Dick Sheehan became superintendent of Glendale Unified on July 1. With school beginning Monday, he shared his vision for the future, and how a cash-strapped district must still strive for student achievement.
MAX ZIMBERT: When you were a coach in Covina Valley Unified, you were the offensive play caller. How does that figure into your leadership style today?
DICK SHEEHAN: I would say it falls into being a head coach and realizing that although I ran the offense, you win with defense. Philosophically, I think coaching prepares you. Being the leader of a school or district requires strategy, thinking ahead, analyzing, a lot of the things that you do when you break down game film. You see where your weaknesses are and you work to improve your weaknesses.
Q: You were promoted from within Glendale Unified after having been here for three years. How does your insider-outsider status shape your approach?
A: I think the advantages I have is a familiarity with the district, a familiarity with the people, a familiarity with how the district operates. I already have a good idea of the direction in which the district has been moving the last few years, and yet, I’m very different than [retired Supt.] Michael Escalante. The work he’s done in Glendale has been remarkable. The reason why I bring that up is I think we need to continue the successes that Mike had with the district. I mean, academic achievement and student success remain our priority as a district, as it should be for every district.
Q: With the signing of tentative agreements this week, might there be peace between the district and its employees this year and beyond?
A: I think with the whole negotiation process having run its course over the last year, I think it allows us to keep our eye on the ball, and it brings student success to the forefront of our conversations, like it should be every year. One of the goals is to improve our working relationship with the teachers association while maintaining our excellent working relationship with the school employees [union].
Q: What’s the story behind “Make It Happen”? Is that a new district philosophy?
A: A lot of that goes off of Oliver Wendell Holmes’ quote, “Greatness is not where we stand, but in what direction we’re moving. We must sail sometimes with the wind and sometimes against it, but sail we must, and not drift, nor lie at anchor.” Make it happen is just short for, regardless of the climate around us … the students have only one shot at second grade. We have to make it successful for them. There are certain things we can’t control, and so regardless of the exterior climate, we have to make it happen.
Q: Is the district at a crossroads at all academically?
A: We should applaud our teachers and the hard work that they do, but you can always improve on where you are. Yes, it’s more difficult as you get closer to 1,000 [on the Academic Performance Index, a state benchmark that ranges between 200 to 1,000]. One of my goals is to ensure that we’re supporting all our students, and the support doesn’t always look the same for all our students. We have to make sure that we’re providing the correct support to those that need it.