Pleasanton's interim schools superintendent Jim Hansen admits he has a steep learning curve this year.
The former Amador Valley High principal stepped out of retirement and into the temporary role this summer, a short-term leader for a school district that has seen some unrest in the past few years.
"I know the town, I know the culture," Hansen, 64, said during an interview this summer. "I've been at almost all the schools in one capacity or another."
Hansen is no stranger to the Pleasanton Unified School District. An educator for 41 years, he spent nearly three decades as a teacher and administrator in Pleasanton, including serving as principal at Amador Valley and Harvest Park Middle School.
So, after Parvin Ahmadi announced in late May that she was leaving PUSD after five years to take a superintendent post in Castro Valley, Hansen was the school board's top choice for interim superintendent while the district spends the next year searching for a permanent replacement -- who, Hansen said, won't be him.
Hansen is described by some in the district as a man of strong morals who exemplifies leadership and kindness. He said he's just a teacher at heart.
And whether it was during his time as a classroom teacher or as a principal, he said he tried to learn every student's name and a bit about their lives. "I really feel at any level of education that relationships are key," he added.
Pleasanton school board president Valerie Arkin said Hansen is a leader with integrity who "really does listen."
Board member Jamie Hintzke said he is a great pick for this time of transition.
"I think that Mr. Hansen is the perfect interim for right now. It's what the district needs right now. He has the skills to bring the community together because of his incredible moral fiber," she said.
District administration and the school board have received some criticism over its handling of two contentious issues in the past couple years: the ongoing legal challenge with former elementary school principal Jon Vranesh and the debate over whether to change the PUSD instructional calendar.
Some critics also think the district has a problem with retaining administrators, but Hansen argues most of that is natural turnover -- people sometimes move and retire, after all, he rebutted.
"Granted there have been issues that have polarized different groups of people from others, but I think overall parents are happy with their children's schools and happy with their teachers," Hansen said.
"But to avoid such polarization, which does have an impact on trust, it is important to be as transparent as possible in the decision-making process," he added. "It's my job to mend those (relationships) and bring about some healing."
As the 2015-16 school year begins, the district remains entrenched in a legal battle with Vranesh, a former principal at Walnut Grove Elementary, over his dismissal from the district amid allegations of inappropriate conduct.
There are also pending conversations about how to structure the district's instructional calendar going forward.
The school board approved in 2014 -- and then retracted in January -- a new schedule that changed the start and end date of classes and shifted around some vacation periods. Some parents addressed the board during various public meetings, saying they felt the calendar change was done too quickly and without enough public input.
Hansen said the district's human resources department will be reaching out this year to members of the community for input on the subject of a new calendar for the 2016-17 year.
He also said he planned to continue community councils started by Ahmadi that connect the district with the community, including one for faculty, one for parents and one for administrators.
Hansen said his major goals for this year are to support the district as its temporary leader, to guide the district in developing a process to select the next superintendent, to maintain positive relationships within the district with parents, students and other stakeholders, and in the short-term, to facilitate a smooth start to the school year.
The Common Core standards officially rolled out last year, and he thinks the groundwork done last year should carry over smoothly to the upcoming term, which starts with students coming back to campus on Tuesday.
To begin the official search process for a superintendent, district officials have indicated they will decide on the search criteria and method in September, and then make applications available by early 2016.
The district will also be undertaking some construction projects that Hansen will oversee, such as the upgrade of its wireless Internet system from 25 megabits per second to 252 megabits per second.
Hansen said it will help students and teachers get information faster on their laptops and mobile devices while in classrooms, especially since the district has received about 4,000 new Chromebooks for student use.
That project will cost about $900,000, which is being paid with the interest received from a school fund created by the sale of property, money borrowed out of that fund that will be repaid with future years' interest and money from a special reserve fund for capital outlay. He said $300,000 is expected to be returned to the district by the federal government.
Overall, he hopes he can be a role model for students, teachers and administrators by embodying the qualities he wants to see in a superintendent.
"Honesty, respect, responsibility, integrity and self-discipline; if we expect our kids to model these behaviors, we should, too," he said.
A teacher's teacher
Hansen didn't always plan on being a teacher. He grew up in Hayward and attended St. Joseph's High School Seminary. He was planning on attending the school's college seminary in Mountain View to become a Catholic priest.
But he changed his mind. Being a priest wasn't his path after all. Why?
"Because I met my wife," he said, smiling.
His wife Judy, who also spent her career in education, is a "marvelous teacher who I emulated."
He said they've spent many evenings during their 38-year marriage talking about their students and how to best care for them.
Hansen went to UC Berkeley for his undergraduate degree from 1969 to 1973 and later went on to St. Mary's College for his teaching credentials, San Francisco State University for a master's in educational technology and Cal State East Bay in Hayward for an administrative services credential.
He started his career at St. Clement Catholic Church in Hayward and spent 41 years in education..
He came to Pleasanton as the first English teacher at Village High School, teaching there from 1979 to 1985.
Hansen then became vice principal at Dublin High School from 1985 to 1988 when it was part of the Amador Valley Joint Union High School District before unification. In the Dublin district, he was also principal of Valley Continuation High School, Dublin High School and Wells Middle School.
In the 1990s, he returned to Pleasanton as principal of Harvest Park Middle School. In 2010, he was appointed principal at Amador Valley High.
After retiring from Amador in 2013, he was substitute vice principal at Foothill, Harvest Park, Hart and Walnut Grove.
During his time in education, he experienced the highs and lows of leadership. He saw Harvest Park recognized as a California Distinguished School, a National Blue Ribbon School and a National School of Character while principal there. He has seen his students at various schools honored for awards, and he's had to deal with expulsions and a scare where a child started drowning on a field trip but was rescued.
Mostly, he said, he taught and he learned. By learning about students' lives, they felt more comfortable coming to him with a problem.
"There's a sense that you do care, and the reality is you do care," he said.
He retired in 2013, but it didn't last long. His six-month foray into the non-working world took him to New York, Cancun, Hawaii and St. John, but soon enough he was back to Pleasanton.
"The funny thing is I'm a failure at retirement," he joked. "I realized I missed the day-to-day of it."
That being said, he still plans to return to retirement after his interim term ends next summer. His contract runs through June 30.
He said his primary focus, aside from running the district, is to assist in the search for a permanent superintendent.
"This will be fun, and I'm not going to treat it like a retirement job," he said.
Once a new superintendent takes over, he said, he'll be done working.
This time, for real.
Here's a look at what else is new for PUSD in 2015-16, by the numbers:
* Five new principals started this year: Elias Muniz Rodriguez (Hearst Elementary), Shay Galletti (Fairlands Elementary), Sebastian Bull (Donlon Elementary), Ann Jayne (Vintage Hills Elementary) and Jill Butler (interim, Harvest Park Middle School).
* Three new vice principals, all at the middle school level: Lisa Hague (Hart), Michael O'Brien (interim, Pleasanton) and Suzanne Smith (interim half-time at Pleasanton).
* At least 42 teachers new to PUSD started this year.
* 14,790 students enrolled in PUSD this year. Last school year, the district had 14,763 students.
* The district's operating budget (general fund) revenues for the 2015-16 year are projected at $138.1 million, with expenditures estimated at $130.6 million. Officials estimate the general fund will have a balance of about $6.25 million at the end of the fiscal year.
* The district's high school graduation rate this past spring was 95.7%.