As this school year ends, we are feeling hopeful again for the future of PUSD in ways we couldn’t have imagined a few years ago. A big part of that hopefulness is due to the leadership of our interim superintendent Donald Evans over the last year.
Almost from the start, Dr. Evans approached his new job with curiosity and openness – rather than the defensiveness and lack of transparency we had grown used to. He showed an eagerness to engage with and listen to *all* stakeholders in the district, rather than sowing division, which only undermines kids’ educations. He brought a positive energy and lightness to School Board meetings that had been missing. Instead of offering a set of excuses to justify inertia and status quo, he responded to challenges and problems with a solution-oriented mindset. Rather than “We can’t,” his default response seemed to be “Let’s try.”
The best evidence of Dr. Evans’ proactive leadership are two of the district’s most important achievements this year: implementing a dyslexia screener for all K-3 children in our elementary schools, and adopting a new phonics curriculum based on the science of reading. Prior to Dr. Evans’ arrival, PUSD had no universal dyslexia screener in place, and we were lagging behind many districts in America that had already jettisoned the scientifically disproven reading curriculum of Lucy Calkins (aka “balanced literacy”). A number of parents, teachers, and Board members had been advocating for changes to both for years, but it took a clear-eyed leader like Dr. Evans to step in and see those changes to fruition. In doing so, our district has improved the academic trajectory for countless PUSD kids in the future – especially the struggling readers and dyslexic kids who need these changes the most.
As much as we might wish it weren’t the case, Dr. Evans was always only going to be our interim superintendent for one year. He told us at his very first School Board meeting that his primary goals for his year here were to bring fresh eyes to the district’s strengths and challenges, and to set up his permanent successor for success. So far we have heard and seen only excellent things about our incoming superintendent Dr. Jennifer Hawn, and we are looking forward to learning more once she officially starts in July. Our hope is that Dr. Hawn will continue to engage all of the PUSD community with the same kind of openness, respect, and curiosity that Dr. Evans has shown to be his trademark. We were very fortunate to benefit from Dr. Evans’ leadership for a year, and we are grateful for the many ways he helped change PUSD for the better.