By Pablo Jaime Sáinz
Dennis Doyle walks through the halls of Las Palmas Elementary School in National City, smiling, greeting the people he meets in English and in Spanish.
“Buenos dias!” he said. “Como le va?”
It’s been a few weeks since he started his job as superintendent of the National School District in late July, and Doyle already is a familiar face in the district’s schools.
Doyle comes to replace former superintendent George Cameron, who retired in June after 16 years in that post.
Before coming to National, Doyle was assistant superintendent of the Chula Vista Elementary School District. He has a 27-year career in education.
Doyle said that during the first week of school he visited classrooms in every school in the district. The first day of classes he rode a school bus to one of the schools.
He said that he’s encouraged by the enthusiasm he found at the district.
“It’s extraordinary the hard work of the staff, of the teachers, of the parents, of the students,” Doyle said. “I’m asking parents: ‘What else can we do to help our community?’”
There’s much to do at the National School District.
It has 11 elementary schools in National City. The student population is around 6,000 students, of which 90 percent is Latino, and 60 percent is English-learners.
The majority of the students come from working-class families, with very limited resources at home, so it is the district’s responsibility to provide them with after-school programs where they can develop their abilities, Doyle said.
He said the district has a large free music and ballet folklorico after-school program, as well as one-on-one tutoring with Southwestern College student volunteers.
During Cameron’s tenure, the National School District was able to improve its test scores.
Academic Performance Index scores were released in the past days and National’s API is now higher than San Diego Unified’s, Doyle said. National received a score of 737 and a growth of 13, the second highest rated district in the South Bay only after Chula Vista.
Doyle added that the National School District has the highest District API for the English Learner population of any school district from San Diego south to the border, at 712 points.
“We’re really defying the odds,” he said. “We’re being able to say, ‘Si se puede.’”
During the first 90 days at his new job, Doyle said he’s going to learn as much as he can about the district and the community.
“National is a smaller school district than Chula Vista. It has more of a sense of community. That helps a lot. You get to know people on a more personal level.”
One of the issues that have come up several times in the past years is that of district unification. The National School District has sought to become a unified school district by controlling the two middle schools and the high school in National City.
Those three schools are currently part of the Sweet-water Unified High School District.
Doyle said he won’t look into unification until he has learned more about the pros and cons.
“District unification is a decision that needs to be taken by the citizens of this community. In my first 90 days of work here I’m just going to focus on asking questions, to learn more about the district, about its needs. I want to learn.”
Doyle said that one of the new features in many of the district’s classrooms are the Promethean digital boards, which allow students to have a more interactive, technological-advanced learning environment.
At a recent visit to Las Palmas Elementary School, where 15 of the 30 classrooms have the digital boards, Doyle participated in a classroom activity at Ms. Erika Valverde’s second-grade bilingual class.
He interacted with the students in Spanish, using the Activotes, a device that makes learning more fun by creating a game-show environment where all students participate.
Doyle said this new educational technology is just one example of the right direction the district and National City are heading.
“This is an incredible community. Whoever says that National City is a dangerous place and a bad place to raise children, just needs to see the facts. The fact is that this is a great place, a strong community.”