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Lisa Gonzales has led efforts to explain Mt. Diablo USD’s budget to stakeholders using detailed presentations, community-wide listening sessions and even YouTube videos.
Gonzales increases stakeholders’ understanding of school business
September 5, 2022
ACSA Administrators of the Year graphic.
Name: Lisa Gonzales Award: Business Services Administrator of the Year Title: Chief Business Officer, Mt. Diablo USD ACSA highlights: Member since 1999; ACSA President (2017-18); Vice President for Legislative Action (2011-15); Region 8 President (2007-08).
Lisa Gonzales, Ed.D., has found innovative ways to share the impact of financial decisions on the students with an honest and transparent approach that has fostered trust with stakeholders.
Gonzales became the chief business officer at Mt. Diablo USD right after the district had approved raises that the county office determined it could not afford. Gonzales led a $20 million reduction process by explaining the budget to those who would be impacted and the greater community, including detailed presentations at every board meeting, community-wide listening sessions with budget overviews, ThoughtExchange feedback sessions, the creation of a district advisory team, and assuming responsibility for the Budget Advisory Committee.
While it was a painful process, today the district has moved out of its qualified budget certification to a place of fiscal solvency and three consecutive positive certifications, thanks to Gonzales’ attention to detail and expert use of funds. During COVID, the communication plan expanded to include the hosting of “Brown Bag with the CBO” events for district administrators, creating weekly “Ask the CBO” YouTube videos, assuming responsibility for the Measure J Citizens Bond Oversight Committee, and CBO Walks to increase an understanding of school site dynamics, budgets and the challenges for business department staff who do not work at school sites.
In her role, Gonzales leads seven other departments beyond fiscal, including transportation, nutrition, technology information, facilities, purchasing, and maintenance and operations. She has helped staff in these departments understand their importance in serving students and has led efforts to improve customer service and address systemic inequities. Her departments recently rolled out their own equity initiative that includes communicating focused values in interviews and on EdJoin job descriptions and designing a Classified Training Day on equity and belonging, in addition to a Classified Leadership Development program and a Student Business Services Advisory to provide leadership training and insights into student voice and choice.
When the pandemic hit, it became clear MDUSD wasn’t prepared to meet the technology needs of students and teachers. Gonzales quickly restructured the IT department, including leading it for two months during the transition, and taught department members the Starbucks perspective that “those who sweep should select their brooms.” By reframing weekly meetings as problem-solution time, those who had never been asked to weigh in were taking the lead.
Gonzales furthers her knowledge through professional development and has shared that knowledge by presenting at more than 50 conferences. Whether leading four lobbying trips to Washington, D.C., helping to resurrect the ACSA Women’s Leadership Network, or holding every ACSA office both at the state and region levels, her contributions to ACSA and the education profession are felt far and wide.
What’s your favorite book on leadership? “Lean In” by Sheryl Sandberg and “Women Who Rise.” As a female leader, we have different challenges and face different expectations, and glass ceilings are still in place in so many districts. “Lean In” has always instilled confidence when I’ve needed it. In contrast, “Women Who Rise” highlights weaknesses in leadership skills with action plans to strengthen them. I’ve led book studies on both of these fabulous reads and encourage women to pick up copies of both.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given? Past ACSA President Chuck Weis once told me, “You learn the most from your mistakes, so fail fast and learn quickly.” It’s a great way to bounce back when the best laid plans don’t go as expected (can you say COVID?) or you zigged when you should have zagged.
What’s your best strategy for work/life balance? When I was an assistant superintendent and ACSA president, all while raising twin daughters in middle school, I learned to be gracious to myself: I didn’t need to be 100 percent all the time. Even 80-90 percent effort is fine while trying to make sure the refrigerator still had food, the girls were picked up from school and arrived at soccer practices on time, and I got in my 11,000-step goal. A few tips? Multi-task. Listen to an audiobook or schedule calls in the evening while walking or while the kids are at practice (it’s my trifecta); get an air fryer and cook healthy, quick meals.
What are some life hacks that you would recommend for a new administrator? I started using a Cornell notebook years ago and it’s my saving grace. I document notes during meetings in the main section, which allows me to stay on task while keeping the follow up and to-do items in the left margin. Early on, I found the classrooms where I could be visible with students and teachers, but also escape to get work done outside of the office. Certain teachers are very receptive to that and I found it helped me strengthen relationships while writing reports. Finally, I printed out the teacher evaluation document and took notes on different standards all year, which helped me when I needed to complete end-of-year evaluations. The anecdotals through the year were a comprehensive data set to draw from.
What would people be surprised to hear about you? In some areas of the state, this is the worst-kept secret, but I was Miss California State in 1986. As the ambassador for the California Fair Industry, I visited almost every county fair, festival and celebration in the state and learned so much about California and local economies.
What made you become a school administrator? When I was a student teacher, I subbed at a middle school. One day, I watched the principal walk into a staff room, engage in a conversation with teachers, and respond as one remarked that he needed to pull out a tree in his front yard over the weekend. The principal responded, “what time should I stop by to help?” He truly was a servant leader and since that is what I always strived to be, going into administration was a natural … thanks to a chance conversation in a staff room. 
What was the biggest challenge you’ve overcome to get where you are? I was always seen as the instructional leader, having been an elementary, middle and high school site administrator and coming up the ranks of educational services. A dear friend talked me into a CBO training program, and I’ve never looked back, but it was a challenge to establish credibility and be seen in a different type of role.
What are you most proud of accomplishing?
Personally, my greatest accomplishments include being selected a Future Ready Superintendent by President Obama and Secretary Arne Duncan, running my first (and many more) marathons, and raising my successful, articulate, kind, and athletic 17-year-old twin girls, Kennedy and Landry. But professionally? Leading the Fatal School Violence Task Force for ACSA when I was president and creating a one-stop shop for resources that address district needs before, during and after a crisis is absolutely No. 1 on my list. The toolkit is available on the ACSA Resource Hub. While I hope that we never have another incident of school violence, I know that when it happens, the information in the toolkit will immediately benefit school leaders. 
How has ACSA supported your career/current position? The ACSA School Business Academy was instrumental in my transition to a chief business officer. Having attended many academies (Personnel, C&I, Superintendent, and Innovative Technology), I know the benefit of being on the cutting edge with practitioners who are leaders among leaders and can share the details of the positions and their personal tricks of the trade. I’d recommend that any leader wanting experience in a new area should strongly consider experiencing an ACSA Academy.
ACSA 2022 Business Services Administrator of the Year Lisa Gonzales.
ACSA 2022 Business Services Administrator of the Year Lisa Gonzales.