The first day of school at Amador Valley High was just like any other.
Students rushing out of their parents' cars to beat the first period bell, freshmen asking for directions to their class -- it was a normal start to the morning on Aug. 10 for many seniors who had a completely opposite experience two years ago.
Alameda County and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently loosened their mask requirements as vaccination rates are, for the most part, in the high numbers.
Because of that, Pleasanton schools will no longer require masks to be worn and remote learning -- while available to those who want it -- is in the rear-view.
Yet with many students thinking the most important difference this school year is the new California laws mandating high schools begin classes no earlier than 8:30 a.m., and middle schools start no earlier than 8 a.m., that is far from the only significant change for the Pleasanton Unified School District.
Over the summer, the Pleasanton school board approved, reviewed and finalized a myriad of facility improvements that were either completed or are projected to be completed in the fall.
Some of the projects that students are now finally seeing for the first time include new science buildings at Amador and Foothill high schools, behind-the-scenes network and technology upgrades, and upgraded safety features to the clocks and bells.
These were all funded through the $270 million Measure I1 general obligation bond that voters passed in 2016.
Most of the safety improvements like the fencing and updated fire alarms are things that PUSD Superintendent David Haglund said the district has been worried amid school shootings across the country.
He said that Pleasanton schools were built in a time where residents preferred open schools due to the sense of neighborhood safety and because of that, there has been a lot of work recently to mitigate tracking on who comes in and out of schools and installing cameras to monitor the campuses at all times.
"The fact that Columbine and Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School were in communities that were very much like Pleasanton, it just kind of shook parents up a little bit," Haglund said. "That was about the time when the measure was passed, so that's why you saw so much security in Measure I1."
Another major project that is being completed after almost three years of construction is the Lydiksen Elementary School rebuild.
Kids are coming back to new classroom buildings and a new library building -- by the end of fall, that project will come to completion with the new administration building and modernization of one of their existing classrooms.
"Seeing students using the technology and the classroom spaces, having fences that are now securing the campus, those are really tangible benefits that I think the community is now finally seeing the fruits of, and so we're really excited about that," said Ahmad Sheikholeslami, assistant superintendent of business services.
The last main improvement that students will see throughout the district is in the $20 million put into new roofing and heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems
"A lot of kids are going to come back to, you know, roofs that aren't gonna leak anymore and HVAC that's going to be working more consistently," Sheikholeslami said.
But those overall safety and general building improvements are just a portion of the overall improvements that need to be addressed. The school board over the summer approved to place a new $395 million general obligation bond in the Nov. 8 election to help continue funding for various other facility improvements that were outlined in the Facility Master Plan, which was also approved by the board over the summer.
Since Measure I1 passed six years ago, and another bond measure failed in 2020, PUSD staff have been working on the master plan update that would separate the facility improvements of all 15 school sites into a two-tier system to address areas of high priority first.
Those priorities like rebuilding the Amador and Foothill theaters and gyms as well as building new classrooms at Vintage Hills Elementary would be funded through the November bond if it passes.
"The public investment in our schools is below the public investment that Sunol invests in their schools, and yet most people in Pleasanton wouldn't consider themselves below Sunol in how they support their community," Haglund said. "The reality is ... if you look at all of the districts in the Bay Area, we're fourth from the bottom."
Administrative and staff changes
The district has made several administrative changes, settled on a new contract agreement with teachers to bump their salaries and offer health benefits, and is shifting to promoting a hire-from-within culture.
In his five-plus years as superintendent, Haglund said that among his various goals was implementing a systemic approach to address the high turnover of staff.
"Anybody who's familiar with the history of the district knows that there was a time of turmoil prior to my coming in turnover of superintendents," Haglund said. "There was a significant amount of turnover, not just at the superintendent level, but also amongst the executive team and principals. So we've worked hard to build stability there, to invest in our team so that we can hold people in the district."
One of the things that Haglund said he was most proud of in his time with the district was helping finalize the new contract with the Association of Pleasanton Teachers, which includes a 3.25% salary increase and new health benefits.
"One of the key issues that was leading to people moving out of the district was the fact that the district didn't provide benefits, health care benefits, and people were leaving the district to find jobs in neighboring districts that did," Haglund said. "So one of the things I'm most proud of, is that we've been able to get benefits back onto the salary schedules for all of the groups."
Haglund said that implementing a clear succession plan so that people within the district can move up to positions most aligned with their career roadmap was also another goal he is finally starting to accomplish -- especially with the new deputy superintendent role granted to Ed Diolazo, formerly the assistant superintendent of student services.
