Friday, December 11, 2015

Ramon Cortines: His Work, His Legacy

I received an email this afternoon from a former colleague in Los Angeles. I had the pleasure of working with him during my 24 years with LAUSD.  His email surprised me because it contained a copy of the farewell letter Ramon Cortines had sent to the staff. And while I knew that Mr. Cortines was leaving the school district at the end of the semester, I didn't realize that today would be his last day.

I had the honor of working for Mr. Cortines during his three stints as interim superintendent, following the separation, resignation, etc., of a previous superintendent.  I will say that Mr. Cortines had a style of leadership that many found challenging to embrace.  At times he was brash and impatient. At other times he was warm and friendly, and easy to talk to. It wasn't' always easy to figure who he was going to be during an interaction.  

I had the pleasure of working for Mr. Cortines when I served as Principal and Director with LAUSD.  I, too, struggled at times to figure out how best to address him. And while I didn't see him all that often, eventually, I came to realize that it wasn't necessary to try and figure him out. It was more about my becoming clear that what mattered to him was serving student and community, and everything else was secondary, including the adult interactions.  Mr. Cortines truly believed in putting students first.

I recall an evening during my time as Director when he came to visit, Gratts Elementary School, now known as GLAYS.  I was working with the school team to write its Pilot school proposal.  We were working late into the evening when he showed up to see how we were doing.   We all thought he needed something, but in fact he came to ask the team how he could be of service to ensure that whatever the plan espoused, it be directed toward meeting the needs of the students in what was a highly impacted community. He shared that he understood the challenges faced by the teachers and staff in that school community, and wanted to reassure the team that he was there to make sure the plan did what it was designed to do. 

I believe that a large part of his legacy will be his commitment to children.  It is clear that in serving the way he did, he was striving to transform the live of young people, and their communities, for the better.  And he did so not only in Los Angeles and California, but across the country.  There are many individuals throughout the country, who were in a district he led that have grown up to be successful in life because of his commitment to them.  And while much will be joked about regarding his crankiness and impatience with people, even more will be said about the difference he has made to advance the institution of public education.

Nelson Mandela once said that, "What counts in life is not the mere fact that we have lived.  It is what difference we have made to the lives of others that will determine the significance of the life we lead."  Mr. Cortines, I truly believe that you have led a significant life, and truly deserves our gratitude for having chosen education as both his vocation and his avocation.  I wish you well sir, as you move to the next phase of your life's journey.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Valgar Institute: "We All Have A Story To Tell"

 "Storytelling is the most powerful way 
to put ideas into the world today." - Robert McKee

Growing up, one of the events I always looked forward to was when my grandmother sat with me and tell me stories about  our family's adventures, past and present, as well as tales she remembered that could have taken place, or not.   And while my grandmother felt that she did not have much to tell, or the affinity to tell a story, I thoroughly enjoyed being transported
to locations where the events had taken place. As I got older, I began to find the same joy in the books I read.  I always wondered how the stories my grandmother told  would have read had she put pen to paper.  They would have been great stories to read, and reread.   

My father, a polymath, became a published author of literature and poetry.  And while I didn't grow up with him, I had the opportunity to go back and read the few works in my possession. This inspired me to write my own story. So, I decided to first write a teacher handbook and, later, Libby (my wife) and I wrote a snowboarding book.  Both were great experiences.  In time, my experiences led to my interest in the idea that we all of a story to tell.  If given the opportunity, how many people would sit down and write their story for the world to read. 

So, Libby and I decided to bring the Valgar Institute: A Publishing Company, back online (I made an initial attempt several years ago).  Jean Luc Godard said that "sometimes reality is too complex. Stories give it form."  We are hoping to create a community for writers and readers who believe that everyone has a story to tell.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Moving Forward

This past July, my family and I moved to Albuquerque, so that I could serve as the Superintendent of the Albuquerque Public Schools.  I was truly humbled that I had been selected to lead the work in this city.  We purchased a home in the city, Libby (wife) enrolled Anthony (son) who was starting kindergarten, in the Albuquerque Public Schools.  By all accounts we were settling in, believing that Albuquerque and the school district, had chosen us. 

But that was not the case; my tenure was short-lived.  A series of events led to my separation from the school district after only 3 months. I was stunned.  I could not imagine finding myself in this position - I truly believed we were here for the long term.  And while the media had a field day with the story, there is much that might never be known or understood. Hopefully time will provide a broader perspective and things will become clearer.

I will be honest when I say that leaving APS was very difficult.  The opportunity of making a positive difference in the lives of those I was hired to serve was real, and my commitment to affecting change within the community was full.  Worse yet, my leaving happened at the same time that Libby's dad passed away.  Libby and her dad were extremely close, and she had been dealing with it for some time.  Anthony was starting school and I certainly didn't want for the little guy to have to deal with my situation.  The last thing they needed was for me to burden them with my situation. At the same time, I know that Libby and Anthony felt the stress, and were very supportive: it was a difficult and lonely period.

Coming to terms with the reality that I was no longer the APS Superintendent took some time.  I had never experienced this with any job I ever had. Dealing with previously unknown emotions was a challenge.  Fortunately, there were folks who stepped up.  They checked in on us, letting us know that they were there for whatever I or my family needed; we will be eternally grateful for their support.

After a short time spent licking my wounds, I began to own my response to the situation and the actions I needed to take moving forward.  In addition to acknowledging the support we received from friends and family, I started reading some books and articles that were either recommended to me, or that I discovered.  I won't run through my bibliography, but there is a book that I would like to mention.   Javier Camara and Sebastian Pfaffen wrote, Understanding Pope Francis: Key Moments in the Formation of Jorge Bergoglio as a Jesuit.  It was written in Spanish, and translated.  The book was great in giving me insight into the life of a unique individual who became a word leader.  And while the entire book is insightful, the section describing his return to Cordoba, which the authors call a "time of darkness and purification", has really guided my thinking about my separation from APS.  I recommend the book to anyone feeling lost, who is trying to make sense of things, and looking for direction.   A friend also recommended that I journal, something I did for many years, as a way of grappling my feelings and thoughts through reflection.  So using Evernote, I have spent a good amount of time retelling my story, how I feel about it, and how I'm using that story to move forward. The reading and the writing have both been very helpful. 

I have also started applying for positions.  While in the immediate returning to a superintendency might be less of an option because the exposure the events that transpired have had,  I am applying to a couple that are coming online.  I'm also applying for other positions, and making connections with individuals who can lend their wisdom.  This has refocused my energies in a way that will allow me to get my career back on track.

Hopefully, what happened in Albuquerque was about a learning I needed to have or and experience I needed to go through. As my wife and others have said, "God has a plan for us, and going through this was part of that plan - and sometimes God uses pain for good."   I have certainly gained a new perspective and new appreciation for the role of the superintendent.

During our time in Albuquerque we have met some amazing people who are now great family friends.  My son has new friends he loves to play with, Libby volunteers in our son's classroom, and church is part of our family's experience. We are customers of the school district and residents of the city of Albuquerque.

During my short tenure at the helm, I came to see that APS has the potential to transform the lives of students. I want to see APS succeed, and wish it nothing but the best, and look forward to seeing its impact on students, parents, staff, and community.

Thursday, October 29, 2015


As those of you who read my blog know, I went on hiatus in June.  I am back, and ready to continue sharing my thoughts.  I was not able to successfully archive my previous entries, or its format, so I will be starting from scratch.  The blog will be under construction for a while.