News


Palo Alto Unified names new superintendent

Southern California administrator selected after national search

Watch Weekly journalists discuss the Palo Alto school district's new superintendent, Don Austin, on an episode of "Behind the Headlines.”

Don Austin, the superintendent of the Palos Verdes Peninsula Unified School District, has been named Palo Alto Unified's new superintendent.

The district announced Austin's appointment, which is subject to board approval, in a press release Monday morning. The Board of Education will vote on his contract at a meeting on Tuesday, May 22.

Austin has led the pre-K-12 Palos Verdes school district in Los Angeles County since August 2014. The district is similar in size and demographics to Palo Alto, with a student population of about 11,500 that is primarily white, Asian and high-income. Close to half of its students are white, 28 percent are Asian, 12 percent are Hispanic and 2 percent are African-American, according to 2016-17 data on Ed-Data. Less than 4 percent of Palos Verdes students qualify for free and reduced lunch.

Niche ranked Palos Verdes the sixth best school district in the state in 2018. (Palo Alto Unified was ranked No. 1.)

Palos Verdes has two early childhood centers, 10 elementary schools, three middle schools, two comprehensive high schools and one continuation school.

A Southern California native, Austin's educational career has centered in that region.

The first outside hire in 20 years for the Palos Verdes district, he was described by an interview panel as a "visionary" and a "mentor" who "forms relationships built on trust" and "makes things happen by asking questions," according to a 2014 Daily Breeze news article on his appointment.

The Palo Alto Unified school board was impressed by Austin's "experience, reputation for strong implementation skills, focus on mentorship, and history of building a collective sense of purpose," the press release states. He "brings enthusiasm, a spirit of teamwork, and a commitment to youth."

In a phone interview with the Weekly on Monday afternoon, Austin described himself as a "walk-around person" who works to build deep relationships with those with whom he works. He said he's eager to bring a collaborative philosophy to Palo Alto Unified, a district he has followed closely since he was a high school principal in Laguna Beach in the mid-2000s.

"I'm very big on group problem-solving," Austin told the Weekly. "My office has whiteboards installed so we don't have to walk far to pick up a pen and address and attack problems together. I'm a firm believer that more eyes usually reach a better outcome."

Austin said he's always planned to work in education. He grew up in Chula Vista, across from the high school from which he would graduate. He said he looked up to his teachers, who aside from his parents were his "biggest mentors."

He attended Southwestern College, a two-year community college in Chula Vista, from 1988 to 1990 and then Baker University, a private Christian university in Baldwin City, Kansas. He was the first in his family to attend college, according to the district. He played football competitively at both schools.

Austin holds a bachelor's degree in physical education from Baker and a doctorate in education and master of arts from Azusa Pacific University. He said he obtained teaching and administrative services credentials in California.

Austin's first job was as a middle school teacher in Moreno Valley. He then became principal of La Sierra High School in Riverside from 2000 to 2006 and principal of Laguna Beach High School from 2006 to 2011, according to his LinkedIn.

It was during his years at Laguna Beach that he took notice of Palo Alto, which was reckoning with how to better balance intense academic expectations with student well-being during a youth suicide cluster. Austin said he followed research being conducted at Stanford University on academic stress and watched, later, as Palo Alto Unified opened wellness centers at its high schools and increased counseling services to meet students' growing mental health needs.

"We have either copied or used versions of many of those approaches here in Palos Verdes," he said.

He described Palos Verdes as similar to Palo Alto: "both engaged, high-achieving communities with high expectations, both with outstanding reputations and ranking in every place that a school district can be ranked.

"But along with that, (there are) also pressures and gaps that can go unnoticed unless you take that deeper look," he said.

Prior to Palos Verdes, Austin worked as assistant superintendent of educational services for three years in the nine-campus Huntington Beach Union High School District. There, he is "credited with spearheading the implementation of Common Core State Standards and increasing student admission to state universities," a Palo Alto Unified School District press release states.

As a manager, in Palos Verdes, he said he's most proud of putting systems in place there to improve the recruitment and retention of staff. He added a monthly leadership training for all management-level staff as well as a training program for classified staff to help them overcome "internal barriers" to moving up within the district. The district now mentors elementary school staff interested in leadership positions, a path that had previously been difficult to pursue at that level because the elementary schools don't have assistant principals, he said.

"When I got here initially there were certainly some great people in place, but it wasn't the result of the systems. It was more the results of, in some cases, luck or circumstance," Austin said. "We found ways to develop our best talents so that they have internal places to advance through the organization, which I felt really strongly about."

For students, he cited a stronger emphasis on mental health as a key accomplishment as well as the addition of an online education program that had been discussed for years but not implemented until his tenure.

He said he was well-aware of concern in Palo Alto over the district's handling of student sexual violence and failure to comply with federal civil-rights law Title IX, an issue he has dealt with before but in nowhere near the same "volume" as Palo Alto.

