Paul Cordeiro reflects on career in education

Superintendent Paul Cordeiro poses for a photo in his office at the Newhall School District on Tuesday, Feb. 13, 2018. Nikolas Samuels/The Signal

In four short months, Newhall School District Superintendent Paul Cordeiro will retire from his post at the helm of the Santa Clarita Valley’s most diverse school district.

During his nine years with the district—as superintendent and as assistant superintendent of instructional services—Cordeiro focused on transitioning the district to standards-based instruction, implementing arts and technology in the classroom and bolstering student achievement across all student subgroups.

“I’m not shy in telling the public how successful this district is in a really remarkable way,” Cordeiro said. “I like to think that I did my part in both my roles as assistant superintendent and superintendent that put this district on an excellent trajectory and keep it there, but so much credit needs to be passed around… There are a lot of people that contributed to this and I’m very grateful to be a part of that.”

For Cordeiro, his success in leadership was attributed to the support he had around him from the teachers and the administrators to the district’s management team and Governing Board.

“What really matters here is we have great employees and our employees get behind our vision for the kids,” Cordeiro said.

Experience in Teaching, Administration

Cordeiro first developed his interest in elementary education during college, when he ran youth centers and coached youth sports teams.

“I loved interacting with them and I loved the way they saw the world,” Cordeiro said. “It was a two-way thing. I felt like I was helping them and they certainly validated me, so that’s why I decided to go into education.”

Cordeiro then went on to earn his teaching credential at UCLA and began teaching in the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD). Years later, he returned to graduate school where he earned his master’s degree and administrative credential.

“It opened up doors in terms of coordinating special programs at sites, coordinating services to English Learners,” he said. “I worked in what would be considered hard-to-staff areas of LA: Central LA, South Central LA, East LA.  I had great experiences there, and those experiences opened more opportunities for me.”

One of these opportunities included a chance to act as an elementary school principal in the Santa Barbara School District at 31 years old.

Then, six years later, Cordeiro was recruited to work as the assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction in the Santa Barbara County Education Office.

“I was there for seven and a half years, and in that position, I worked with 20-25 school districts in the county, helping them with professional development, putting together conferences big and small, doing all kinds of support,” Cordeiro said.

As he worked with districts big and small, Cordeiro realized that he wanted to be back at the local-level working in a leadership position.  It was at this time, in 2000, that Cordeiro first worked in the Newhall district as the assistant superintendent for instructional services.

With his team of teachers, administrators and district staff, Cordeiro led the district’s change to standards-based instruction and implemented new models of technology, reading and writing in the classroom.

“There were countless things we did short order that launched this district on its trajectory of success that it continues to have,” Cordeiro said.

Superintendent Paul Cordeiro poses at his desk at the Newhall School District offices on Tuesday, Feb. 13, 2018. Nikolas Samuels/The Signal

In 2005, Cordeiro then became superintendent of the Carpinteria Unified School District where he remained for nearly 10 years.  As assistant superintendent, Cordeiro increased student achievement among all student groups, including English Learners and students who are socioeconomically disadvantaged.

“We really transformed everything around those kids to make them college and career ready,” Cordeiro said.  “It was really hard and really gratifying, we raised millions of dollars in public and private money for the district that served a variety of programs.”

He also helped open a program called the Carpinteria Children’s Project that assisted children from infancy to 4 years old and provided resources to the community.

“We significantly raised the number of kids going to preschool,” Cordeiro said.  “We did lots and lots of parental development around stewardship and kids’ education.  We brought lots of social services into one location.”

FILE PHOTO: Classmates laugh during a conflict management program entitled “It’s Stop Time” presented for the third and fourth-graders at Newhall Elementary School in Newhall on Thursday, Feb. 9, 2017. Dan Watson/The Signal

It was this success that brought him back to Newhall in 2015, when he replaced retiring Superintendent Marc Winger.

“It was a welcome opportunity to come back and work here because what really matters here is that we have great employees and our employees get behind our vision for the kids,” Cordeiro said.

Experience with Students

Throughout his different roles in LAUSD, Santa Barbara, Carpinteria and Newhall, Cordeiro worked with various student subgroups of all backgrounds and socioeconomic classes.

“My career spans every possible pupil population from Mexican immigrants in housing projects to working in racially isolated schools in Central Los Angeles with families who are extremely poor and stressed and then the county office experience allowed me to connect to a network all over the state,” Cordeiro said.

These differing opportunities allowed Cordeiro to see first-hand what did and did not work to improve student success in and out of the classroom.

“From beginning to now there’s a history of working with kids who have historically been on the bottom side of the achievement gap and it certainly develops your sensitivity around meeting the challenges of those kids’ needs,” he said.

FILE PHOTO: The 86 second-graders sing Rudolph The Red-Nose Reindeer as they present their show entitled “Holiday Traditions Around The World” at Wiley Canyon Elementary School in Newhall on Thursday, Dec. 15, 2016. Dan Watson/The Signal

As he worked with these student groups, Cordeiro found that the best practice was to adjust the system to the needs of the families and students to better serve them in the long-term.

“I believe philosophically that their families are not unlike any other family, that they want their kids to really be successful and I’ve always felt that the system needs to adjust to the needs of kids and their families and not the opposite,” he said.

In the Newhall district, Cordeiro said he accomplished this by focusing on research-based practices, good assessments, good monitoring and high levels of accountability.

Now, the district is focusing on a multiyear effort to raise the achievement of its English Learners and students who live in poverty.

“We understand when we show people the numbers and the impressive graphs that if we want to keep going up we have to address more closely, more intensely and with greater sophistication those kids and their families,” Cordeiro said.

Success in Newhall

FILE PHOTO: Old Orchard elementary School Principal Ken Hintz, right, welcomes students, parents and dignitaries as they tour the new science lab at the school after the official ceremony for the opening of two new permanent modular buildings at Old Orchard Elementary School in Newhall on Monday, Oct. 10, 2016. Dan Watson/The Signal

As superintendent of the Newhall district, Cordeiro oversees 10 elementary schools that have earned notoriety for being named Gold Ribbon Award schools, Blue Ribbon Award schools, Honor Roll schools and Title 1 Achieving Award schools.

In 2017, the district outperformed all other local districts in its state standardized test scores, with 70.22 percent of students in third grade to sixth grade who met or exceeded standards in ELA and 66.15 percent who met or exceeded standards in math.

He also led the district’s effort to lessen its enrollment losses through, sometimes contested, marketing efforts across the Santa Clarita Valley.

FILE ART: First-grade students Torrey Price , left, and Halle Privett sway to the music as they wait to run laps in a light drizzle as part of the Apex Fun Run fundraiser held at Peachland Elementary School in Newhall on Friday, Feb. 3, 2017. Dan Watson/the Signal

“There are those who criticize the board’s expenditure on money for promoting the district, but the return in terms of people who are choosing to be with this district based on their belief that we offer a quality education has been enormous,” Cordeiro said.  “If we weren’t an excellent district and didn’t have numbers to show people what would we be marketing?”

During his tenure, Cordeiro also helped the district expend its $60 million Measure E funds to complete school site renovations, construct new classroom buildings, implement new technology in the district and update the Newhall Family Theatre for the Performing Arts.

As he leaves the district to adjust to a new pace of life and possibly return to volunteering and coaching, Cordeiro said it is the district’s staff and students that he will miss most.

“I’ll miss working with all of the staff, I’ll miss being in classrooms talking to kids, I’ll miss how kids make me laugh based on how they perceive the world,” he said.  “The kids certainly have a hold on my heart in terms of what they’re expecting of me.  I assume they expect me to be their voice that they expect me to do their best.”

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