“I talked to a lot of people, and one of the things that has emerged, people are happy with Tracy Unified,” he said. “Everybody’s got their own issues and they got their concerns that they want to see addressed, but by and large, the people I talked to are quite happy.
“I think Tracy is a very good district, but I think it can be better,” he added. “The teachers I’ve met so far I’ve been very impressed with; the administrators I’ve dealt with I’ve been very impressed with. That being said, we can all do a better job.”
Upon seeing the advertisement for the TUSD superintendent position, Stephens said, he thought his skills would fit well in Tracy. He came to TUSD after serving two years as the superintendent of Delhi Unified School District in Merced County and 27 years with Northern Humboldt Union High School District on the north coast.
“(Tracy) is a good district; it has a great reputation,” he said. “Dr. Franco got the district flowing pretty good. He’s a wonderful man, kind and gracious, and I think the district is going in a good direction. I think it is my job as the new superintendent to give it some giddyup.”
“I’m going to listen,” he added. “I think for me to come in and say, ‘We’re going to do A, B and C,’ that would be disrespectful to the work that has gone on before me. To the board, to the administration, to the teachers, I don’t think would be right.”
As he explores TUSD, some of Stephens’ immediate concerns are the implementation of the Common Core State Standards and working with a deficit budget.
“I think Common Core is huge, but I would like to see a general district rollout of Common Core,” he said. “Not so site driven as much as ‘This is how we intend to roll out Common Core districtwide.’”
In education, he said, change of any kind is probably the greatest challenge.
“One of the biggest criticisms of schools, we’re slow to change,” he said. “Like I said before: Hey, it worked last year, why not do it again? If that’s going to be our philosophy, we’re falling behind — if we’re not improving every single year. That is really my focus. How can we do it better? How can we constantly strive to get better?”
Stephens said that he had never heard a parent say, “I sent you my second-best kid to school today.” He said that parents entrust the district with the “most important, precious item that they have.”
“We have an obligation to treat it like we would when we spend every dollar,” he said. “We’ve got to be careful with the budget. So we have to make sure that every dollar is spent correctly. We can’t afford to be wasteful, and we have to be sure what we’re spending it on is addressing the issues that the board and the district has identified as the highest priority.”
Stephens said that he was in an “exploring stage,” getting to know his position and the district, and he wanted to understand TUSD better before making any changes.
“Do I have a good idea what I think the district should be doing and the direction it should go? Yeah, I’ve got a pretty good idea,” he said. “I’m going to use my ears more than my mouth. I remember my dad would say, ‘The reason why God gave you two ears and one mouth is to listen more than you talk.’
“My job is to really listen in these next few months, make decisions that are needed and put together the direction I think we should be going.”
• Contact Denise Ellen Rizzo at email@example.com or 830-4225.