August 24, 2007

San Ysidro schools get a charismatic leader from their own backyard

By Pablo Jaime Sáinz

When Manuel Paul was growing up in San Ysidro, he attended Sunset Elementary School, the only elementary school in this border community at the time.

Years later, after graduating from San Diego State University and earning his teaching credential, he returned to his community as a teacher.

Now, 33 years after Paul began his career in education in San Ysidro, he was named interim superintendent of the San Ysidro School District, something that has received many ovations from the community and district employees. At the board meeting on Aug. 16, there were applauses and “Bravos!” when the decision was announced.

He had been the district’s assistant superintendent of human resources for the last five years. Paul will replace Gilbert Anzaldua who was interim superintendent for several months.

“I’ve been in San Ysidro all my life. I don’t have any secret agendas,” said Paul, who’s 56 years old. “My only priority is to provide the best education to the children of San Ysidro.”

The school board named Paul interim superintendent after it chose not to hire another candidate the hiring firm in charge of the national search had proposed.

Paul comes from a background similar to the majority of the children in the district: From low-income families, having Spanish as their first language, learning English at school, struggling to find a better future through education.

Paul lived in San Ysidro until 10 years ago, when he moved to Bonita so that his children could attend high school. San Ysidro didn’t have a high school at the time.

During his lifetime he’s seen the district grow from just one school to seven.

He said that the five years he’s been assistant superintendent of human resources he’s been able to hire teachers of the highest caliber.

“I’ve gotten to know every school and principal in the district and see how they’re working,” said Paul, who was born in Tijuana to a father from Los Angeles and a mother from the state of Sonora.

Paul applied for the permanent superintendent position last Spring, but he wasn’t even selected for an interview.

“I expected an interview at least as a courtesy, being the only candidate from the district who had applied for the position,” he said. “I was a bit disappointed by that.”

Board member Yolanda Hernandez said that the hiring firm that was conducting the search was the one that chose who the board would interview.

After the proposed candidate wasn’t hired, the board decided to give Paul a chance at the job, Hernandez said.

“I’ve always had a lot of respect for him,” she said. “The board realized all the respect that exists in the community for him. I received many calls from teachers and classified employees asking the board to give Manuel an opportunity. I know Manuel will be able to handle the job.”

Hernandez said she’s proposing the board to offer Paul a permanent contract as superintendent in early September.

“We already know him. We know he’s a hard-working person. I don’t think we should put him to the test. He has a track record of being a great educator. He has the teachers’ support. He has the community’s support. We really don’t need to look outside of the district to get an excellent superintendent. I’m tired that people from outside the community come, get trained here and then they leave the position after a short time. Manuel has been at the district for 33 years and in San Ysidro all his life. I think he would retire from being a superintendent until he gets his head full of gray hair.”

But board member Jean Romero said that the search is currently closed and Paul will have to prove he can be a good superintendent.

“At this point we’re not in a hurry to hire someone. I think Manuel can be on a test period of about two months, then we could decide if he’s a good fit for the job,” Romero said.

This week Paul welcomed teachers to the new school year. Many of them congratulated him for his appointment.

Among his priorities, he said, will be to listen to teachers on how to improve the implementation of current academic programs in the classroom.

La Mirada Elementary School teacher Zenaida Rosario is one of many teachers who welcomed Paul’s appointment as interim superintendent. She said that she hoped he will become the permanent superintendent soon.

“We need the interim part taken away and move on,” Rosario said. “We don’t have time to waste. The desire for Mr. Paul to become superintendent is there from the community.”

Paul said he’s looking forward to being named superintendent. Meanwhile, he said that he will continue working to improve the education of the children of San Ysidro.

“I think the board should give Manuel all the support he needs,” board member Hernandez said. “He’s the best choice for the district.”

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