In Palos Verdes, all of the district's goals inevitably encounter the same challenge, however, Austin said: money. Despite being similar in size to Palo Alto, Palos Verdes has a $120 million budget, compared to Palo Alto Unified's about $230 million. Unlike Palo Alto Unified, Palos Verdes is not a Basic Aid district. Basic Aid districts receive the bulk of their revenue from property taxes.

Budgetary restraints affect instructional materials, class size, staff, facilities updates and the district's overall ability to move important initiatives forward in Palos Verdes, Austin said.

"We have to go slower here in some areas," he said.

Austin said that the Palo Alto school district's focus on closing the achievement gap for low-income and minority students came out "loud and clear" in the interviewing process and will be one of his top priorities as superintendent. In Palos Verdes, he said the district regularly assesses elementary students on math and reading to be able to more quickly intervene and at earlier stages, if necessary.

What may have worked in Palos Verdes on this issue or any other may not be transferable to Palo Alto, he said.

"Although I've done things in different districts, I have no intention of coming to replicate what's already been done in places I've been. I want to come up and find the right answers that fit Palo Alto," Austin said.

Austin acknowledged some controversies that have marred the Palos Verdes district in recent years, including a group of parents who successfully sued the Palos Verdes Board of Education for violating California public-meeting law, the Brown Act. The parents alleged the board violated the Brown Act in four separate occasions during closed-sessions discussions of a solar panel contract. A judge tentatively ruled in September that two of those instances violated the law but did not require the board to change its practices, according to news reports.

In a 2016 Daily Breeze newspaper article, Austin called the lawsuit a "frivolous and personal campaign" unnecessarily costing the district and taxpayers time.

Austin would not comment in depth on the lawsuit, citing confidentiality, but noted that the court did not require the school board to take any corrective action.

"Like any engaged community there is going to be scrutiny of every action and perceived action," he said of the case.

Attorney Jeff Lewis, who represented the group of about 50 parents who filed the lawsuit, said it was unclear what role Austin played in the Brown Act violations given they happened in closed session.

"I can't tell you whether this was Don's problem or bad legal advice or the school board because of the nature of the allegation," Lewis said.

He said that the school board took an "adversarial approach," including personal attacks and opting against an opportunity to settle the case early without admitting fault.

Though the board vowed to appeal the court decision, they never did and instead paid about $21,000 in attorney fees, Lewis said.

Lewis described Austin as "professional" and "courteous," despite the controversy.

"On a personal level he seems like a bright educated fellow who intends the best for the kids," Lewis said.

When Austin arrived in Palos Verdes in 2014, controversy was already brewing over opposition to the state’s new Common Core standards. Parents who were concerned the standards would lower the quality of teaching in Palos Verdes had formed a grassroots advocacy group, Concerned PV Parents, and were rallying against their adoption.

Bill Lama, whose children graduated from and grandchildren attend the district, led the opposition effort. In an interview with the Weekly, he said he and other parents did not feel that Austin genuinely listened to their concerns when he was hired. Early on, Lama said, Austin organized a community meeting with a panel of speakers that Lama felt leaned in favor of Common Core.

Austin came in with a reputation as a "tough guy," not "wishy washy" like Palos Verdes' previous superintendent, Lama said.

The Palos Verdes district and teachers union were at odds much of this school year over a salary increase, escalating to the point that teachers refused to post grades and write letters of recommendation for seniors, according to media reports. Teachers, who said they felt undervalued by district leadership, ultimately received a cumulative 3.75 percent raise, according to the Daily Breeze.

"There is lingering dissatisfaction with the way things are going leadership-wise, and also from lots of other perspectives, in the district," Tim Coleman, the head of the teachers bargaining team, said at a board meeting in September.

Austin said negotiations were "tense" this year but noted that "the last four years of negotiations were completed in a total of nine sessions and amassed the largest cumulative ongoing raises to our bargaining units since the four-year span of 1998-2002" despite economic challenges in the region.

"We maintain ongoing open dialogue with our associations and have a history of solving problems together," he said.

Austin was in the public spotlight in 2016 when the executive director of the regional teachers union filed a complaint against him for engaging in physical intimidation and "bullying tactics" during a grievance meeting, the Daily Breeze reported.

Austin told the Weekly he disagreed with the complainant's characterization of his conduct and noted that the complaint was filed two months after the meeting by a non-district union representative.

At the time, he told the Daily Breeze that he approached the complainant at the end of the meeting to acknowledge the tension, and they shook hands in a way that he thought was amicable.

Former Palos Verdes school board President Malcolm Sharp told the Daily Breeze at the time that "being one who was responsible for hiring Don Austin, he has a stellar reputation as far as dealing with associations."

Anthony Collatos, the current president of the Palos Verdes Peninsula Unified school board, said in a statement released Monday that it would be "premature" to comment on Austin's appointment until it has been officially approved.

Austin was selected after a monthslong national search that started soon after former Superintendent Max McGee resigned in September. The five Board of Education board members have met several times in closed session since late April as they narrowed down their final selection.

