Craig Goldman knows how to ride a bike. Just ask any of the Mountain View Whisman school district administrators, faculty or staff who attended last month's all-district meeting at Graham Middle School.
They will tell you that Goldman -- a reserved man, who often pauses mid-sentence while searching for the appropriate word or phrase -- pedaled into the Graham Middle School auditorium on a child-sized bicycle, a helmet covering his dark hair, and parked his ride on the stage.
The newly appointed superintendent of Mountain View's elementary and middle school district proceeded to draw parallels between the duties of everyone in the hall and those of a parent running alongside a child who is learning to ride without training wheels.
"We need to make sure they have their balance before we let go of the seat," Goldman said, as he stood next to the bike, which he keeps in his office at the district headquarters behind Theuerkauf and Stevenson schools.
Goldman said he feels that Mountain View Whisman schools have made many improvements in recent years, but that not enough students -- particularly English learners and those on the lower end of the socioeconomic spectrum -- are gaining full balance on that proverbial bike before they matriculate.
"That's a major concern," Goldman said.
Learning to ride
It was in Northbrook, Ill., a suburb of Chicago, where Goldman learned to ride his first bicycle. The family moved to Northbrook when Goldman was six. He remembers the cornfields and cattle pastures that have been largely replaced by "typical suburban sprawl."
In fact, images of Goldman's hometown are likely to resonate as hyper-typical suburbia to a generation of Americans who grew up watching the films of John Hughes. Scenes from Ferris Bueller's Day Off and Uncle Buck were filmed in Northbrook.
Goldman's mother became a teacher out of necessity. The local school district officials said they would not let Goldman, his older brother and younger sister attend unless his mother signed up to teach. She did, and continued teaching in the district for more than 40 years. Goldman suspects that her example factored into his decision to pursue a career in education.
As an adolescent, Goldman excelled at gymnastics. He competed in still rings in the state championship as a junior and senior at Glenbrook North High School and won a partial scholarship to Stanford for his abilities, he said.
At Stanford he earned an undergraduate degree in human biology and took many education and psychology electives. His interest in education and child development led him to intern for the Palo Alto Unified School District, he said.
Upon graduating in 1981, the market was not great for trying to become a teacher, Goldman said. The introduction of Proposition 13 had caused a sharp dip in property tax revenues for schools. That, coupled with a decline in new students, caused many schools in the state to close. Goldman went directly to law school at UCLA, but with one self-imposed caveat.
"Along the way I told myself that if I wasn't fully satisfied by a career in law after five years, I would go back to school and get my teaching credential," he said.
Five years came and went, and although he said he was doing well practicing law -- and "much to the dismay of my parents" -- Goldman decided to get his teaching credential and master's degree in education. He began teaching fifth grade in Burlingame in 1990.
Passion for education
Goldman said that making the transition from law to education made perfect sense to him, as both vocations involved helping others.
"As I was trying to make decisions for the long term, as far as my career, it was important to me to have a role as a public servant," he said.
In 1997, he went back to school again to get his administration credential, and it was not long before he had the opportunity to use it. Goldman served as an interim principal in 1998 at a Burlingame school and that same year was offered the principal position when Huff Elementary School reopened.
Goldman said he initially pursued administration to make more money for his family -- his triplet daughters, who are freshmen at San Mateo High School, were born in 1995.
He assumed that he would be removed from the everyday interactions with his fifth graders, which was a disappointing prospect. However, as he settled into his new role, he realized that he wasn't losing a classroom; he was gaining an entire elementary school.
"To bring them in as kindergartners and work with them and nurture them over a six-year period was an extremely rewarding experience," he said of working at Huff.
Goldman was the principal of Huff for nine years before he took over as chief financial officer for the district in 2007. In May, he was named to succeed former district superintendent, Maurice Ghysels.
Goldman, who turns 50 this year, said he is looking forward to his new role in the district, where he sees "so many opportunities to make a difference and help students and families achieve a better life for themselves."
The road ahead
That road over which Goldman must now guide his school district is not in great condition. It has been worn down by the recession and the state budget deficit. About half of the students in the Mountain View Whisman School District are socio-economically disadvantaged, English language learners, or both.
"One of the great challenges is ensuring success for all students," Goldman said.
He plans to do this with a strong focus on school accountability to state standards. The district, he said, must reflect upon its students' success in relation to those standards and tailor the educational experience to meet the needs of the students who aren't meeting those standards.
"We have amazing teachers," Goldman said. "And they are successful with certain subgroups. But the strategies we are using are not successful with other subgroups."
To get to those subgroups, Goldman wants to see a major push in English instruction and a district-wide implementation of what he called "PDSA" -- plan, do, study, act -- a protocol to make plans, implement them, study the outcome, and then make appropriate revisions.
When the Voice asked district teachers for comments on Goldman, he was praised as an "educator at heart" in a written letter signed by Huff teachers Susan Chesley, Angela Boynton, Tera Martincic, Colleen McCullough and Heather Larkin.
The teachers said that "during these tough economic times, he is calm and focused on our vision -- education."
One thing is clear from talking to Goldman -- he loves what he does. When Goldman left law for education, people told him that his move seemed rather altruistic.
"My response was it was one of the more selfish things I'd ever done," he said. "That's because it was what I always wanted to do. I just find it satisfying."