New superintendent peddles optimism for MV Whisman school district

Goldman, a former lawyer, takes top job in K-8 district

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."

Craig Goldman


Like this comment
Posted by John the Man
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Sep 8, 2010 at 10:26 am

Craig is as good a man as there is. He is smart, diligent, and very hard working. If he can't turn that district around, then no one can.

Having said that, so long as the senior administrators and asst superintendents who are currently in that district office remain, he is doomed to fail. Those people are the root cause of the district's staggering dysfunction, they alone.

Like this comment
Posted by castro mom
a resident of Castro City
on Sep 8, 2010 at 3:13 pm

I agree wholeheartedly with above statement!!

Like this comment
Posted by J.J.
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Sep 8, 2010 at 3:59 pm

Wow, I could not have said it any better. I absolutely agree with the above statement too. If parents want to see this district change for the better finally, they should encourage change in the leadership under Mr. Goldman. It is time to bring in NEW, competent leaders to follow Mr. Goldman's lead. Sadly, it is too late for my children. Don't let it be too late for your children to reap the benefits of a properly run school district.

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Posted by Observer
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Sep 8, 2010 at 4:58 pm

I as well wholeheartedly agree. I have no confidence at all in the Assist and Assoc Supes who danced to Ghysels corrupt tune. A complete cultural change is in order, otherwise nothing will change.

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Posted by Elaine
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Sep 10, 2010 at 2:45 pm

My objection to the Assoc. Superin.Ms. Totter is that she does not serve every employee as equals. Some don't have to follow the rules, but with other staff members they are enforced. It's been this way for years.
My objection to the Asst. Superin. Ms. Liaron is that she has been doing this job for years and not much has changed. I can't honestly point to anything she has contributed that has greatly improved the educational process in MVWSD, but she talks a really good game. She also talks down to parents and some teachers. She has one of the most important jobs in the district - to see that our children all receive a good education at many levels and in many ways. Most parents don't even know who she is or what she does.
The board members would do well to see that the new Superin. is given a really good chance at success by suggesting new leadership under him. It would help improve leadership role models and improve moral at the same time and benefit our students in the long run.

Like this comment
Posted by Teacher
a resident of another community
on Sep 10, 2010 at 9:28 pm

Totter plays twisted loyalty games with the old guard from the old Whisman School district before it merged.

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Posted by Steven Nelson
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Sep 12, 2010 at 7:55 pm

Be assured that both the Board and the new Superintendent read these comments (as I have been properly, discretely, and kindly 'brought to task' when I have occasionally misstated a detail). I would urge that parents start WRITING their complaints in detail and sending it in CONFIDENCE to Craig (and asking for a written acknowledgement). You'll probably get a call. You might then ask that your name be redacted and a copy put in the appropriate personnel file (i.e. the Board will have to see it when they review the person's work).

Like this comment
Posted by Laid Off Teacher
a resident of another community
on Sep 13, 2010 at 1:39 pm

Awkward situation last year indeed. Goldman is smart to get out ahead of it right away and attempt to close the issue. Good luck to him on cleaning up the rest of the corrupt culture and sense of entitlement at the district office created by Ghsyels.

HOWEVER, AND SOMEONE PLEASE EXPLAIN THIS ONE AWAY: There is still a conflict of interest with ex-Ghysels approving the hiring as a teacher of one of the board members, Higgins, that once supervised his salary, and then had placed in employment at his lover's (Mizell's) school! And when Higgins is laid off with other temporary teachers, she is amazingly one of the first to be hired back! No doubt one of the benefits of public office!

I'm sure it will take more hand wringing from Ms. Totter (former subordinate) to do the right thing and stop hiring and rehiring ex-board members (former supervisors). And of course, Totter received more than a few promotions (more like position title changes) and salary increases under Ghysels/Higgins to do exactly the same job! The playing field is hardly level for other beginning teachers when that occurs! These people never learn.

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

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