President Ken Dauber said Austin's contract is not on the board's next regular meeting this Tuesday, May 8, because the board made its final decision to move forward with Austin late Saturday, which was not enough time to notice the item on the agenda.

Karen Hendricks, who was hired as the district's human resources director last summer, has been leading the district on an interim basis since the fall. In Monday's announcement, the board thanked Hendricks for "bringing crucial stability and support to PAUSD this school year."

Hendricks "chose not to be considered" for the superintendent position, the district release states.

Austin said he will relocate to Palo Alto with his wife. He has three children: one daughter set to graduate from high school this year, another daughter attending college and one son about to graduate from college. His oldest and youngest children plan to become teachers, he said.

Austin plans to attend the board's June 5 meeting in Palo Alto for a "meet and greet" with the Palo Alto school community.

If his contract is approved, Austin will start his new position on July 1.

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Comments

17 people like this
Posted by Tony Putulin
a resident of Midtown
on May 7, 2018 at 12:04 pm

Good luck, Mr. Austin! You need all the energy and wisdom you can muster to weather the storm ahead. I hope you did your due diligence and homework before you accepted this position. The turnover in the Suoerintendent position is fairly high.


22 people like this
Posted by Barron Park dad
a resident of Barron Park
on May 7, 2018 at 12:12 pm

It's really good that the Palo Alto Weekly pointed out the similarities between the Palos Verdes district and ours. These details weren't in the PAUSD press release. Hope this means our new Superintendent will be able to hit the ground running.


20 people like this
Posted by Marine World
a resident of Mayfield
on May 7, 2018 at 12:16 pm

One would find the parents in Palo Alto refreshingly low-key compared to Palos Verdes parents.


23 people like this
Posted by Palos Verdes Reaction
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on May 7, 2018 at 12:27 pm

Immediate reaction from a Palos Verdes parent with two children in their school system: "UH OH - this guy is trouble!!! Looks like he is failing his way up North!! We are happy to see him go - too bad its up PA way!"

See couple of articles during his tenure in Palos Verdes:
Intimidation accusation - Web Link
Violation of Brown Act accusation - Web Link


35 people like this
Posted by Wait and see
a resident of Crescent Park
on May 7, 2018 at 12:37 pm

I'll wait and see.
I'm not impressed by a candidate who attended a private Christian college in Kansas and played competitive football in two colleges.

I don't consider training in violent, meaningless sports qualification for anything.
Let's hope he rises above that narrow background.


12 people like this
Posted by rsmithjr
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 7, 2018 at 12:58 pm

rsmithjr is a registered user.

@Wait and see,

Time to put on our inclusive hat!

The real question is can we manage an educational organization and see to it that tasks are done properly?



15 people like this
Posted by PVP
a resident of another community
on May 7, 2018 at 1:02 pm

[Post removed.]


14 people like this
Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 7, 2018 at 1:10 pm

I would hope for major financial knowledge/management skills. PAUSD is a big, costly educational enterprise and I wish for the resources to be intelligently managed.
I do not care for a background in football.
The districts seem to be a comparable fit.


38 people like this
Posted by vizsla1
a resident of Barron Park
on May 7, 2018 at 1:24 pm

vizsla1 is a registered user.

I want to thank Karen Hendricks for doing an outstanding job. I am sorry she was not made Superintendent. I don't understand why we need to pick people outside of Palo Alto instead of choosing people who might want this position and are already working at PAUSD.


24 people like this
Posted by Samuel L.
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 7, 2018 at 1:51 pm

Samuel L. is a registered user.

Maybe Dr. Austin can get the finances under control. PVPUSD has a similar number of students, with similar academic goals and results, yet the general fund for PVPUSD is $105M vs. $250M for PAUSD.


13 people like this
Posted by Reader
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on May 7, 2018 at 1:51 pm

@vizsla1, from the article "Hendricks 'chose not to be considered' for the superintendent position, the district release states."


7 people like this
Posted by @Vizsla
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 7, 2018 at 1:54 pm

@Vizsla is a registered user.

Karen Hendricks was just recently hired from outside the district. With your logic, PAUSD wouldn't have hired Hendricks in the first place.


4 people like this
Posted by We need to know
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on May 7, 2018 at 2:05 pm

[Post removed.]


38 people like this
Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 7, 2018 at 2:15 pm

Direct quote from my sister (Palos Verdes resident, who has 2 children in PV's school district): "Such bad news... we here were celebrating the departure of our superintendent who is absolutely awful. I pray for you guys. He is VERY BAD. AWFUL."

I'm hoping that the school board can take a closer look at this candidate and vet him thoroughly before appointing him.


36 people like this
Posted by Bob
a resident of Downtown North
on May 7, 2018 at 2:38 pm

I am constantly surprised by the things about which people find to complain. The fact that he played collegiate football several decades ago? Really? Is it the fact that he is a former athlete, or football specifically? Would a background in tennis or baseball be OK? Or, what if he enjoyed painting and ballet in college, but also played football? Or, what if he was the place kicker? Would that be OK?