Haglund added that it was also important with other positions throughout the district to continue a culture of promoting from within after that one retirement causes a whole shift of staff.
"Every single year, you have individuals who decide this is their year to retire," he said. "Retirements create vacancies, those vacancies have to be filled and often we fill those vacancies with people that we've been mentoring and training internally."
The staff changes include Nicole Hurtado, who was working as the vice principal for Harvest Park Middle School for the past three years, becoming the new coordinator of human resources.
Joshua Butterfield resigned as Amador principal to become PUSD's director of secondary education. Butterfield replaced Nimarta Grewal who has accepted a new position within PUSD as director of human resources. Grewal is taking over for former director Kim Ortiz, who also recently announced her retirement.
Shay Galletti also stepped down as director of elementary education to pursue her doctorate while also serving as the coordinator of early literacy and numeracy. She was replaced by David Schrag, who came to Pleasanton after serving as director of curriculum and instruction at the Orinda Union School District.
Pam VandeKamp, PUSD's director of assessment and accountability, retired at the end of the 2021-22 academic year as well. She was succeeded by Kevin Bradley, former administrative assistant superintendent at the New York City Department of Education, but the PUSD position itself is being rebranded as senior executive director of research and evaluation.
In perhaps the most visible new hire, Jonathan Fey, a Pleasanton resident who worked in the Mt. Diablo Unified School District, is the new principal at Amador.
"I think for me expectations and sort of goals and vision really is to connect with the community," Fey said as he walked around Amador for the first time two days before the first day of school to familiarize himself with the campus. "I think, for me, coming from the Pleasanton community, I still have a job ahead of me too. To make sure not only that we are connected with our community, but that our community is connected with each other."
Danielle Tremain, former principal on special assignment for the Children's Annex at the San Mateo-Foster City School District, started the school year as the new vice principal for Donlon Elementary School. Tremain succeeds Carole Stothers, who was appointed as the new principal at Vintage Hills.
The two other vice principals who were officially welcomed into their new roles were Ashley Green, a science teacher at Harvest Park Middle School who will be joining Hart Middle School, and Kristina Brown, who will be joining the district for the first time as vice principal of Walnut Grove Elementary School.
And in Haglund's cabinet, William Nelson has been hired as the district's next assistant superintendent of teaching and learning, succeeding Janelle Woodward who retired after serving in the role since the 2019-20 academic year.
"It looks like there's a whole bunch of vacancies and the reality of what it was all because of one retirement," Haglund said. "Although externally it might look like a lot of shake up, internally it doesn't look like shake up because these were people that we know and we've seen rising to that next level."
There will also be more support offered to teachers and staff, according to Julio Hernandez, assistant superintendent of human resources, speaking at an employee gathering on Aug. 8.
"Our management team and human resources will commence our day at the school sites. We will be there at 8 o'clock," Hernandez said. "We will be there to visit with you throughout the year so that if there's any concerns that you may raise that we could discuss, so that we can develop those relationships so that we could all grow."
At the district office property on Bernal Avenue, apart from the plan to relocate the headquarters to an office complex in the Hacienda Business Park, Village High School improvements are also up for consideration.
Proposed as part of the Facility Master Plan, the district is looking to rebuild the alternative high school campus given that the district relocation goes smoothly. The plans to buy the new space for the relocation has already been approved by the board.
Haglund and Sheikholeslami said that the work to rebuild Village speaks to the equity work that the district is especially trying to emphasize moving toward the future.
"This facility here for Village High School was built back in the 1950s and it's never been really updated," Haglund said. "Some of the support beams holding up the overhangs outside of classroom doors, they don't even touch the beams anymore. They've just rotted away and that's been allowed to stay that way."
"We have some of our most marginalized youths attending one of the schools that's in the poorest condition and it's not okay," he added.
Other improvements the district will be aiming to address are the aging facilities like the Amador Theater and the lack of visual and performing arts spaces at the high schools.
Even though there has been discussion on the historic nature of preserving the Amador Theater, Haglund said that the plan is still seeking to rebuild it due to the foundation of the building sinking.
"We looked at modernizing it and ... there's a point where you can spend so much money on an old building, that it doesn't make any sense to do that," Sheikholeslami said.
There is currently also a two-phase plan to upgrade pathways to the sports fields at Foothill to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
The first phase, which is already underway, will create two new ADA-compliant parking spots near the baseball field, a walkway from those parking spots to the field and an ADA-compliant walkway from the nearest ADA-compliant parking near the tennis complex to the front entry of the stadium.
Phase II of the construction, which received key funding via the We Are Pleasanton community group, will build a switchback ramp leading to the lower field, ADA seating and providing accessible walkways.