No student left behind in search for excellence

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Dr. Andrew Pulver. Courtesy photo

Supt. Pulver seeks culture of inclusionand collaboration

By David N. Young

Second of two parts.

While there is little or no debate regarding the demonstrated excellence of the Los Alamitos Unified School District, newly installed Supt. Dr. Andrew Pulver hopes to use collaboration and inclusion to not only enhance the system’s performance but create a caring, connected culture to broaden and deepen it.

Pulver said he plans to keep the system on its current path, yet he envisions many new ways to connect, communicate and educate students to elevate all students and enhance their opportunities in later life.

“I’m not so sure that we need to turn, I think we’re really on the right path,” said Pulver. “We’ve had really stable leadership with (former superintendent) Sherry Kropp so I think I bring another sense of stability in that respect but perhaps with a different style.”

“I really believe that public education is the great equalizer of society,” said Pulver, “and our job is to set the foundations so that when they move from us after 12th grade that their trajectory is unlimited. So that they have the best solid footing possible,” he added.

“We need to find ways to build more collaboration to give people more of a voice. It doesn’t mean that we will always agree and, sometimes, decisions will have to be made, but if people have a voice or a forum to at least hear their input, whether it be with their teachers or site principals, that’s a skill and goal I bring to the office,” said Pulver.

Pulver looks ahead to his tenure as superintendent with a eye toward serving the “true customers of our district,” which he says are the school sites, students and their parents. “We are here to serve them,” he said, adding that none of the system’s excellent performance would be possible “without our exceptional people. We have dedicated, passionate and exceptional employees across the board.”

Nevertheless, while it is easy to see the system’s excellence in the four A’s (academics, athletics, art and activities), Pulver says it is also somewhat obvious to see that there is much work to do to expand this ability to excel at the highest levels to a broader range of students.

“Sometimes I think people misunderstand when we we talk about excellence, high test scores, or things of that sort and just assume we’ll always be at the top of the county,” says Pulver. “For me, there is nothing further from the truth.”

For many in the LAUSD system, said Pulver, “it’s just not about high test scores but about proficiency built upon proficiency. No parent wills for their kids to be below grade level or for their kids to struggle,” he says.

“I don’t know a single parent that wishes for their child to struggle in reading or math and so on. Our vision, even though it’s a goal…an aspiration, is to push our limits of what we think is possible to help all students, not just the top 80 or 90 percent,” he said.

In addition to expanding the culture of excellence, Pulver hopes to install new policies that will add a new layer to the system’s security, creating a safe haven for students. In recent years, he said, the system has invested in physical security. He hopes to expand those efforts to emotional security.

And while the district has also focused a great deal on “physical security” of students, such as installing fencing, security devices and mylar on the windows, etc., Pulver said perhaps the district should consider turning the focus to efforts creating an internal environment “where all kids can thrive.”

Pulver wants all campuses across the district to be “a safe place where all students feel accepted.”

“We will work to add social and emotional aspects to the curriculum,” said Pulver, quickly adding that he was proud of the work done thus far by the ongoing human relations task force.

“The goal is to create a multi-tiered safe place for kids where they can thrive, are not discriminated against, and feel totally accepted. It’s the little things that make students believe in themselves.”

Drawing on his own experience of growing up in a family of 15 children, Pulver strongly believes that all students should be connected to something, inside or outside the school system.

“We want them connected because I think the kids most at risk are those who come to school and leave” not connected to some organized activity.

Pulver said “the kids I worry about the most are those involved in nothing. Doesn’t have to be in school, could be in their church, Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, AYSO but involved in something.”

“If we can’t find ways to connect them (inside the system),” said Pulver, “we should find ways to connect them in ways outside academics, particularly at the middle and high school levels.

The more they can be involved in extracurricular activity, the more adults they have around them reaching out, kind of caring and watching over them,” the better off everyone will be.

Even with challenges ahead, Pulver said the system was “left in great hands. He said the system is populated with amazing students and dedicated teachers that truly creates a unique culture for LAUSD.

“And so I don’t know of another finer group of dedicated, passionate and professional employees,” said Pulver, adding that “they really have a culture, I think, of making teaching a vocation. I don’t think most of them are time clock watchers because they see the fruits of their labor is improving the lives of kids,” he said of the teachers, educators and administrators in the system.

“We are also so fortunate to have the kids we do. It doesn’t mean they won’t challenge us or that they don’t push boundaries or that they don’t come from different backgrounds and home lives at times, but we really have amazing kids and families to partner with.”

And Pulver also recognizes the support of the community in general, and from the business community, even though estimates conclude as many as 80 percent do not have students in the system. The community’s recent approval of $100 million for new physical facilities will soon lead to the construction of a state-of-the art- STEM building at Los Al.

In summary, Pulver says he plans to be a good steward of the amazing educational culture of Los Alamitos Unified School District. “Culture is bigger than all of us,” he said. Because it is a unified district including all schools within Rossmoor, Los Alamitos and Seal Beach (all of which feed a single high school), Pulver hopes to truly make it “an exciting field trip from kindergarten to 12th grade” for students within the system.

The new superintendent plans to draw deeply upon his own values of faith and family empowerment, saying it is always critical to “bring others along,” and to “see yourself walking in their shoes.” Also, he knows that not every policy; not every experiment will work perfectly, yet he’s not afraid to fail, saying much of success is driven by the wisdom of mistakes.

“We are never comfortable with the status quo,” said Pulver, as he embarks on his mission as the new LAUSD superintendent, adding that his vision is to empower a powerful culture that will grow to expand the ability of all students to excel and prepare themselves for greater opportunities in life.

One thing Pulver says he knows for sure is that “it is the right goal to pursue.”