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May 4, 2010 > School Superintendent Werner to leave in June

School Superintendent Werner to leave in June

By Miriam G. Mazliach

Milt Werner, Ed.D., will be leaving his position as Superintendent of Schools for Fremont Unified School District (FUSD) on June 30. Dr. Werner previously served as Assistant Superintendent and Principal of Washington High School. TCV interviewed Dr. Werner about leading FUSD, the second-largest school district in Alameda County.

TCV: All districts are under extreme fiscal duress and being asked to accomplish more with less. How do you think FUSD is handling this situation?

Werner: I seriously think we're handling this quite well, as difficult as it is for staff members, teachers, principals and classified employees. They get upset, I see it; but in the final analysis, as we move through each week and each month, I see them really stepping up and doing what they need to do.

TCV: Having to cut millions of dollars while still being able to maintain the academic excellence that Fremont is known for would be tough for anyone. What was your approach?

Werner: Our approach was to get this information to all constituencies for feedback. We had many, many presentations and public meetings with parents, community groups, civic organizations, as well as people in our employee groups. Through all of that, we came up with prioritized lists. It's a real open but very hard process whether dealing with class size, counselors, librarians, transportation, salary cuts, or furloughs. Through it, we have the collective voice of the constituents in Fremont.

TCV: How were you able to work with such diverse groups-certificated and classified personnel, administrators, FUSD staff, Board trustees, parents and the community?

Werner: That is not only my style but it's been the style of the district for quite a while under past boards and superintendents. The district has been quite open and transparent.

I have a community meeting once a month in the Main Library that's totally open to anyone who wants to show up. I didn't start it but I knew about it when I came to this office and continued the practice.

I meet once a month with the PRAA (Parent Representative Advisory Assembly) which has one representative from all 42 schools. We have approximately 16 committees in the district, such as the Financial Advisory Committee, PRAA, Health and Sex Education Committee, Equity Commission, Curriculum, etc.; teachers, administrators, and parents serve on them. You do have to listen to your constituencies and parents.

Different towns and school districts are unique. Federal and State mandates don't work as well as they should because of these differences. If you go from the Sunol School District with its 200-300 students to Los Angeles that has 600,000 students, they're working with the same set of rules but those mandates don't work.

As far as Fremont, I think the transparency openness model that we have is very good and suits the District well. There are absolutely no secrets. We get new budget information from Sacramento and the School Services Office to our people even before we've had a chance to determine what we're going to do about it. The downside is people come back and say, "Well, what are your plans?"

TCV: Which budget cuts are the most distressing to you?

Werner: The ones that touch students directly, such as when we have to cut back on library services and counseling services. When we have to increase class size, I'm concerned. The research on class size is not solid but some people would lead you to believe it is. There are schools and school districts across the nation that are doing outstanding work at 40:1 (student:teacher) ratio. I'm still concerned that class size, with the expectations and the curriculum we have, isn't raised too much. We know we need to increase size a little, but hopefully we can keep it in a reasonable window.

TCV: What about the elimination of Elementary Prep: Science and P.E.?

Werner: I would like to have the full complement of Prep teachers that we need for any area of specialization for students. Prep arose out of a continuing enhancement and enrichment of state standards. Fifty years ago there was no Prep; the first or third grade teacher might have taught 10 minutes of Science a week. Then as the state standards came out and said maybe we need to do this, a certain number of minutes and develop these skill areas further and add labs, things changed. So I don't necessarily say Prep is necessary, but what I think is necessary is teacher knowledge, skill and ability level. Whoever that teacher is, even if it's the regular classroom teacher who can teach better than the Prep teacher, that's what we want. We don't necessarily have to have a Science specialist, if we can get it through the regular teaching professional.

TCV: How do you work with your Staff?

Dr. Werner: We're a team. Every Monday I meet with the Assistant Superintendents Parvin Ahmadi, Bill Stephens, and Steve Betando. We go over the most pressing things we're dealing with, and obviously right now it's the budget negotiations and what we're going to do at the Board meetings on Wednesday night. Twice a month, before each Board meeting, we go to a cabinet meeting that has 20 people, the Assistant Superintendents, all the directors and a principal representative for each group, elementary, junior high and high school.

All high school principals and junior high principals meet with the Assistant Superintendents and directors once a month. Then we have a meeting of elementary principals. Every month we hold 10 to 12 meetings with a large management team. I like working as a team; it's very healthy, invigorating, and empowering. Ahmadi, Betando, and Stephens have about 75 years of experience and about 6 different degrees between them. Should I be dictating to them or should I be listening and working with them? Collaboration is a great way to work, and it empowers people and helps them to grow in their job.

TCV: Why and how did you make the decision to leave before your contract was completed?

Werner: A number of reasons caused me to leave early; the major one is the time this job entails. I knew it was significant when I came into it. I love this work, if I could do it 40 hours a week, but I've been doing closer to 80. Sometimes I don't see my wife and family. I'm not spending quality time with any of them. I attend meetings almost every evening. I enjoy people, going places and speaking, but the other side of my life is non-existent. I finally said to myself, I need a little different pace.

TCV: What was your proudest accomplishment at FUSD?

Werner: I think it's continuing what was started by many people before me. Fremont is one of the more outstanding school districts in the state of California, as noted by our nine distinguished schools and our API scores, as compared to rest of the state. I was fortunate. I walked into a very good school district and I knew that. That's why I applied here originally, because I had known about Fremont. So, to continue and add some new things, we added a cultural diversity training program. Working with our Instructional Services Department and a company Pivot Learning Partners, this excellent program will help our teachers/staff become more culturally proficient. Also satisfying to me has been teaming with administrators and principals to help them get better at what they do. We have a lot of really great people here.

TCV: What are your plans for the future?

Werner: I'm not going to quit working. I'd like to do more consulting and continue my work with the Accrediting Commission. I've also taught educational classes at universities before. I want to get back into trout fishing, sailing, and overall spending more time with my family.

TCV: Any final thoughts or comments?

Werner: This has really been an outstanding place for me to work, the last eight years in the District. I've been very fortunate to come in here. To be the Principal at Washington High School; I loved that work. I had planned on staying there and hadn't planned on coming to the Superintendent's Office. This has been the capstone of my career. Whatever is done through this office is going to impact 32,000 kids. You have to think about what's good for the kids and not what's good for you. Let go of your ego. We have a lot of great people; let them be part of the process.

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