30 people like this
Posted by Very Concerned
a resident of Community Center
on May 7, 2018 at 2:54 pm

Don Austin's education has been at:
- Baker University, a private Christian university in Kansas
- Azusa Pacific University, a private, evangelical Christian university (see Wikipedia).
These were his choices, so I have to wonder what kind of values and background he will bring to the job? Is he going to push for the teaching of creationism, abstinence instead of sex education, prayer in school, arming teachers with guns, and argue that the world is 10,000 years old? Maybe Texas would have been a much better fit for him than Palo Alto. Our School Board made a very risky choice; I cannot believe they could not find somebody who is not only highly qualified but also better represents Palo Alto values.


27 people like this
Posted by Worried
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on May 7, 2018 at 3:17 pm

My sibling is taking their kids out of the PV school system. They hated this guy. They are glad he is gone. She texted me immediately as well with the happiness to be rid of him and the "I'm so sorry" that you have him.


14 people like this
Posted by rsmithjr
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 7, 2018 at 3:25 pm

rsmithjr is a registered user.

@Very concerned,

Scary prospects, I will be waiting and ready to take action.

Meanwhile, let's open our hearts to this guy and see what he can do.

Max McGee failed because he couldn't keep track of the details and make sure things got done properly. He cut corners and didn't pay attention. These are the things I will be looking for immediately.


12 people like this
Posted by Good Riddens
a resident of another community
on May 7, 2018 at 3:30 pm

[Post removed.]






15 people like this
Posted by Hope for the best, prepare for the worst
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on May 7, 2018 at 3:38 pm

Fingers crossed, but anybody applying given the press on this district and community (a healthy dose coming from this publication) makes me wonder who would ever agree to take this task on other than egomaniac.


2 people like this
Posted by sfksdj
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on May 7, 2018 at 4:48 pm

How could Palos Verdes be similar to Palo Alto is beyond me.

Web Link

This district is much more modest where "the billionaires run roughshod over the average millionaires", compared to the other one.

Wish the new supe well prepared.


25 people like this
Posted by neighbor
a resident of Greenmeadow
on May 7, 2018 at 6:10 pm

No one posting on this board has met him and some are already finding reasons to criticize. One parent from the PV isn't a good enough reason to start out with assumptions that may not be true, after all different parents value different things. That PV has just as many students with a somewhat similar demographic and yet functions on half the budget suggests that he can help PAUSD district make better use of resources.


21 people like this
Posted by Paly Alum
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on May 7, 2018 at 6:35 pm

So many snobbish postings here. So what if he played football?! Perhaps he will reduce the academic stress, knowing that character development is important too. Is an Ivy League degree preferable? Kevin Skelly, and past/current School Board members have Ivy League degrees and they are terrible. Ivy graduates may be academically intelligent but they aren't necessarily the best administrators.

What perplexes me is why PAUSD fails at background checks. A poster here is saying Palos Verdes is wishing him good riddance. Same happened with McGee; the people who knew him didn't have positive words. How could PAUSD not realize that good interviews are only a partial method of analyzing prospects? Ask the parents who live in the district!

I know a student who is an awful athlete but somehow at club tryouts, she always performed well but once on the team, the coaches would realize it was a head fake. PAUSD keeps falling for head fakes.

For such intellectual residents, we seem to get stuck with the rejects with no street smarts on our City Council and School Board. Our city is falling fast, no longer a pleasant family town.


21 people like this
Posted by Observer
a resident of Professorville
on May 7, 2018 at 7:41 pm

@ very concerned

This candidate comes from an evangelical background.
Azusa Pacific's website states: Azusa Pacific is a community of disciples and scholars preparing to impact the world for Christ.
Chula Vista (where Austin is from) is also an evangelical community. Is there something we do not know about the School Board, or are they unaware of the potential clash in worldview and values that may occur?


16 people like this
Posted by Palos Verdes Parent
a resident of another community
on May 7, 2018 at 8:42 pm

I can assure that Dr. Austin is not a christian fundamentalist. The fact the he played football in college shows that he is competitve and wants to win, be the best. I see that as a positive.


20 people like this
Posted by Samuel L.
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 7, 2018 at 8:48 pm

Samuel L. is a registered user.

It is interesting that they chose someone with his religious background. The Rancho PV area is also more conservative politically than most of LA County. It starts to bleed into OC politics. Maybe that's why they spend less than half as much as PAUSD with similar academic results.

If the guy can control the district, I don't care where he goes on Sundays.

Looking at salary structures between the two districts, it's obvious how PV saves money. Austin had the highest salary at $276K. The next highest paid person in the district was at $166K, an Assistant Superintendent. PAUSD has many people, including a Construction Manager, Maintenence Manager, CTO, Principals, Asst Principals and other admin, making well over $165K. Maybe it's time to clear out 25 Churchill.


