Edwin Diaz, a well-regarded educator from Gilroy, Calif., has been selected as the new schools chief in Pasadena, a community whose reputation for impressive cultural and other institutions has not extended to its public schools.
Diaz received the unanimous vote of the Pasadena Unified School District Board of Education in a meeting Tuesday evening. Board members lauded Diaz, who has served as superintendent of the Gilroy district since 2000, as an "outstanding leader" and an "agent for change."
"He's results-oriented and has a track record of success," board president Peter Soelter said in an interview Wednesday. "He's ready to take his game to the next level. What's really so exciting is that he's committed to urban education and making sure that all kids succeed."
Diaz said he was impressed with the promise of the Pasadena district and the potential to tap the community's vast resources. But he acknowledged the challenges of working under the scrutiny of well-entrenched political factions.
"People will not know me and it will be a context where I don't have a complete understanding of the community, but I'll be out there, engaged," Diaz said. "Any improvement is going to be a communitywide effort. This is not the type of situation where you can go in in isolation and begin implementing things you think will have an effect on student performance. We have to reach out to stakeholders and get them involved as much as possible."
The Diaz appointment comes at a time of turmoil for the district, which has faced declining student enrollment, budget cutbacks and calls by some for a radical restructuring. The board began looking for a new schools head in May after moving to replace former Supt. Percy Clark Jr., who clashed with the teachers' union and was accused of plagiarizing portions of an opinion piece that ran in a local weekly newspaper.
Clark, who will continue to receive his full salary until July, went on administrative leave in November and the district has been run by an interim superintendent, Darrel Taylor.
The Pasadena district has about 21,000 students at 28 campuses that stretch to Altadena and Sierra Madre, and in recent years has been beset with socio-economic divisions. Most of those attending the public schools are low-income Latino and African American students, while about 32% of children in the district -- 10,000 mostly middle-class and wealthy students -- attend 57 private schools.
A report issued in June commissioned by the nonprofit Pasadena Educational Foundation recommended overhauling the system, including creation of a system of magnet campuses linked to such institutions as Caltech, the Norton Simon Museum and Huntington Hospital.
Peter Dreier, a Pasadena Unified parent and foundation board member, said the Diaz appointment and the fact that three of the seven board of education seats are up for election in March mark a turning point for public education in Pasadena.
"All of the ducks are lined up to move Pasadena in a positive direction," said Dreier, a professor of politics at Occidental College. "Mr. Diaz can be a catalyst for pushing it all together. He's got to be a good politician, a good manager, a good listener and a good collaborator, and those are all things I've heard about him."
While Diaz has been criticized by some Gilroy parents for stagnant student progress, his colleagues cite his contributions.
"Edwin led our district to a common vision for improvement with a specific focus on improved achievement for all students," Gilroy Assistant Supt. Linda Piceno said in a statement.
Diaz, 53, became Gilroy superintendent in 2000 after serving as assistant superintendent of the Oak Grove School District in San Jose. He is a Gilroy native who taught social science and served as head football coach at Gilroy High School before moving into administration.
He cited his achievements in Gilroy as reversing a decline in student test scores, upgrading school facilities and establishing an accountability task force made up of civic leaders, parents and educators to chart school progress and provide input on major decisions.
His administration in Gilroy was the subject of a largely laudatory 2005 profile in the journal Education Week, which found that the district's focus on teacher collaboration and rigorous assessment resulted in significant student gains.
The Gilroy district, in a mostly agricultural community about 30 miles from San Jose, is roughly half the size of the Pasadena district.
Details of Diaz's contract are still being negotiated.
Pasadena officials said Diaz might be able to assume duties in March.