San Diego County Office of Education's new interim superintendent, Edward Velasquez, comes with years of experience and a passion for helping vulnerable children. He has served as interim superintendent in three local school districts – San Ysidro, Alpine, and Poway. He recently shared his personal story and thoughts on education.
Tell us about your professional background.
I worked in the classroom for 18 years. I've taught 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th grade, and 7th and 8th. I was an assistant principal, a principal, an assistant superintendent, and finally a superintendent for 10 years. Of those 10 years, I spent seven with the Montebello Unified School District and three with Lynwood Unified.
In Montebello, I was also the Chief of School Police, so I had responsibilities on both the instructional and police sides of the house. I also have more than 22 years as a reserve officer with the Los Angeles County Probation Department, developing and implementing programs on behalf of probation to keep kids out of the system.
After Montebello, I was recruited to help Lynwood Unified deal with their financial troubles. They were going bankrupt; I had two months to rectify their budget. I was able to do that. That [success] kind of got around a little bit, and that's when San Ysidro called.
And what about your personal story?
My whole life has been dedicated to vulnerable children. I was one of them. I grew up in Boyle Heights, a suburb of Los Angeles that was gang-infested, impoverished, and plagued by drugs. I was a teen father; I was 18 years old when I had my first child and 19 when I had my second. Nobody ever taught me how to be a parent; that's what got me really interested in this field.
One of the most important parts of my life happened when I was superintendent in Lynwood. My mom passed away a year into that job, and I retired a couple of years later, after three years with the district. I'm glad I did, because I was able to spend time with my dad before he passed away six months later. I will never, ever forget having that chance.
I have six adult children who range in age from 22 to 42. They're all in the Los Angeles County area. I have three adult grandkids who are all in college, and two younger grandchildren, ages 7 and almost 1. My wife has four kids and three grandkids.
What are your plans for your time at SDCOE?
I want to move the organization forward. I don't plan to make big changes across the board. My vision is to help the County Office achieve its mission and perhaps find some areas where we can augment some of our services or streamline some of our practices. I believe education changes lives, so it's critical that we ensure every dollar possible goes to kids and their education. The great thing is that the people I've met at SDCOE, and in San Diego in general, seem to come from that same perspective. With that mindset, I think there's a lot we can do together.
What's your philosophy when it comes to leading a district?
We're here for one reason only: to serve the children of San Diego by ensuring San Diego's schools are fiscally sound and transformational. To do that, you have to have a superintendent who is clear about our mission, clear about roles, and who can build relationships. I don't work in isolation; I work as part of a team. I believe in creating a culture and a climate where people understand their role in the organization, understand their role in serving students, and feel safe to do their job creatively and effectively.
Our employees are doing what I call God's work. I'm happy to be the person working with the administration and community, and be out there visibly and setting the example and defining our organization, while they do their work.
You've dedicated a lot of your career to at-risk youth. What does it take to educate children well?
I truly believe for a child to graduate and learn, you have to have an environment that's going to deal with their challenges. I don't care what the challenge is. If they're poor and they have no food, then how are we going to get them food? If they're being bullied, take it seriously. Listen to them. Come up with a solution. Don't just say, "There's nothing I can do about it." And more than anything, it comes down to the collaborations we have.