28 people like this
Posted by Palos Verdes teacher
a resident of Atherton
on May 7, 2018 at 9:24 pm

I have been teaching for over 30 years. None of my many previous superintendents has been as reviled by teachers, administrators, parents, and students. Growing up in Atherton, I always thought that Palo Alto Unified was the gold standard among local school districts. This hire shocks me. Austin is so obviously disingenuous, that I'm surprised that the PAUSD hiring committee could not see through his charade.


1 person likes this
Posted by Member
a resident of Palo Alto Hills
on May 7, 2018 at 9:29 pm

[Post removed.]


18 people like this
Posted by Worst Superintendent
a resident of another community
on May 7, 2018 at 9:48 pm

[Post removed.]


3 people like this
Posted by The Truth
a resident of another community
on May 7, 2018 at 9:52 pm

[Post removed due to same poster using multiple names]


22 people like this
Posted by Hawaiian Bob
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 7, 2018 at 10:13 pm

If you want to read between the lines: Don Austin didn’t kowtow to the teacher’s union in PV, so he made some bitter, nasty enemies. Good for him, and he will be good for Palo Alto. Sad to see the slimy unsubstantiated personal attacks already underway.

@skfsdj - Palo Alto and Palos Verdes are more similar than NorCal elitists would like to admit. PV grew as an engineering town (defense industry mainly), and now has a rapidly growing first gen Asian population attracted by the school district reputation. While the overall Asian population is a little lower (40%), you get elementary schools that are majority Asian. Both are suburban, safe, slightly boring towns.


29 people like this
Posted by PVPUSD supporter
a resident of another community
on May 7, 2018 at 10:13 pm

Palo Alto is gaining a great leader! As an educator in Palos Verdes, I have seen the great work Dr. Austin has done and the practices he has developed to support the students, teachers, administrators, parents, and community. His vision and leadership highlighted the importance of inclusive practices of all students. He always made sure that all stakeholders were included in the process and ultimately cared about the best interest of the kids. Dr. Austin showed the ability to build capacity within the District through his mentorship and the relationships that he developed. I am confident that he will continue his strong leadership and passion for supporting students in Palo Alto.


22 people like this
Posted by Paly Alum
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on May 7, 2018 at 10:40 pm

Agree with "Hawaiian Bob": "If you want to read between the lines: Don Austin didn’t kowtow to the teacher’s union in PV, so he made some bitter, nasty enemies."

Remember the fiasco with the teachers when the past principal (Denise Herrmann) asked all of them to start using Schoology to curb the student stress? The teachers exploded and refused ("Don't tell us how to teach"). Anyone will tell you that Schoology reduces student stress because they can view grades, assignments, upcoming assignments, etc. The teachers just didn't want to put in the extra effort, despite earning six figure salaries.

In an article about Don Austin, it states that all his children are in college or college-bound and two of them plan to be teachers, which says a lot to me about his parenting. Children with bad parents don't usually appreciate children.

Hopefully, Austin will be a good leader for PAUSD. Karen Hendricks was not capable of leadership. Skelly was a total pushover, I witnessed it at many meetings (teachers would bully him). McGee was out for his own reputation and thought the parents were responsible for school stress so he didn't address the rampant school stress with the AP teachers overworking the students or enforcing the Board-approved homework guidelines.


1 person likes this
Posted by Truth
a resident of another community
on May 7, 2018 at 11:12 pm

[Post removed due to same poster using multiple names]


13 people like this
Posted by PV Gal
a resident of another community
on May 8, 2018 at 1:29 am

Good luck, Palo Alto! I have worked for PVPUSD for several decades, and Don Austin was the worst Superintendent by far. His word means nothing and he does not care about the students in the least. All he is there for is his giant paycheck and moving on to the next, higher paying opportunity. He wasn't even here for 4 years, but made a huge impact. Lawsuits and IEP non-compliance is up drastically, we are continuously being sued by families, teachers and support staff have been cut and hours reduced, etc. Nothing good has come from his presence, so I just hope Palo Alto realizes it quicker than PV did. If we could just ship the head of our Special Education department with him we would be doing great!


2 people like this
Posted by BP Bob
a resident of Barron Park
on May 8, 2018 at 6:57 am

[Post removed.]


25 people like this
Posted by Educator
a resident of another community
on May 8, 2018 at 6:59 am

Palo Alto is fortunate to be gaining a visionary leader like Dr. Austin. I am an educator serving in Palos Verdes where I have worked for over a decade. During his tenure, I watched him positively impact the culture of our district by bringing innovation, establishing clear systems of communication and bringing together people to be part of a collective team. A Parent Teacher Association recently acknowledged Dr. Austin with an award for his positive impact on the community by strengthening our district. He knows that being a leader means that he is a constant presence on our campuses. Staff, parents and students know him by name because he is visible in the community. He grows leaders and teams, as evidenced by his willingness to meet with aspiring administrators to coach them on their professional growth. Dr. Austin is an expert at developing capacity within organizations. He is a motivator, who shares stories and ideas of inspiration when he talks with teachers and staff. In short, Dr. Austin is a dynamic leader who brings people together.


