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Palo Alto school district hires communications and equity coordinators

Former journalist, Stanford English language learner expert to join district office

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Two key hires will begin work in the Palo Alto school district in 2016: a new spokesperson, and an equity coordinator who will oversee the district's efforts to better support historically underrepresented students and families.

Jorge Quintana, a former broadcast journalist and public information officer for the San Jose Unified School District, will take over as the district's communications coordinator. This position has been vacant since the former spokesperson, Tabitha Kappeler-Hurley, resigned in June, prompting Superintendent Max McGee and the school board to reevaluate the district's communications strategy.

In September, the school board voted 3-2, with Ken Dauber and Terry Godfrey dissenting, to approve the creation of a full-time communications coordinator position. McGee had initially proposed the district find a part-time person to fill the vacancy, but said at the time that after discussions with his leadership team, it became clear that a full-time person is sorely needed. Dauber and Godfrey voiced concern that reproducing the role and responsibilities of the previous communications coordinator would not prove effective.

The job, which has garnered criticism from some people who feel it is an unnecessary expense, was authorized by the Board of Education in 2013. Kappeler-Hurley was hired that July at a salary of about $130,000.

A September job posting for the position advertised a salary between $105,622 and $139,019.

Quintana, who will start Jan. 11, told the Weekly in an email that is a product of the public-school system and former English language learner student. According to his LinkedIn profile, he is bilingual and began an eight-year journalism career in the late 1990s. He worked as a television news anchor, reporter, producer and writer for ABC, NBC, CBS and Univision.

In 2006, he became the director of media relations for Gwinnett County Public Schools in Georgia, the largest school district in the state. His responsibilities included media relations, crisis communication, training, community outreach (particularly with Spanish- and Korean-speaking communities) and media partnerships, according to his LinkedIn profile.

In August 2014, he moved to the San Jose Unified School District to serve as its public information officer. He lists similar responsibilities for this position.

Quintana holds a bachelor's degree in communications from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, and a master's degree in the same subject from Gonzaga University.

McGee wrote in an email that Quintana "will be the perfect fit for a multitude of communication needs."

"Given that improving communication and transparency is important to all of our stakeholders and the greater community, we sought the most qualified individual with both strategic expertise and experience with an array of challenges," McGee wrote. "I also expect that (he) will provide sound advice and ideas for novel ways to extend our district's two-way communication so we can learn more from our students, staff, parents, and the public as well as be sure that everyone of them gets the accurate information and direct answers they need and deserve."

Quintana said he looks forward to "doing a lot of listening" and building bridges "between the organization and the community it serves."

"I'll be serving our community by making sure that the communications program is open, constant, and consistent," he wrote in an email Wednesday.

Martha Castellon — an educator, researcher and, most recently, the executive director of a Stanford University English Language Learner educational initiative — will also begin Jan. 11, as Palo Alto Unified's new equity coordinator. She did not immediately return an interview request.

The position she's filling came as a top recommendation from McGee's Minority Achievement Talent Development (MATD) committee, a group charged with analyzing how the district can best close its longstanding achievement gap. The group envisioned a high-level person committed to holding the district accountable for equity-related efforts, from implementing MATD's own recommendations to creating a bi-annual process to solicit input and feedback from historically underrepresented students and parents.

A job description lists eight "essential responsibilities," including implementation of a "district equity plan," the creation of a steering committee to further MATD's recommendations, collaboration with the district's data department to monitor compliance at each school site and participation in the recruitment and retention of staff of color, among other efforts.

Castellon heads Stanford's Understanding Language initiative, which in 2011 launched an English Language Learner Education project to help English language learners (ELLs) meet the new Common Core State Standards in language arts and mathematics, as well as new science standards. The national initiative's goal, a university press release at the time states, was to "seed a national effort to map out and meet the growing academic language and content needs of ELLs as Common Core academic standards are implemented by schools and districts around the nation."

At Stanford, Castellon also administers the Stanford Online CTEL/CLAD Program (online certification and professional development for teachers working with English language learners) and the Stanford English Language Learner Leadership Network, according to an online biography). A former elementary-school teacher, she has also written curriculum and developed professional-development materials for teachers and administrators who work with English language learners.

Castellon holds both a bachelor's degree and a doctorate in educational linguistics from Stanford.

McGee said he is eager to begin working with Castellon "right away."

"To assure that our historically underrepresented students have the opportunities, access, and support to succeed in PAUSD's full range or programs, services, courses, and activities, it was essential to fill this position," McGee wrote in an email to the Weekly. "I know she (Castellon) shares our district's vision and passionate commitment to making that vision a reality for every student — and we mean EVERY student."

A job posting for the equity-coordinator position advertised a salary between $93,870 and $125,192.

The district has also hired a new human resources director, Martha Hauser, to oversee classified staff, said Scott Bowers, assistant superintendent for human resources. Hauser has worked as a senior human-resources manager in the business world for more than 20 years, Bowers said. She most recently held this position at Depomed, Inc., a pharmaceutical company, according to her LinkedIn profile. Hauser will also start on Jan. 11.

Editor's note: This story was updated to include comment from Jorge Quintana sent to the Weekly after posting.

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25 people like this
Posted by Questions
a resident of Jordan Middle School
on Dec 23, 2015 at 3:00 pm

Didn't the hapless Kevin Skelly hire a PR person for the district two or three years ago? Is she not doing a sufficient job that another person has to be hired to ensure good communication?

Does this person speak Spanish, Korean, and Chinese? That would be what is needed, if the PR person is not enough.

1 person likes this
Posted by Brian
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Dec 23, 2015 at 3:13 pm

It's really too bad that there isn't some way to ensure that all posters have read the story that they are posting about - before posting. I realize that some people just want to make a nasty comment about someone, and don't care that they look foolish by asking questions that are answered in the story.

14 people like this
Posted by Terry
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 23, 2015 at 8:38 pm

+1 for unnecessary expense

6 people like this
Posted by Nosure
a resident of Community Center
on Dec 23, 2015 at 11:51 pm

Where can one get the best pizza in PA?

8 people like this
Posted by Sigh
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 24, 2015 at 10:21 am

As I recall, a prime justification for hiring KHurkey was to fill all those records requests that were being blamed for everything wrong with the district. But then the district never had her do anything about the abysmal state of providing information. She was hired for CYA of certain individuals, which worked against the interests of our children, IMO.

We appear to have hired more CYA lip service. McGee will wield them more skillfully than Skelly, but he shows no genuine inclination to improve communication FROM those having problems. Move along, nothing to see here... (See, I could do the job for free!)

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