• A man smiling

      Brian McDonald (Photo courtesy by Brian McDonald)

      After an unprecedented 12 years of service to the Pasadena Unified School District, nine as superintendent, Brian McDonald has stepped down from his post. His years of leadership and putting the children first is a testament to all he’s done for the students and families in this community.

      By Jordan Lynn

      A sit down interview with ColoradoBoulevard to reflect and leave words of wisdom on leadership and the school district he served so faithfully.

      Jordan Lynn:

      What motivated your decision to step down as superintendent after serving your very lengthy term?

      Brian O. McDonald:

      This position of superintendent of schools has a shelf life and I was fortunate enough to serve for nine school years. Leading through the pandemic was quite difficult. I think that took the steam out of a lot of superintendents all across the country.

      That was a very trying time.

      I think all of those things combined caused me to get to the point where I realized that it was time to step down and allow for a new leader to come in and take the district to even higher heights.

      What is your crowning achievement that you’re most proud of?

      Since teaching and learning is the main focus of any school district, I think leading the effort to implement an instructional and academic infrastructure, meaning a curriculum, instruction, and professional development department, a functioning one.

      Having led the work to establish a written curriculum, and just putting all of the key pieces in place. More than anything else, providing stable leadership in a district that sorely needed that was important as well.

      The stops and starts that come with a change in leadership, especially at the superintendent level, are very harmful to a school district. Being able to serve for that long and bring that level of stability to the district was very important to me and I’m very proud of that.

      If you could leave a message for the incoming superintendent and your interim as well, what would your message be to them? Advice you would give them?

      My message is to stay true to their principles and do what’s best for kids. One of the things that help me to make sound decisions is that I would always think about what would be in the best interest of the kids. That’s the first bit of advice.

      Number two, staying on the job long enough to accomplish number one. The way to stay on the job is by developing that relationship with the school board. That causes the governance team, which is the superintendent and the board, to work productively to make a difference in the lives of the students they’re serving.

      Finally, the last bit of advice, is that the superintendent be visible in the schools – available to the employees, available to the parents, available to the students. Be visible in the community and be available for the community members. Being a superintendent means that you are a public servant.

      A man standing and talking to a classroom

      Former PUSD Superintendent, Brian McDonald (Photo courtesy by Brian McDonald)

      I know you did a lot of work around Measure O, getting more magnet school programs and grants for the district. Can you explain how that was really helpful in improving the district strategic plan and for offerings for students?

      When I arrived in the district, there were not many highly sought after schools. We quickly realized that we needed to make the programming at each school site attractive to students and families.

      One way was to pursue the Magnet Schools Assistance Program grant. We wrote three grants and we received well over $30 million in funds from the U. S. Department of Education. That allowed us to expand our programmatic offerings, especially instituting those career-themed academies. We primarily focused on the schools on the northwest side of town, simply because we wanted those schools to function well for the neighborhood kids.

      We also have several signature programs that we implemented at the various school sites. Some are the App Academy at PHS, the Math Academy that’s at several school sites: Butler, McKinley, Sierra Madre and now at PHS. We expanded the Dual Language program, implementing French and Armenian as new programs. We expanded the Spanish and Mandarin programs. I think all of those decisions allowed families to have meaningful choices for their kids.

      With regard to the bond measures, I was very instrumental in getting Measure O passed. That’s going to be quite beneficial because we have many schools that are probably a hundred years old, and they’re not necessarily as conducive for student learning. It’s the largest we’ve had approved in this community. It’s over half a billion dollars. What that tells me is the community has confidence in our schools.

      I think we all know that our public schools are the bedrock of our community. It furthers our democracy. It allows people to change their fortunes in life. I’m just very grateful that the district was supported during my tenure and I’m sure will continue to be supported in years to come.

      Looking back on your entire tenure, what message would you like to convey to the students, the families, and employees of the district? What do you hope your legacy would be now that you have gone?

      I’ll start with the students. They should continue to aim high. We have put certain mechanisms in place for them to have a voice. They should take advantage of those opportunities through all of the different avenues that students will have going forward to give meaningful input.

      Another thing is to think critically about issues. Don’t just simply accept what’s being told to you, think very carefully. Think about what you’re hearing or what you’re learning and make decisions for yourself about what will serve you best and what will help you to serve the community. We all have to live in this community, we all should look out for each other, and we all should be of service whenever we have the opportunity.

      To the employees, continue to be those dedicated employees that I have known over the years. A significant number of the employees in the district live in the community and actually went to PUSD schools. They have a special love for the district. I would say continue to work as hard as you can on behalf of the students so that this community of Pasadena, Altadena, and Sierra Madre will continue to thrive. Finally, for the community, please continue to support our schools.

      I think there exists a perception gap – the schools are much better than many people in the community realize. I would just ask that those who are not familiar with our schools, just visit and see all of the good work that’s being done. All of the great learning that students are experiencing, day in and day out in our schools.

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