Exclusive Interview with Schools’ Head Continues
Pasquale Scuderi is the new Alameda Unified School District (AUSD) superintendent and recently agreed to answer some questions for the Alameda Sun. 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. Part one of this interview appeared last week.
Sun: In what way do you see yourself making the most significant impact on Alameda students and the school district?
Scuderi: School districts, like any big organizations, can get lost in the many challenges, interests, problems and distractions that come at them. One of the things that I can do is use this position to reset and recenter our district and our community as a collective.
We need to focus on the most important thing that we do, which is the education of kids. I know that sounds like an obvious thing to say, but it surprises me how often in school districts, things outside the classroom or things external to the classroom take priority.
I am a really strong advocate for saying everything that we do should start at the place where kids actually have a direct interface with teaching and learning. Then focus the community and staff on digging deeper into the art and science of teaching. How do we create experiences for students that are not just informative, but actually enjoyable?
A big goal of mine would be to help create a space where together we ensure kids really enjoy their time. Learning, when it’s actually happening, is pleasurable and addictive. I want to make sure that it’s not just a grind for kids. That they can put their hands on things and experience things.
I want to hear student voices as often as I hear teacher voices when I’m in a classroom. We need to make sure that the experience for AUSD kids is not only productive, but an enjoyable and creative experience as well.
Sun: What school project or initiatives would you like residents to know about or especially pay attention to?
Scuderi: We will be having significant conversations with our community about this idea of teacher compensation. The fact that if we want to have the best schools out there we need to be competitive for the best education talent and the best creative professionals we can find. That’s something I need to be in dialogue with the community about, and I want them to share their perspectives with me.
The second answer is encapsulated in this whole idea of priority and planning. It’s important that the community knows that those conversations are starting and will happen throughout the year. It’s a great opportunity for folks to attend some of the meetings and outreach sessions that we’re going to hold. There they can let us know what they think is lacking, needs improving or what new ideas we can bring about.
Let the community know that we’ll be solidifying our ability to recruit top talent and that there is a window right now where we are going to make decisions about the school district’s focus for the next three to five years. My hope is that more community members will engage in that process with us.
Sun: What do you most look forward to at your new job?
Scuderi: I enjoy the administrative challenges of finding the best way to manage our finances, facilities and personnel. In a very geeky way I enjoy the kind of planning and thinking that goes with the macro-administrative responsibilities that I have to oversee.
Even more than that, the thing I look forward to is watching kids have positive experiences at schools. I’m making a point to visit at least three schools every week, including in classrooms. My goal is to do that for as long as I’m here. That is something refreshing that I look forward to.
The first couple of weeks that I have visited schools, people have been saying, “Hey, who’s that guy in the suit roaming around, what’s up with that?” As people start to get more comfortable with me — kids and staff alike — the conversations that I have at the schools are the things that help keep me grounded and informed.
It really energizes me to see great teaching and see kids having a good time on campus. Those are the things I look forward to the most. Everything else in the job should contribute to those experiences on those school sites.
That’s been the case for me since I was a principal, going into classrooms, getting out into the hallways and talking with kids and teachers. That energy boost reminds me of why I’m doing this work, which is essentially so teachers, school leaders and students can do the work they need to do.
I feel my job is to be a facilitator-in-chief and try to create spaces for the professionals who do this work to do it as well as they can on behalf of kids and families.
Sun: How do you think other issues affecting Alameda: rapid development, rent control, homelessness and lack of housing, affect Alameda schools and its students?
Scuderi: Environment and local context is key. A fear shared by many education leaders in the Bay Area is that rapid rates of gentrification and rising housing costs have taken a toll on the diversity of our school populations. Not just in a cultural or racial sense, but also socio-economically. The distance between students and families is growing.
Diversity is an enormous learning tool and a benefit. Learning to interact with people who are different than you is a tremendous asset, and will serve kids beyond AUSD. We must be cognizant of how that impacts our schools, and consider how we might mitigate some of that absence of diversity.
The chief business officer and I regularly talk about what’s being proposed in terms of new housing developments, which always present short- and long-term concerns in terms of school enrollment.
We try to stay ahead of that by monitoring what’s happening locally. We then periodically employ folks to do demographic assessments of the community’s housing development and general population growth. Any significant infusion of new students would potentially require us to make some significant adjustments to accommodate them.
Sun: What do you like to do when you’re not working?
Scuderi: Now those are the hardest questions. I stick to my morning routine because I have younger kids. I tend to get up at 4 a.m., so I can have some time for myself and get a little exercise.
I am a huge fan of all kinds of music — that’s a big part of my life. I also enjoy cooking. I would say more than half of my bookshelves contains books about cooking and biographies of chefs. In another lifetime I would have wanted to do that, but now it’s a way to unwind and my creative outlet, too.