21 people like this
Posted by Ernie
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on May 8, 2018 at 7:48 am

Let's face it. The last few PAUSD supes didn't have the ethics or cajones to deal with bullying or sexual harassment or the laissez-faire attitudes. So just maybe a Bible-thumping ethical ex-football player is exactly what this place needs.

Time for a shake up!


14 people like this
Posted by kids
a resident of another community
on May 8, 2018 at 7:56 am

kids is a registered user.

It will be great to see him at the Football games! Hope he can have fun with the students and see how hard they work and how nice they are in class and out.


1 person likes this
Posted by PA Super Dad
a resident of Barron Park
on May 8, 2018 at 7:57 am

[Post removed due to same poster using multiple names]


15 people like this
Posted by District Culture
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 8, 2018 at 8:15 am

The new superintendent is lucky because some of the worst offenders in the district office finally left in the wave that left with Max McGee. Unfortunately, protegees and others steeped in that culture still remain in key positions, so it remains to be seen whether they will orient him to their toxicity (with the usual negative results for all) or whether they will rise above their backbiting retaliatory CYA circle-the-wagon tendencies to put the students and service first.

We've had a string of superintendents who did not know how to balance all interests, community/families/parents, students, staff, teachers, etc. They each in turn expressed an interest in connecting with the community but quickly turned to insularity and were ultimately antagonistic to or distant from the families they were supposed to serve rather than being collaborative.

Our past superintendents have tended to circle the wagons with the worst offenders in the district office able to suck them in even to the point of enabling personal vendettas of district office people against sped families. (That's one of a number of problems still under the rug that all of the superintendents made the mistake of thinking they could ignore, cover up, or make go away, anything but doing the right thing, again, with predictable results.) If this guy is able to build a positive leadership, improve the culture at the top, then he will be the right person for the job.


8 people like this
Posted by District Culture
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 8, 2018 at 8:19 am

On the other hand, it's very worrying to hear about reports of someone just interested in taking a big paycheck for a few years and avoiding dealing with problems. I am going to withhold judgment. I hope someone who has been able to run a high-quality district on half the funds can find ways the better use the money. He should start with the facilities bonds, and why we still have such a dilapidated school district when the money could have paid to rebuild new a large percentage of our schools.


24 people like this
Posted by Best Boss Ever
a resident of another community
on May 8, 2018 at 8:51 am

Having worked for Dr. Austin, he is TOTALLY AMAZING!!! He does care about the students, the teachers, the administrators, and all the classified staff. He is a leader, he joins in and does what needs to be done to ensure that the students have the highest benefit. He is the guy I want on my team. Palo Alto is gaining not only an amazing leader, but an amazing man. Congratulations Dr. Austin, I will be sorry to see you go!


7 people like this
Posted by Paly Mom
a resident of Duveneck School
on May 8, 2018 at 9:10 am

[Post removed due to same poster using multiple names]


13 people like this
Posted by Palos Verdes Dad
a resident of Palo Verde
on May 8, 2018 at 9:12 am

Good riddance. The “award” referenced above was presented by an elementary school principal who happens to be leaving at the end of the school year to take a position “in the Bay Area.” Aistin manages in motivational poster cliches and hashtags. [Portion removed.] So glad to see he is moving to Palo Alto, but I bet not as glad as the law firm which works with PAUSD.


4 people like this
Posted by private
a resident of Greater Miranda
on May 8, 2018 at 11:36 am

My concern I see nothing about his expertise in working with children with special needs, diversity, or dealing with Title x cases? Are we going to go through another series of law suits? We have enough classes for students gifted in math. How could they choose someone not selected for the areas our schools are most in need?


6 people like this
Posted by Similarities
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 8, 2018 at 12:45 pm

Similarities is a registered user.

Here is an example of a lawsuit reported by the Daily Breeze:

Web Link

There are similarities in the way that both districts/staff worked to cover up facts when a student is hurt, and then use victim blaming techniques to shame the victim.

Read Don Austin's response to the victim shaming acts - it sheds some light on how he's going to handle the massive amount of UCP/Title IX violations in our district.


34 people like this
Posted by Palos Verdes Parent
a resident of another community
on May 8, 2018 at 1:05 pm

To the families of Palo Alto:

Don Austin can be polarizing. When you bring someone in from the outside it's because you want change. When there is change there will always be a vocal group against it.

Last year contract negotiations with the teachers union in Palos Verdes got bitter. When DR. Austin stood up to the union he was accused of hating teachers. The teachers union instructed teachers to stop writing letters of recommendation for high school seniors college applications. Dr. Austin & few other adminstrators gave up a weekend & had an open house & met with ever senior that needed a letter and wrote them one by one.

PVPUSD is one of the least funded school district in the state on a per pupil basis. Dr. Austin has not had one year of deficit spending.

Trust me, he is not perfect. He can be a bull in a china shop. This morning I took a look at PVPUSD "Road Map" that was put into place in 2017. To my surprize it is being executed mostly on schedule.

