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February 28, 2006 > Hayward moves toward excellence

Hayward moves toward excellence

Working with a school district that has been beset with a myriad of problems during challenging fiscal times is not a job for the timid. Dr. Dale W. Vigil recently moved to Hayward Unified School District (HUSD) to help coordinate a path to recovery and academic distinction. TCV asked Dr. Vigil about his plans for the future of HUSD.
TCV: What is your background?

Dr. Vigil: My family is originally from a little coal-mining town in southern Colorado near New Mexico called Trinidad. We were raised in seven countries - not bad for a Latino from a small coal-mining town. My father became a diplomat specializing in Latin America so I was conceived in Venzuela (I am a twin) and born in Brownsville, Texas; my dad was stationed in Matamoros across the border. I started school in Honduras, moved to Argentina, then Colombia. I spent one school semester in Alexandria, Virginia and one semester in Trinidad, Colorado. Then it was back out to Lima, Peru, Okinawa, Japan and graduation in Guatemala. I went to college in Colorado and settled on teaching. My major was Spanish and minor Social Studies.

I taught in Nebraska and Colorado at the secondary level and became involved with migrant education - the concept of teaching people that moved around - and bilingual education where I was a director in a rural and urban setting in Denver. I was on the school board in Boulder, Colorado for two terms which has helped me to understand policy decisions.

In 1990, I moved to San Diego and spent eight years in city schools doing a variety of things that I thoroughly enjoyed. I became superintendent of schools in Santa Rosa for two years and then moved back to Southern California where I was involved with the Los Angeles Unified School District for five years as it split into smaller districts. I was one of the superintendents (Local District 6). I moved to Hayward about eight months ago.

TCV: Why were you attracted to HUSD? What are your impressions of this area?

Dr. Vigil: I like it here. People are very friendly. I researched the district before I came and decided that this district presented a challenge but had a good school board that is focused on kids. The state almost took over the district two years ago due to fiscal issues and academic achievement has not been the best but I looked forward to the challenge. Most of the top echelon is new, here less than two years - all very dedicated and competent.

My style of leadership is what Dick Elmore at Harvard calls "distributive leadership." I do not believe that one person makes all the decisions. We need to flatten the organization. Whether a teacher or custodian, everyone has an important job; if we focus too much on the hierarchy, the job doesn't get done. If you go to any place I have been, they will tell you that access to Dale is easy. If I need something, I get it rather than asking others to do it - this is my mindset. I like to teach as a "guest" and have done this about 10 times now at elementary, middle and high school.

TCV: What is the biggest transition from Los Angeles?

Dr. Vigil: Several things. The lack of resources is a big one. In Los Angeles, I had access to everything I needed through a pool of people. Here people are doing so much. We have to be resourceful with what we have. Also, coming from East L.A., I thought those facilities were bad but here they are worse. That surprised me. There hasn't been a bond measure here in over 50 years.

TCV: Are student attitudes different?

Dr. Vigil: No, students are the same. Where I was in Los Angeles, the student population was 99 percent Latino. Here it is so diverse, but the kids are the same - the kids that want to learn, those we need to push a little bit and those who are grudgingly there. You need to honor and respect the diversity these kids bring with them. That is an asset of Hayward.

TCV: Is there anything unique to the Hayward district in comparison with others close by?
Dr. Vigil: From what I hear, there is more of an urban feel to our district than some of the surrounding districts.

TCV: Does the "urban feel" create more issues for state and federal directives such as "No Child Left Behind?"

Dr. Vigil: Every child has a brain and a capacity to learn. We have to know how to tap their interest and motivation to learn. That is our job. While some people may place blame on the kid - race, language, poverty - I do not believe any of that. Some place blame on teachers, administrators or parents that don't care. I don't believe that either. We have to find the right chemistry where people can get excited about learning. There are people tracking high poverty, high performing schools all over the country - some in the Bay Area. We want to add our schools to that list.

