Time to hire first woman to lead Fullerton Joint Union High School District


Andrew (JungHyun) Lee

With superintendent Scott Scambray’s upcoming retirement, district board members must decide whether to continue the pattern of electing a white male to the position.

This story was updated May 8 to correct an error regarding past superintendents in the Fullerton Joint Union High School District.

The Accolade editorial board vote count: 8 consider diversity or gender an important factor to consider when choosing the next Fullerton Joint Union High School District [FJUHSD] superintendent; 1 does not.

The tide is changing when it comes to the hiring process for leaders of private and public enterprises.

President Joe Biden first tapped a woman of color to be his running mate; upon being elected, he curated the most diverse cabinet in U.S. history, appointing the first openly gay Secretary of Transportation, Pete Buttigieg, the first Hispanic and immigrant head of the Department of Homeland Security, Alejandro Mayorkas and Deb Haaland, the first Native American cabinet secretary.

Following the wave, United Airlines is finally giving women and people of color an opportunity to step into leadership positions. In an April 6 tweet, the company promised that 50% of the 5,000 pilots trained in the next decade would be women or people of color.

So as the FJUHSD board members are about to make their choice for the district’s 17th superintendent to replace Scott Scambray, who plans to retire June 30, they should go against the trend of past hires — all of whom were men starting with the first one in 1922, Louis E. Plummer. Since Plummer, trustees have hired only one person of color, Michael F. Escalante, who is Latino and worked as superintendent from 1997 to 2004. 

Based on these facts, we are not accusing past trustees starting near the mid-1960s of violating any part of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex and national origin. We are also not advocating for this current group of board members to go against Title VII and only consider applicants who are of a different gender and/or a person of color.

Instead, we are working from the assumption that the pool of applicants that the trustees have received are equally qualified and are of a range of backgrounds and genders. And from that group, we hope that these trustees recognize the importance of hiring a woman or another person of color or a combination of the two to lead a district that’s 58.4% Hispanic, 13.5% white, 18.5% Asian and 1.8% African American, according to 2020-2021 data from the California Department of Education.

Already, our five-member elected school board comprises of four women and one man — Dr. Chester Jeng being the only Asian, and first-year trustee Vicki Calhoun, the only Black female.

While the district’s leaders consistently update school policies and technology to reflect the changing times, they themselves simply do not reflect our district’s demographics.

Board members responsibly reached out to the community, initiating an inclusive process and releasing a survey March 29-April 9 available in three languages: English, Spanish and Korean. The form asked community members for feedback through questions like, “What do you see as strengths of our district” and “What is important for our next superintendent to know about our community?”

The anonymous poll also included a question asking respondents to rate from 1-7 the importance of having a superintendent who’s bilingual, earned previous experience in that position and provided a “proven track record of growing academic achievement for all students, including special needs children, second language learners and children experiencing poverty,” among others.

The district understands that translations are imperative to open communication within the diverse Fullerton community and our superintendent needs to reflect the values of ethnic minorities as well.

Appointing another person of color as our next superintendent would not require the board to sacrifice competence. An ethnic leader would result in higher rates of communication and revenue, as shown in a 2013 study by Harvard Business Review.

In fact, with the racial disturbances occurring in our nation, students of color may feel more inclined to share opinions and insight if they see a similar face in a leadership position.

A 1988 study conducted by Lake Sosin Snell Perry and Associates and Motivational Educational Entertainment published on childrennow.org revealed children of color primarily look up to African-American characters in the media. Therefore, a minority leader with direct insight on a variety of race and gender issues can better create a comfortable environment for students and community members.

Finally, our trustees should especially consider offering this position to a woman. Last summer, several district students came forward with sexual harassment and assault claims inciting some alumni from FJUHSD to create an online petition on change.org. Though Scambray responsibly emailed students and staff a statement about how each school will follow up on claims, perhaps a woman in Scambray’s place would have used her personal experience to better empathize with the victims.

FJUHSD students and parents deserve a candidate who represents their values and understands their community, but most importantly, is qualified to run a high-achieving school district. Companies and institutions are taking a step to show gender equity in their leadership selections — it is time for FJUHSD trustees to take this leap as well.