The teachers union are not big fans of Dr. Austin, some members of the community that dislike change are against him. Special Education cuts have happened under his tenure. I am not sure if that was BOE driven or Austin driven. The community wants a high performing district with great scores and students going on to ivy league schools, the PVPUSD BOE & Austin put our limited resources for that purpose & yes special ed students got hurt. Your district has about 10% more students than Palos Verdes and an extra 100 million dollars of budget. I would not worry about special ed cuts.

Like I said, he is not perfect & has made mistakes overall he did what he was hired to do.


20 people like this
Posted by Skelly is laughing
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 8, 2018 at 8:10 pm

Mediocrity is all that PAUSD can attract, the last 10 years have been disastrous, from Skelly's impotent response to everything from the suicide crises to dealing with PAEA, all the way to McGee coming in with his song and dance while recycling the various superficial programs from Illinois. It seems that there has to be a whole lot more between candidates from the Ivy League and a diploma mill like Azusa Pacific. Not to mention a nice helping of white privilege.


6 people like this
Posted by Enjoy
a resident of Palo Verde
on May 8, 2018 at 9:46 pm

I'm glad there are so many positive comments. I was worried PV would scare Palo Alto away. Thanks so much Palo Alto! We couldn't be happier here in PV.


12 people like this
Posted by PA parent
a resident of Midtown
on May 9, 2018 at 6:09 am

His background does not look to meet the level required by PA gold standards. We are the number #1 school district in the nation(arguably), and we need to be extremely cautious to ensure the next superintendent is absolutely the best. He is coming from PV does not mean much to me. Please look what went up and down during his time. Also, demographics might be similar, but PV has a different (very retentious) culture. This selection looks similar to our last presidential candidates. Are not there more qualified people in this nation to select from? Do we always need to be limited?


21 people like this
Posted by Oh, Please
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on May 9, 2018 at 7:50 am

@PA Parent: An elitist posting of yours, very embarrassing. An Ivy League degree would satisfy you? Skelly had a Harvard degree and he was disastrous. Education degrees don’t need to be from elite universities to be superior.


21 people like this
Posted by Red flags
a resident of Greenmeadow
on May 9, 2018 at 9:46 am

Lots of issues here. An altercation with a union rep, a dustup with the union over recommendations, violation of the Brown Act, conservative Christian university. Did the school board do due diligence on this hire? We keep hearing that PAUSD is a great district, lots of money, and so on. Is this actually the best person that applied?

Also I keep hearing board members talking about diversity, equity, etc and they just hired the third white man in a row.


15 people like this
Posted by PVP Staff
a resident of another community
on May 9, 2018 at 12:19 pm

Palo Alto is so fortunate to have Dr. Austin as their new Superintendent. I've worked for him for the past 3 years and he has brought our district so far with his forward thinking and visions for improvement. Dr. Austin is easy to talk to and is a true leader. We will miss him. Whoever takes his place in PVPUSD has big shoes to fill.


6 people like this
Posted by Pfft
a resident of Community Center
on May 10, 2018 at 9:17 pm

It was only a matter of time that someone would bring race into the discussion, as if someone else would be superior by virtue of race only. It’s those who post such things who are the real racists.


Like this comment
Posted by PA parent
a resident of Green Acres
on May 11, 2018 at 7:33 am

LAUSD also has new superintendent.. Web Link


11 people like this
Posted by True Feedback
a resident of another community
on May 12, 2018 at 5:29 pm

[Portion removed.]

The teachers union refused to write letters for seniors because they were humiliated and disparaged by Don Austin. He turned his back on the teachers while they were speaking at Board meetings. [Portion removed.]

Don Austin wastes money on litigation and has zero ability to compromise. DO NOT trust him. He has to be right and lacks compromising skills. [Portion removed.]


Like this comment
Posted by No Show
a resident of another community
on May 12, 2018 at 5:40 pm

[Post removed.]




4 people like this
Posted by byrnes
a resident of Barron Park
on May 13, 2018 at 11:44 am

it is unethical to write letters of recommendation for people with whom the subject had no contact and has not taught in the classroom. these letters are meant to be written by teachers. The requirements are in black and white, be careful that that doesn't happen here in Palo Alto and watch the students and parents freak-out if this transpires. Any administrator who writes a recommendation letter for a student she has not had in the classroom violates a basic ethical standard and voids the application. imagine your kid having a cut-and-paste recommendation letter from an administrator who never spent anytime with your child


9 people like this
Posted by Identity
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on May 13, 2018 at 11:56 am

Has anyone with positive comments from PV used their actual name so they could be contacted about their experiences with austin? No. Why? if he's so great where are the testimonials that can be verified? [Portion removed.]


11 people like this
Posted by Eye roll
a resident of College Terrace
on May 13, 2018 at 12:42 pm

@identity - the same could be said in the other direction, right? So easy to malign someone on an anonymous page. Let’s give him a chance, huh? Before we run him out of town, too!


