The Brentwood Union School District can officially begin the healing process as Dr. Dana Eaton was selected on May 8 to be its newest Superintendent beginning July 1 where he hopes to rebuild trust, adjust processes, and improve communication.
Eaton will be working off what he considers his 100-day plan that will guide him through the first three months on the job after a four-year absence from the District where he helped open Pioneer Elementary School as principal and BUSD director of student services.
He has spent the past four years as the superintendent of the Jefferson Union School District in Tracy.
“The plan will focus on analyzing student achievement data, building an effective governance relationship with the Board of Education, establishing multiple 1:1 or small group communication opportunities for staff, families and community members, analyzing the district budget and its’ correlation to district goals, looking at district systems and then working to establish a long and short-term goal setting process for the district. More than anything, I cannot wait to get out and start working with all of these groups, parents, staff, students, board members and community members to start these processes,” explained Eaton.
He was quick to point out that he had been gone for four years so it’s dangerous for him to assume anything coming in. He wants to observe before making any immediate changes.
“I really want to engage in a campaign of listening. I want to spend as much time on the playing field as possible. One of the things that I shared in my interview was that I believe the idea of a leader simply having an open door policy is a cop out. If you as a superintendent expect the world to walk through your door and tell you what is going on in your district, you are in big trouble. A leader needs to be out in the schools, classrooms and community, seeing with their own eyes and hearing firsthand accounts about the district. It is only through that immersion in the district that a leader will know what positive things need to be expanded on and what will need to be prioritized for improvement,” said Eaton.
Healing the District and moving forward is a top priority but he realizes it can’t be done overnight.
“Rebuilding trust in the district won’t be something that is completed in a short time. What happened in the district was extremely serious and the loss of trust is understandable. Trust is something that has to be earned,” explained Eaton. “It is my opinion that I won’t be able to rebuild trust through newsletter articles, e-mails or speeches. It will take a great deal of one on one and small group communication opportunities. There will need to be multiple opportunities for people to interact with me and other staff in the district and see that we listen and then follow through on what we promise. Trust is earned over the long-term, but that same trust can be shattered in a very short period of time.”
Eaton has a love for Brentwood and states that he and his family are here for the long haul as a parent and a community member.
“I will do the hard work that is required to ensure that trust is rebuilt. I will also enjoy every minute of it because there are so many outstanding staff members, students and community members to work together with to help the rebuilding of trust,” said Eaton.
Eaton was selected by a panel of teachers, parents and education leaders out of 40-applicants. He felt honored that a diverse panel selected him over the other candidates.
“In some Districts maybe I am a good fit for the staff versus the parents. In this case, it feels good that all parties were involved,” said Eaton. “It was a great feeling. Anytime you take on a position where you really are a facilitator as a partnership in the community, it’s my job to make sure whole community is working together to build a good community. You want the stakeholders involved.”
Eaton shared that he enjoyed the hiring process because of all the community groups, members of the community, staff, and the Board. He is ready to further build those relationships to help move the District forward.
Similar to the panel that selected him; he hopes to work with the community in the same way and is a fan of the collaborative effort. He is a firm believer that it also comes down to the “best fit” for the position.
“I have participated in enough interviews processes to know that you often have many qualified applicants and it often comes to down to a fit with the position. Brentwood is considered one of the better jobs in the state, so I am not surprised they had so many applicants,” explained Eaton. “In the end, I hope it was my commitment to a strong work-ethic, high standards, relationship building and putting students at the forefront of any decision to be made that helped me be the best fit.”
In fact, Eaton already has strong relationships with the community that he can further build on as he has been involved with community organizations since moving to Brentwood in 2003. He has been a part of the Brentwood Community Chest for years and enjoys giving back to the community.
Eaton believes Brentwood is the perfect community to promote service learning to students and to share how fortunate they are while seeing firsthand how much they can do for someone else in the community.
“I really like that aspect of giving back to the community. One of the things we loved was the number of young families in Brentwood but a lot of people in need. Being connected with Community Chest was a huge thing for me and loved doing that work and who I worked with. We feel so fortunate to live where we live,” said Eaton.
Although the list is long, some of Eaeton’s community influencers include Rick Lemyre, Lillian Pierce, Kevin King, Mike Davies, Julie Hill and Bill Hill, Craig Bronzan and Jeff Schults. He considers them a really solid group of people that really helps families and I am happy to seek ideas and run ideas through.
“It’s a great community and happy to be working back home,” said Eaton. ““It’s a little surreal. I can’t tell you how lucky I feel to do it because they are so many outstanding people both staff and the community and work with all of them it’s more than I could have asked for. It’s an overwhelming honor and I feel a deep sense of responsibility. I know it’s a critical time for the district and a time to move forward together.
He pointed out that the community rightfully expects city leadership and leadership of the school district to partner together proactively and grow together.
For example, many groups such as First Five, the Village Community Resource Center and A Place of Learning are groups that deserve a partnership with the district because they serve and support the same families that they do.
With eleven schools and over 8,400 students, the superintendent’s job is to help get information out. Communication will play a big role for Eaton going forward as he works to improve the districts image.
“I think an overwhelming majority of the challenges in any organization come from a lack of strategic communication. A superintendent has to make sure that communication takes place systematically and proactively throughout the district. Systematic communication is important because it has to happen automatically. Schools have to have systems that they use to regularly communicate so that the parents and community have the information they need to help their children be more successful,” explained Eaton.
Eaton is looking to be proactive in the BUSD communication which he believes will be critical. He hopes to anticipate the information that is most important and get it out to them before families necessarily need it.
“I definitely want to spend some time examining the communication systems that are in place and look for places to improve,” said Eaton. “One area I know will be a large focus is continuing to upgrade our use of technology to communicate. Brentwood has many parents who commute great distances to work and leave early in the morning and get home late at night. Those parents often want to be more involved in the schools, but struggle to do so using traditional methods.”
He also noted that schools are at their best when parents and staff partner in the best interest of students and he is looking forward to bridging that gap and believes technology will be a huge help.
Eaton also has a message for the special needs community as he hopes to work with them going forward. He explained that he will be going out to the special needs classrooms to see them in action and speak with parents.
“I want to understand from their perspective that they see and understand,” explained Eaton. “Before I can make appropriate changes, I really have to get out there and see it with my own eyes of what happens in those classrooms. The reality, the systems and processes in place need to be looked at. I’ve not seem them first hand and need to view and see training and then analyze it.”
He further explained that in any large organization, sometimes people make poor choices or do things that are criminal but that he wanted to make sure that when those types of things happen, there is a appropriate and immediate response. However, he did caution it will take some time to get it running, but he will immediately work for those processes to be in place once he can examine the District.
“My job is to make sure all kids are safe,” said Eaton.
When he first heard about the allegations of the child abuse incident, he became immediately concerned for the child and the community.
“I think, like most community members, I was immediately concerned for the child that was involved. When we send our children to school, we expect them to be safe,” said Eaton. “The bond between teacher and student is sacred. The fact that bond was abused in such a way is reprehensible. It was incredibly sad as both a community member and an educator.”
His ultimate goal is to earn back to the trust of parents over time and make everyone feel safe going forward.
“Renee and I both feel safe sending our children to school every day. I know my job is to make sure that every parent feels that same way. That is a critical part of my job going forward,” said Eaton.