It was the first time anyone had spoken to me that way. But, I listened and it really hit home.
Superintendent, Cajon Valley Union School District
El Cajon, CA
When I started as the Superintendent of Cajon Valley, I wanted to get to know community leaders—who were the power players and the stakeholders—so I could understand what the community wanted and start building relationships to get work done. I wanted to foster a network where everyone feels that students are their responsibility, and that once they graduate, the success of the economy is everyone’s shared responsibility.
When I asked people “who should I talk to in the community?” they all said Daryl Priest, one of the most influential people in our county, and a very successful real estate developer. He’s a salt-of-the-earth, self-made guy who’s also a high school dropout, but managed to build his career from the ground up. I introduced myself and he said he’d been wanting to speak to people at the school. He basically told me that everything the school district was doing was wrong, asking, “When did we start to stigmatize that holding a hammer in the name of work is a bad thing?” and explaining how the mentality of “if you don’t go to college you’re a failure” was detrimental to the community. It was the first time anyone had spoken to me that way. But, I listened and it really hit home.
That really hard feedback, that I didn’t ask for, ultimately changed the way I engaged with people from then on. Instead of just engaging with other educators, I solicited feedback from even more community members. My questions became, “How do you see the school system? Where is it failing? And what should we be doing about it?” I learned what a prevailing wage is from the electrician’s guild and that they don’t want kids coming in chasing a free opportunity, but kids who want to build something, struggle with it, and then are so proud of it that they’ll post it on Instagram and say, “look what I did today!” Our community also wants to see students able to look someone in the eye and shake their hand. They want graduates that understand that adults won’t just bend over backward to give them a job and that they’ll have to earn it. I recognized that these are the outputs the community really wants to see from our K–12 system. This kind of feedback inspired our district to move away from standardization and similar graduate profiles to help create a diverse workforce filled with people who have unique interests, skills, and backgrounds. We built a K–12 framework that starts by asking kids as early as kindergarten, “who are you, what do you want to do, and where might you like to do it?” to try and shape interests into gainful employment.
We’ve actually had Daryl speak to our students and we’ve had field trips to his places of work. He’s also helped shape our World of Work curriculum. We’re currently in the process of applying to New Schools Venture Fund to build a K-14 high school around preparing kids for gainful employment, and Daryl says he wants to be the primary financial donor—this coming from a person disgruntled by the school system. Now, he’s our biggest advocate.
David Miyashiro is the Superintendent of Cajon Valley Union School District. He was named 2016 Superintendent of the Year by the Association of California School Administrators Region 18.