13 people like this
Posted by Not Stupid
a resident of another community
on May 14, 2018 at 3:58 pm

NO parent from PV is going to put a real name on posting as Don Austin is vindictive. He has no boundaries and is not guided by common decency. That alone should say it all . . .


8 people like this
Posted by This is no Joke
a resident of another community
on May 21, 2018 at 12:32 pm

Palo Alto families,

If you care about your kids and if you care about having a conscious/high performing Superintendent in your District, do NOT approve Don Austin's nomination. He is bad, very bad.

Top notch administrators resigned in part over mistreatment by Don Austin. Top notch counselors resigned for the same reason. Women at the District have lodged complaints about him for gender mistreatment and harassment. Don Austin puts his "boys" and cronies in positions of power so they have his back no matter what. Principal Kuykendall was not the top rated candidate for the PVPHS position but he got the job because he is Don's boy. The most qualified candidate for the position was made Principal at Rancho Del Mar which was a real shame.

The BOE conducted a community survey regarding capital improvements and the community rejected idea of bond and noted distrust of District. Don Austin was irresponsible with PVPUSD money and I can only imagine what he will do in Palo Alto. This is all publicly available information, just do your research.

If you look online at proposed budget cuts, he slashed special education (the kids that need the most help). He lacks compassion for kids that do not fit the mold. You can see the cuts on Board Agenda. The cuts to high-paid District personnel were minimal as those are his boys. This speaks volumes for his character and priorities. Believe it when you see it. At a minimum, do your homework.

We want Don Austin out of PV and his days are numbered regardless. But in good conscience we cannot say nothing and allow him to hurt more children and schools in Palo Alto. Where there is smoke there is FIRE and that has never been more true than with Don Austin.

I wish we could all post our names but cannot do that since Don Austin has no boundaries.



2 people like this
Posted by Inclusive
a resident of Palo Verde
on Jun 5, 2018 at 12:05 pm

There are a lot more Christian conservatives in this city than people realize apparently. Just take a drive down Middlefield road and you'll see it's lined with churches. Maybe you ought to ask PAUSD how many churches are renting their facilities over the weekend as well. I'm sure those churches are paying a pretty penny too. As a reminder to the "inclusive," being inclusive and tolerant goes both ways. Every public school system in the nation could use a dose of moral and ethical stability.


4 people like this
Posted by casey
a resident of Midtown
on Jun 8, 2018 at 9:13 am

casey is a registered user.

The big challenge for the new superintendent will involve the administration of the Tinsley program. PAUSD can terminate its participation in the program when 60% of the students within the district's geographic boundaries are students of color. According to PAUSD statistics, Caucasian students represent 40.2% of the total district.

Web Link

We might cross that threshold during the term of his 3-year contract.


2 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of another community
on Jun 8, 2018 at 1:25 pm

@casey

I would hope with considerations for gap issues and actual successful support. So far, the district does not have metrics showing quality support for these students.


Like this comment
Posted by elmoflaco
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Jul 29, 2018 at 8:00 am

[Post removed.]


Like this comment
Posted by Esther Granderson
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jul 29, 2018 at 8:41 am

For those old enough to remember, Dr. Henry Gunn was the best superintendent PAUSD ever had...bar none.

As far as someone coming from a devout Christian background, I don't have a problem with it...providing that individual can differentiate bigotry from true Christianity.




Like this comment
Posted by Old Person
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jul 29, 2018 at 9:07 am

Re Dr. Gunn - of course, being superintendent in the '50s was somewhat easier, with a community that was homogeneous, lily white (thanks to deed restrictions and housing discrimination), there was no Title IX, LGBTQ was underground, and Prop 13 hadn't put the clamps on revenue. I read once about a staff meeting in the early '60s where the teachers spent the time earnestly discussing how to get kids to not chew gum in class. Like comparing famous sports teams, it's hard to judge ability across different eras.


Like this comment
Posted by Mayfield School Alum
a resident of College Terrace
on Jul 29, 2018 at 9:40 am

>>Re Dr. Gunn - of course, being superintendent in the '50s was somewhat easier, with a community that was homogeneous, lily white (thanks to deed restrictions and housing discrimination), there was no Title IX, LGBTQ was underground, and Prop 13 hadn't put the clamps on revenue.

The good old days when each neighborhood represented a particular socio-economic group & its respective earning capacity. Nowadays, a good salary won't even buy you a house South PA or Barron Park. It seems the only newcomers who can afford to purchase homes in Palo Alto and its surrounding area are the wealthy Chinese immigrating from overseas.

Public education was also of the highest standards in those days...this is where the true equality of Palo Alto shined its colors.



Like this comment
Posted by Mayfield School Alum
a resident of College Terrace
on Jul 29, 2018 at 9:46 am

@inclusive
There are a lot more Christian conservatives in this city than people realize apparently....Every public school system in the nation could use a dose of moral and ethical stability.

Please define your parameters. This sounds potentially frightening (if taken to an extreme or implemented by the closed-minded).


Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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