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July 2, 2008 > Fremont superintendent bids farewell

Fremont superintendent bids farewell

By Meenu Gupta
Photos By courtesy of Nicole Steward

June 30th was the last official day of Douglas M. Gephart as Superintendent, Fremont Unified School District (FUSD). In an informal survey conducted during the 2004-05 school year by the Superintendent's Parent Representative Advisory Assembly (PRAA), many parents identified communications as an issue they would like the district to address.

During his tenure, a mini-computer called an Eee PC computer was developed by ASUS, a leading company in the new digital era. It is a state-of-the-art computer built on a Linux platform. Dr. David Hotchkiss, Chief Technology Officer was given a pre-production model of the 8.9 inch Eee PC 900 to evaluate. The lightweight computer comes equipped with a 1.3 megapixel camera, built in microphone, speaker and educational games. Dr. Hotchkiss presented the laptop to Luna Martell who was diagnosed with a rare cancer of liver. She was able to join her classmates via live video from Lucille Packard Children's hospital on February 14, 2008.

A discussion with the Superintendent of Schools touched on the challenges and the future of FUSD.

TCV: What are your thoughts as you recollect the past 15 years in the district?

Gephart: The Fremont school district is a remarkable educational community that is clearly focused on the best practices for our students. Everyone from the support staff, teachers, administration, and the board members all want what is best for students. How each stakeholder group defines "what is best" and the strategies to address them are what separate stakeholders from each other. My challenge in my role as the Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources and Superintendent is to find the common ground that will focus on a shared vision and a plan of implementation. This has not always been easy but after 14 years working with all stakeholder groups I can say with pride and confidence that we have successfully overcome differences and our educational community is the benefactor.

TCV: In an earlier interview you talked about improving technological aspects of our schools as well as to improve communication within the district.

Gephart: The single greatest achievement we have made technologically in the district was to select Dr. David Hotchkiss as our Chief Technology Officer. He and his staff developed a technology master plan which they have been implementing over the last two years. His report to the Board on June 11th best describes the phenomenal accomplishments by his department in the area of technology.

TCV: In these years what new ways were introduced to enhance communication?

Gephart: Discovering new ways to communicate with people is difficult. The very best way to communicate is directly, person to person. Toward that end, I have made myself, as the Superintendent, available to the staff, parents, and other stakeholders through personal visits to the schools, community meetings at the library, participation as a Chamber of Commerce Board Member, Advisory member of the Palo Alto Medical Foundation, guest speaker to Rotary, guest speaker to League Women Voters, and guest speaker to League of Volunteers. Accessibility is the key and I have tried to make myself available to the extent time would allow.

TCV: What changes did you note in your career in terms of student enrollment?

Gephart: Our student population has fluctuated between 29,000 and nearly 32,000 over the past 14 years. Increases or decreases may occur from year to year by as much as 300 students. Decreases in student enrollment is usually tied to the economy when families move due to changes in employment for the parents or families are seeking to own a home at a lower cost by moving out the San Joaquin Valley or other less expensive community. Increases in student enrollment are usually tied to the economy. When parents cannot afford to send their children to private school and they elect to enroll them in our school, academic growth of our schools becomes a draw for parents seeking high performing schools. Fremont schools are very high performing and the recent trend shows families in nearby communities are moving to Fremont because of our high performing schools.

TCV: What would you say about district relationships with its employees?

Gephart: Developing and maintaining positive working relations with our employees is a vital element of our overall success. When the leadership of employee organizations are in alignment with the district mission and vision, we are all much more successful and the students benefit. There always issues that must be resolved and it is the process we use to address these issues that separates Fremont from other school districts. Developing and maintaining strong, positive relationships takes a lot of hard work on everyone's part and must be the priority every time we come in contact with an employee. I am very proud of the working relationships we have established with the employee organizations and with individual employees.

TCV: Any message you would like to give to your staff and students?

Gephart: My success and accomplishments over the past 14 years is directly attributed to the collective accomplishments of every staff member and student in the district. I can set the direction and provide the guidance for implementing a strategic plan but it is the staff and students who make the plan work. We have the best staff and students any superintendent could ever hope to work with and I am very proud and honored to have served as the superintendent of the Fremont Unified School District.

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