes it’s a complete change in direction.
“One of the things we have to do is since the students will start being tested on the new common core (curriculum) by 2014, we have to make sure our kids are being taught not only the common core curriculum but also the process. It’s more about academic language, it’s more about being able to respond in certain ways. It’s more than just content knowledge. We need to get up to speed on that. I need to know more about what the district is doing for that because 2014 is like tomorrow, basically, when you’re talking about a big organization like this.”
Lowder said he is big proponent of technology in the classroom. In his second year in Hemet, he said, the district spent more than $3 million to put seven computers with wireless access into every K-5 classroom.
*For those who want to get Lowder an early birthday card, he was born on Dec. 14, 1951.