After more than two years overshadowed by one big leadership question mark, a new day finally arrived this month for the Dublin Unified School District: Longtime San Jose area education administrator Chris Funk took the helm as superintendent.
He is the fourth man to occupy DUSD's head chair, but its first permanent officeholder, since ex-superintendent Leslie Boozer and the Board of Trustees abruptly agreed to part ways mid-contract in March 2019. Funk follows Matt Campbell (three-week "acting"), Dave Marken (year-plus "interim" with a bitter early exit) and Daniel Moirao (one-year "interim").
And he's well aware of that incongruity.
"That's what I look forward to is bringing stability, bringing partnership and co-creating with our unions on what our district looks like in the future and how we get there together," Funk told me during a fast-paced but in-depth phone interview Monday about the key issues facing Dublin Unified at the dawn of his tenure.
Funk comes to the Tri-Valley for the first time professionally after a long career in his native San Jose, including the past nine years as superintendent of the East Side Union High School District. The 55-year-old will continue to live in San Jose with his wife, Leslie; they have two adult sons.
He had actually announced his departure from ESUHSD (destination unknown) one summer ago. News reports from the San Jose Spotlight and other sources at the time cited some acrimony.
Funk acknowledged anxiety within that district around budget recovery, but he told me, "I actually left in good terms, in good standing ... I chose to leave because I thought the timing was right."
"Anytime you spend nine years in a system and you're actually doing the heavy lifting and pushing on the system to change for the better, you're going to have times where not everyone sees eye to eye," he said.
The opportunity to return to a K-12 system was among what drew Funk to apply in Dublin, as were its strong student success record, dedicated staff and "a very involved community."
There was no elephant in the room with this new superintendent; he knows one of his main tasks is addressing the employment turnover that has plagued Dublin Unified in recent years.
"I think that what's lacking because there's been a high turnover from top to bottom -- not only in teaching positions but particularly in leadership positions -- that some of the best practices may have kind of gone to the wayside, and I don't think it will take a whole lot of effort to actually get them back to where they need to be," he said.
"My track record shows that I hire highly qualified individuals. I have clear expectations, I give people a clear framework to work from and provide them the coaching and the support that they need. And then I hold people accountable," he continued, adding:
"I truly believe in transparency. I own my mistakes. I want to share all of the great data that's happening in Dublin, but I also want to peel back the wallpaper and look at some of the areas that we're not so good at. And I'm not afraid to share that and then develop a plan to try to solve that problem."
He also cites strong experience with bond project management in San Jose. That background will be a necessity in Dublin Unified, whose facilities program was thrown into disarray last year, spurring ongoing debates about financial prioritization in light of questions about bond funds and project costs.
"I'm looking forward to our Facilities Master Plan and the audit that will be completed in September, not because I want to look at laying blame. I just want us to do an autopsy and figure out where we can improve so that we solve problems moving forward," Funk said.
"We clearly do not have enough budget left in our bond, or bond capacity, to complete all of the projects that have been identified in the last three bonds," he acknowledged.
"I am committed to making sure that we finish the completion of Emerald High School," Funk added. "And I think once we get Emerald High School under our belt, then the anxiety, the fear, the anger will dissipate and people will see how transparent we are moving forward."
With instability in the district, in more ways than one, as a dominant cloud overhead, Funk starts in Dublin with an initial three-year term that pays $344,500 in the first year. "I'm also planning on this being my last professional gig or at least superintendency, and so I've got another seven to eight years to work," he told me.
Only time and record will tell whether Funk's tenure will represent the stabilizing force DUSD stakeholders so desperately desire, but his mindset sounds right at the outset.
"I see that our staff are our No. 1 assets, and you need to take care of your assets, you need to nourish them, you need to protect them, you need to reward them. Our No. 1 clients are our students and their families, and we have to be receptive to them, their needs," Funk said. "I make decisions with what I believe is truly an equity lens."
"I do believe in the whole child," he added. "I want the child to be safe at all times, I want us to nourish their mental health, I want to nourish their social and emotional learning, I want them to be able to focus in the pathways that they love, and I want them to be ready with a plan when they leave Dublin to either take on college or to take on their career or whatever pathway they choose to go."
Editor's note: Jeremy Walsh has been the editor of the Pleasanton Weekly since February 2017. His "What a Week" column runs on the first and third Fridays of the month.