New Colusa schools chief comes from small district in Colorado
The Pierce Joint Unified School District trustees are expected to hire their new district superintendent at the board meeting on Thursday. The meeting is scheduled to start at 6 p.m. Pat Hamilton is retiring.
Dwayne Newman says there are a lot of similarities between his job as superintendent of Monte Vista School District in Colorado, and the same job he takes over on July 1 at Colusa Unified School District.
They have about the same number of students, the same basic campus configuration and, Newman said, they face similar challenges.
"I think the number-one challenge is the test scores and how we improve the achievements of the kids," Newman said in a telephone interview Monday.
He was hired on a 4-0 vote Saturday morning, with Trustee Cindy Steidlemayer absent.
Newman said he faced a similar challenge when he took over at Monte Vista four years ago, and now in the third year of his program, he said the district is seeing consistent improvement in the scores.
That program, he explained, is based around staff development at all levels, and to make sure the teachers have the appropriate support.
One key difference, however, is the English-learning population, which is considerably smaller at Monte Vista.
The Colorado town, located about 150 miles southwest of Denver and with a population of about 7,100, has a significant Hispanic population, but the group has been in the area for generations.
The percentage of English-learning students is about 15 percent, compared to more than 65 percent in Colusa Unified, officials reported.
But the school board is convinced Newman is the right man to replace the retiring Larry Yeghoian after his 11 years at the helm.
Board President Lincoln Forry said Newman's enthusiasm was one reason he was the top pick.
"And the fact he has worked most of his life in districts of like size," Forry said.
"He grew up in small towns ... and understands the relationships and public relations needed in small rural towns."
Newman was born in Delaware, and was raised on his aunt and uncle's dairy in southeast Pennsylvania.
At 16, he took a mountaineering course in Colorado, then returned home where he was a welder for a steel foundry for several years.
Then he packed up all he belongings in a jeep and headed back to Colorado, beginning a journey that ultimately lead to a career in education.
Newman earned his bachelor's degree from Colorado State University in Fort Collins, and his master's degree from National University in La Jolla.
He is working on his doctorate through Northcentral University in Arizona, and expects to complete it in the fall of 2014.
He has been a teacher, and was principal at the junior high and high school levels.
Like Colusa Unified, Monte Vista has about 1,100 students. Each district has one elementary school, a middle school and a high school. Monte Vista also lists an online academy and a preschool on its website.
Newman said he has been told that Colusa Unified is also looking to update some of its facilities. He has gone through two constriction projects in his career — including a recent $38 million makeover at Monte Vista.
Still, Forry said the biggest challenge for Newman may be just maintaining what Yeghoian and the district staff has accomplished over the past 11 years.
"And coming into a district that is working can be harder than one that is broken," Forry said.
Yeghoian said education will always have its challenges.
"There are still a lot of things we have to address. Our test scores are a concern and there are a lot of concerns to address involving the budget crisis," Yeghoian said.
The superintendent said Newman will be kept in the loop about decisions the board and administration makes from this point out, and will have input as desired.
He is scheduled to be back in the district in mid-April, and will be involved in the selection process of a new principal at Colusa High.
The application period for that position closes in this week.
Newman came out of a unique consultant-driven application process in which the public was asked for input at a number of special meetings.
Once the finalists were identified, the board interviewed each one.
Yeghoian said he was not part of that process. However, he did meet all the finalists, who were given an opportunity to ask him questions.
Yeghoian said there were a number of applicants from around the state, and some from the general area, but none of whom he is aware was from Colusa County.
It was during that process that Newman and his family got their first look at Colusa.
"We loved it," Newman said. "It is just right for our family."
Newman said the town seemed quiet, and he liked seeing the families out and about, as well as a number of people walking and jogging.
"It seemed like a safe place," Newman said.
And it only snows in Colusa about once every decade, a big plus for his North Carolina-raised wife, Nicole, who is also a school administrator and is looking for a job in the area.
Their 5-year-old son, Alden, will be in kindergarten in the fall. Newman also has two grown sons.
Of course, the Newmans are in for a change of diet, too.
Newman said that when he came to Monte Vista, he was asked if he liked potatoes, a mainstay of that region's agricultural profile.
He insists his family also likes rice.