Opening Day of School!

My apologies for the three-week span between posts. I should have expected it. My new job takes a lot of my time. First things first: I love it. I love the people I have met, and I’m inspired by all that my new district does so well. It’s a spectacular place.

I’m lucky for many reasons, but one of them is that I have taken jobs, from teaching to being a superintendent, in six different districts in my career, and I have always been surrounded by wonderful students and caring, talented people who love what they do. My new district is not one bit different.

From time to time, I will take what I have shared with my community and make that the focus of my blog post. I wrote the email below to all employees after the first three days of school. During those days, I visited all 34 schools in the Placentia – Yorba Linda Unified School District. That’s a lot of schools! After digesting those visits over the Labor Day weekend, I sent this email to all employees.

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The first day of school.  It’s an annual tradition that stands alone.  Opening Day in Major League Baseball comes close, but I can’t think of much else that does.  It’s a day when we look forward to renewing friendships, meeting new people, learning something new, doing as well or better than the previous year, improving our habits, and taking one more step to whatever is next.  For students, there are thirteen first days of school between kindergarten and high school graduation – and all of them should be special.

And for all of us who work in PYLUSD, we get to experience a whole lot more.  Last Wednesday was my 55th first day of school!  And though it feels far different to experience the first day as a student and as an employee, it still brings that same excitement.  In baseball, the fans, players, managers, groundskeepers, and all of the other employees have vastly different experiences, but they all look forward to that special first day and all that the season might bring.  Fifty-five years in, I still get excited, and I know that here in PYLUSD, I am surrounded by good people feeling that same sense of positive anticipation.

I was lucky enough to visit all 34 of our schools during the first three days of our school year. Thanks to the efforts of all of us, our campuses and our employees were ready for our students as they walked into our quads, hallways, cafeterias, and, of course, our classrooms.

Some of the highlights for me were:

  • Our campuses are clean, well-manicured, and welcoming places for our students and our community.  I have worked all over this state, and I have never seen anyone do this better than we do.
  • We were ready as we served more breakfasts to more students than ever before.
  • In a time when staffing challenges are everywhere, we had highly talented employees transporting, greeting, teaching, and supporting our students on every campus.
  • In talking to many of our employees, my favorite comment was, “I was born to do this work.”  That sense of pride and passion was evident on every campus in our district.
  • Teaching and learning were in full swing on day one.
  • Like almost every first day, the temperature outside was way too high!  We used the shade well, and all of us appreciated our air conditioning.  And when a few classroom AC systems glitched, our Maintenance and Facilities staff rushed to address it as quickly as possible.  It was very impressive.
  • All of our new students, including our K and TK students, were seamlessly integrated into our schools, and as we enter this week, they are now fully included in the PYLUSD family.
  • The schedules at our secondary schools worked extremely well.  Most people do not sufficiently appreciate the challenge of scheduling nearly 8,000 high school students and over 4,000 middle school students into 6 or 7 periods during the day.  We did a spectacular job, and for the small number of students who sought changes, we jumped on it immediately.

And in all of this, there were smiles, there was warmth, there was hope, there was pride, and there was a strong sense of positivity in every student and employee I encountered.

For all of this, I say, “THANK YOU!”  Thanks for everything it took to be ready for the first day of school.  Thanks for loving and welcoming each and every student with such positivity and warmth.  Thanks for inspiring our students to new heights and for supporting them whenever they need it.  And thanks to each of you for being the heart and soul of PYLUSD.

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I am so proud to work alongside every employee here, as we remember the excitement, the hope, and all of the possibility that comes with the first day of school.  Let’s all have a great week two!

Then yesterday, we sent out a my welcome back video to all families and all employees. I’m lucky to have a team of leaders, teachers, staff, and students who all contributed to the creation of this video. You can see that video here.

To all of you who are working in schools or have kids attending them, I hope the start of your year has been outstanding! Thanks to all of you who have made our schools better and better over the years, and I’m looking forward to another great year

To get updates on when my next post comes out, please click here

Failing at Retirement – Parts One and Two

I have loved not working.

Transitioning from a 60 to 80-hour work week to a 0-hour work week was easier than I ever imagined. I have rested, lost weight and become healthier overall, organized my life, increased my time spent on hobbies I love, and avoided being such a pain that my wife wanted me to return to work. I did not miss work at all.

But I still said yes when a former superintendent colleague asked if I could come support her district for a two-month stint running Human Resources and COVID compliance. My financial advisor has been saying that it wouldn’t hurt me to work every once in a while. While she does not call me lazy, she does point out that I’m still in my earning years, and that every bit helps. Fine, Sonya. I’ll do some short-term stints.

So, I took an 8-week job working for this new district, and  . . . I loved it!

I enjoyed meeting new people and becoming better acquainted with colleagues with whom I had only worked from afar. It is a smaller district, and smaller districts are places where there are fewer leaders, and those leaders have to wear a lot of hats. Effectively, all of the leaders have to specialize in, well, everything. And one of the things that I did not know I was missing was the socialization that jobs naturally create. I loved saying good morning to the good-natured and hard-working people in the office, having occasional side conversations, and walking onto a campus just to feel the energy it emanates. Great schools produce spectacular vibes. I think most of us can feel it (or feel its absence) when we walk around a site.

So actually, maybe I miss work a little bit.

My thanks to the outstanding leaders of El Segundo Unified; I am grateful to the teachers, the classified staff, and the administrators for welcoming me and once again proving to me that our nation’s schools do so much good with so few resources.  But I did drive more. I played less golf. I worked out a little less. Thus ended Failing Retirement – Part One.

What to do when you enjoy so much about retirement, and yet you still get energized from meaningful work in a profession you love?

When you fail once, I see no other choice but to fail again.

Some of my former teachers, were they to read this, would nod their heads and say, “Same old Matthews.”

But in Failing Retirement – Part Two, I am not taking an eight-week job assignment. This time, I have signed on for one full year, serving as the Superintendent of Schools in the Placentia-Yorba Linda Unified School District. One year is still short-term, right?!? Everyone is clear that I’m there for twelve months, and then I am out after they hire a long-term superintendent for their community. I look forward to a whole series of new challenges, while getting to know and serve the employees and community members who are working together to serve the 24,000 students in this new district.

The past year has been fantastic. I’ve learned that my wife is not totally horrified by the idea of having me around the house almost all of the time. Total win! I’ve learned that I don’t hate not working, and in fact, my life is pretty darn interesting without it. Another win!  I’ve learned to be much healthier, and I am way better off for it. I have also enjoyed developing my love of writing, sharing stories, and reflecting on them on my blog site. And our first year of empty nesting has been (don’t tell Ryan and Dawson) nothing short of awesome.  Win – win- win!

The number one question for me, beginning on Tuesday, is how do I stay healthier, stay in touch with my hobbies, and keep writing, all while totally immersing myself in a new and fascinating job that will take as much time as I can give it?

I know that, just as many people were intrigued when the wise old owl was asked how many licks in a Tootsie Pop, the suspense is killing most of you. I’ll keep you posted.

To get updates on when my next post comes out, please click here.