I am the sixth superintendent in five years. My job is to establish infrastructure, improve academic achievement, look at pedagogy and practice, work with the community to build new schools with a bond issue and balance the budget. That is what the board has asked me to do.

TCV: How do you deal with the California State Exit Exam and No Child Left Behind?

Dr. Vigil: We are not the only district wrestling with this. No Child Left Behind will, with time, need to make some adjustments. Not every school in the United States will be able to meet those goals. I believe in common accountability but they are asking us to do this too fast. California had an accountability system before No Child Left Behind that I thought was good. It gave us enough time to achieve our goals. I took schools in L.A. that were all API 1 or 2 and one at "3" on a scale of 1-10 and when I left, about half of the schools were up to "6." We can do the same here. It just takes the right strategies.

Our kids need to write better and speak better. We assume that if they read, they can speak, listen and write. That is not true. We need to use more academic language in the classroom and focus on how we teach, support teachers and group kids. We can do this, but it is not a fast food approach, so it will take time.

TCV: Is HUSD enrollment growing, steady or declining?

Dr. Vigil: It is declining and has been for several years for a variety of reasons. People are moving out due to the expense of living here. We also need to improve our product. Last year 1800 kids left our district - equivalent to $9 million of revenue - to go to Castro Valley, private schools and other places. Our job in the next three to five years is to improve our product and bring them back. We are developing a strategic plan to do that. There is also the challenge of charter schools. A new charter school just opened and took 92 high school kids. A second will open next year and take another 100 kids. We want to be sensitive to the needs of our schools and teachers, but at this point we are losing a lot of money.

TCV: How is the strategic plan being developed?

Dr. Vigil: I am using the board goals, putting them together with a small group who are listening to what is necessary for our schools and will bring them back to the board. Our recommendations will be broad enough that the board will then get involved with the details.

An example is the dilemma of Algebra. Too many kids are flunking it across the country. We cannot keep teaching it the same way. I am proposing we take a look at kindergarten through seventh grade and use "algebraic thinking and reasoning." We can build mathematics throughout those grades to do that. I have our resource teacher in charge of math who will get teachers to brainstorm of how to do this. Consultants will not tell us what to do, but brainstorm with us. This integrated approach will piloted and modified by our teachers.

TCV: Is this how you will integrate other subjects?

Dr. Vigil: In my past position, we had all our math teachers in middle and high schools get together periodically during the year. The fifth and sixth grade teachers (articulation between primary and middle school) also got together more in a general sense. That is something we want to do here. When kids move between schools, subject matter should not be foreign to them. The principal and counselor of Bret Harte are going to all the feeder schools and meeting with the fifth and sixth grade kids and their parents. They are invited to visit the school, visit classrooms with seventh and eighth grade "docents" who talk about campus life, what is being taught and how they will learn. Our middle schools are reaching out. We need to do the same thing between eighth and ninth grade.

TCV: What is the difference between year round and traditional schedules in HUSD?

Dr. Vigil: Four elementary schools started in July and the rest are traditional. They are single track year round schools instead of what we had in L.A. with three different tracks, two on and one off at any one time. The schools that are following the year round schedule like it. It spreads out learning over the year and teachers have more times during the year to recharge.

TCV: Are any HUSD high school campuses closed?

Dr. Vigil: No. We are studying this and will bring it to the board this spring with a recommendation.

TCV: What is the most immediate change to expect for HUSD?

Dr. Vigil: One is to pass a bond measure to build and modernize our schools. It will take at least two and maybe three measures to get this done. The assessed valuation of homes here is very low. Another is to improve academic achievement. I want to be in the top five of the 15 major school districts of Alameda County. Right now, we are third from the bottom. It will take us some time but we need to set up the infrastructure to do that now. The third major change will be to make us fiscally solvent.

I want Hayward Unified School District become a world class district, a place where people want to move to our community to participate in our schools. When there are good schools, it is a good community. We want 2,000 students a year clamoring to come into our schools rather than leaving.

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