HOMEWORK ASSIGNMENT: Interview New School Superintendent
October 27, 2016
One's fate can be determined by something as simple as
a piece of paper pinned to a tree. Just ask Culver City Unified School District's affable and enthusiastic Superintendent, Dr. Joshua Arnold, who started July 1, 2016 (or keep reading for the answer).
After earning his Bachelor of Arts in English from UCLA he obtained a Masters in Organizational Leadership from Harvard and a Doctorate in Education from USC. He and his wife, Claire, have two young children, Isabella Juliet and Anthony Othello, and he is delighted to be part of the CCUSD family as well.
However, it was by a fluke that Arnold even became an educator.
"I was raised to be a lawyer," he explained. "At bedtime as a kid my father would run hypothetical cases by me and I would have to debate the pros and cons."
Arnold's best school memories were of his overall experience in English classes in grades eight through 12 "with teachers who really taught and helped me love my relationship with them, with my peers, and with writing and literature. I even remember exactly where I sat as that affected my student perspective in class, and how I felt by being challenged, getting smarter and successful. English was the class in which I got in trouble the least! I was given space to prove my point. I couldn't do that in mathematics, and there wasn't discourse in science. I actually ended up getting better grades in math than English, but I enjoyed English more."
Asked about his worst school memories, Arnold shared one he described as "traumatic," explaining that he "grew up in Beverly Hills with a father who had severe spastic cerebral palsy. He was in the entertainment business, a writer and producer working on TV shows that included The Tonight Show, Private Benjamin, and Welcome Back, Kotter. A standup comic, he would start his routine by saying, 'I just got my draft letter. I'm classified 8-Y.'
"One day I realized he was handicapped. It was during parents' night in the third grade. The kids just weren't getting it, that 'people like that' live here. How could he have a beautiful wife and kids? But once you had a relationship with him you realized he's the finest guy you could ever meet – but you can't get there until you know him." That's likely when the seed was planted that grew into Arnold's dedication to diversity and inclusion.
"Stereotypes go away once relationships are established," he emphasized. "It's the responsibility of the teacher to cultivate such a culture, and it's a blessing for me to be part of that process and get to know one another. This is my dream job."
And to think Arnold would never have become Superintendent without the slip of paper alluded to initially.
"I answered an ad on a tree during my senior year at UCLA!" he chuckled. "It said if you've got a good SAT score and want to make $30 an hour, call this number." He tore off one of the slips, called, and was trained to be an SAT tutor.
"On Saturdays I taught an SAT prep class at Fremont High," Arnold continued. "At the end of class a girl comes up to me and says, 'Can I give you a hug? You're the best teacher I've ever had.' I puzzled over this on the way home and I thought being a lawyer is never going to make me feel the way I feel now. At 20 ½ I became a teacher, having graduated college in three years and having decided in my senior year to pursue teaching without prior training or experience." He researched what he'd need to do, graduated June 10, 2001, started teaching English at Fremont High on July 1, 2001, "and loved it!" He later taught at Santa Monica High, then served as school principal at Crenshaw Arts-Technology Charter High and Los Alamitos high school, was Assistant Principal at Fountain Valley high school (one of Orange County's largest enrolled schools with over 3,600 students) and, prior to becoming CCUSD Superintendent, was Assistant Superintendent of Educational Services in the Los Alamitos Unified School District in north Orange County.
"What I hear from everyone in Culver City is no secret," Arnold said. "Culver City has been going through a sustained period of growth and success through the concerted efforts of the community. Everything, including student achievement, is different from 10 – 15 years ago. The Culver City schools are premier and connected with a shared ethos. We have wonderful parents and wonderfully trained teachers and provide an unparalleled level of experience in the classroom, on the field, on the court, on stage, and in every aspect of a student's experience. I say be the best, don't limit your expectations."
Citing the value of the community calendar and newsletter, Arnold underscored his desire "to have everybody know everything about everyone all the time, to communicate between all levels, all schools, all groups, and experience cross-pollination of the best practices and ideas."
He quoted renowned civil rights activist W. E. B. DuBois, the first African American to earn a doctorate at Harvard, "who spoke of the Harvard experience. He said you can be 'at' Harvard or 'of' Harvard. If 'at,' you're taking, but if 'of,' you are also contributing. I want to be 'of' the places I'm fortunate enough to work, and I know that takes time, loyalty and contribution."
Regarding the accompanying photo, Arnold commented, "Here's a fun picture that sums up much of what I value about working with kids, families, and communities. It was taken last year when I came across these boys and asked them, 'If I bust an ollie, will you jet to class?'"
This display of his X Games moves indicates he doesn't shy away from challenges. That trait should work well for him as Superintendent, a position about which he is, in skateboarding parlance, stoked. Diversity, inclusion, communication, respect and excellence are more than just words to this former English teacher, who is committed to seeing that every student, teacher, parent and family in the district continues to thrive. Culver City Unified can look forward to some innovative, exciting, and downright gnar times.
Have a rad ride, Superintendent!