Exclusive Interview with New Superintendent of Schools
Pasquale Scuderi is the new Alameda Unified School District (AUSD) superintendent. Scuderi has served the Berkeley Unified School District (BUSD) as the assistant superintendent from 2014 to 2017 and principal at Berkeley High School from 2010 to 2014. At its June 25 meeting, the AUSD Board of Education voted unanimously to approve Scuderi as the next superintendent. He came into office on July 8.
Sun: How do you like your new job so far?
Scuderi: I am honestly having a great time. The people I have met, the community and the school leadership have exceeded my expectations thus far. I am very happy to be here. It has been a welcome change for me professionally: new faces, new schools, and I feel completely re-energized by the newness of the job. That’s not to say there aren’t going to be significant challenges, but my early feelings like I said, I am very excited to be here.
Sun: How do you think working for AUSD will be different than working for BUSD?
Scuderi: That’s a good question. School districts are systems made up of people, so obviously differences are driven by personalities and priorities. There’s just as much that is similar here as there is different in terms of the way things are organized and the challenges that are out there.
My focus as an educator has always been and will always start with what’s happening in the classroom. What’s happening in the classroom for students? What’s happening for the teachers teaching those students? Because I start from that very specific place, there aren’t huge general differences, and actually lots of similarities in terms of the challenges.
As far as the long term, I think that’s something that’s yet to be seen. I’m sure over the course of the year or two years, how the local culture, plays out in terms of working with the school district. I think that’s something I’m still in the process of discovering.
Sun: What do you see as Alameda schools’ greatest challenge right now?
Scuderi: What I am spending most of my time early on is the level of compensation for our employees across the board and for teachers in particular. I think we have lagged behind the county average in terms of total teacher compensation or salaries. We have got to address that to be competitive in a way that allows us to continue to bring the best and the most excited and the most innovative teachers into the district.
We’re working with our unions right now to try to remedy that situation and come up with solutions. Teachers and educators in general have the biggest impact on student learning, far more than any program, initiative or trendy piece of curriculum. We really have to be competitive in that particular area to do well in this district.
A second big challenge — and it’s something that we’re trying to address through the development of a strategic plan — is where to put our focus. Very often in a school district of any size, people want to do everything at once, because there are literally a thousand things to do in a school district. Finding the collective discipline to focus on a few specific things that will have the highest leverage to move outcomes forward for kids, that’s a big challenge. We have just started those conversations.
Sun: What are those areas?
Scuderi: I think part of the process we’re trying to use is one that will allow our teachers, students and parent-groups to determine what those focus areas are along with me. That way I’m not just waltzing in without context, or history, and making a determination about what priorities should be.
Certainly going into that process I have some opinions and thoughts lingering in my head, including: investment in principals as instructional leaders and some research-proven instructional strategies for teachers that I think we should use across the board in classrooms. Part of that strategic planning will also necessarily deal with school culture and climate. How we deal with things like how kids treat each other, how kids treat adults, how adults treat kids.
How do we ensure that our schools are places where people are mutually respectful and kids feel safe, so then we have the groundwork laid to be productive in what we’re trying to teach them? How do we create space for them to be creative on their own? Those are a few ideas, but again, I want to make sure that I am open to what our staff, our community and people who have been here longer than me have to say in terms of what our specific focus areas should be.
See part two of this interview next week.