New MDUSD supe ready to tackle tough issues

By Peggy Spear on November 6, 2013

Nellie Meyer for websiteDr. Nellie Meyer has one goal in her new job: she wants to ensure that every classroom in Mt. Diablo Unified School district is somewhere she would be proud to send her own daughter.

It’s a big task for the new MDUSD superintendent, who took over in September, just in time to guide the district of 50-plus schools through some rough waters, including implementing a new core curriculum, dealing with a nasty teacher sex abuse case, and ongoing issues of trust between the district, its employees, parents and the group Meyer calls the most important, the students.

It is perhaps the breadth of the district — its size and diversity — that is seen as the biggest problem among parents, yet Meyer says it’s that quality that lured her from her job as deputy superintendent of school support services for San Diego Unified School District, to one of the biggest districts in the Bay Area, and one of the most problematic.

“This is a huge challenge for me,” she said in an interview with the Pioneer. “My goal is to build communities among all the stakeholders, at each campus.

“We are slowly coming back to life after a decade of cuts and bad financial situations,” she says. “Now I have to make sure that we supply the services and support to everyone — staff, teachers and students.”

To that Meyer hopes to be a visible presence around the schools, helping where she can. “I want to show school communities that the district cares, and that we are devoted to preparing our kids for the future. I’d do what I’d expect a superintendent to do for my kids.”

In light of the fact that Clayton Valley High transitioned to a successful charter school and Northgate High tried to move to the Acalanes district, it’s clear that many local parents are uncertain the district will be able to provide what they feel their children need.

“My advice to those parents is to get involved, and help make the school a better place,” she says. “Ask me for help, but don’t give up.”

She says that she sees qualities in successful schools like CVCHS and Northgate that she wants for every one in MDUSD: excellent teaching, strong leadership, engaged parents, a sense of belonging and for students to have a voice.

She also has supportive words for the community of Woodside Elementary School, where a fifth grade teacher was accused of sexually abusing students, and parents fear clues about the alleged behavior was covered up by the district.

Meyer can’t talk much about the abuse case since it is a current legal proceeding, but she does say that she has spent time at Woodside and is thrilled by the resilience of the students, staff and parents. “It’s a great school, and I tell parents there what I will tell all parents — we must err on the side of caution when dealing with possible abuse situations,” she says. “My philosophy is that it’s our obligation to report anything that causes concern, or that our intuition says isn’t right.”

Meyer’s big academic challenge will come in presiding over the implementation of the new Common Core curriculum, which all state schools must adopt by next year.

“I feel Common Core will help our students be prepared for life after high school, in whichever direction they want to go,” she says. “It’s not without flaws, and like everything new there will be some stress getting started, but ultimately I believe in it.”

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