ACSA’s Superintendent of the Year Cheryl Jordan meets with the student leaders of Milpitas High School’s environmental club. Jordan recommends that administrators take every opportunity to talk to students — “they are at the core of our work,” she says.
Jordan cultivates her district’s ‘culture of we’
October 16, 2023
ACSA Administrators of the Year graphic.
Name: Cheryl Jordan Award: Superintendent of the Year Title: Superintendent, Milpitas USD ACSA highlights: Member since 1999; Leg. Policy Committee Co-Chair, 2022-present; Curriculum and Instruction Council Region 8 Rep., 2016-17; ACSA Region 8 Executive Board President, 2011-12; Milpitas Management Association President, 2005-06.
When she became superintendent of Milpitas USD in 2016, Cheryl Jordan worked in partnership with the Board of Trustees to establish five pillars that would drive the district’s efforts.
The first of these goals has become a motto for the district: “Build a Culture of We.”
“She modeled what that meant through communication and action that everyone in our community has value and was valued and deserves to be heard and treated with dignity,” said Francis A. Rojas, who was a principal in MUSD for five years. “Our Culture of We really brought out the best of ourselves in the service of others, and this culture permeated the greater Milpitas community and Santa Clara County.”
Having spent her entire 34-year education career in Milpitas USD, Jordan is highly visible, knowledgeable and engaged in her community. She makes time to attend celebrations, special events and funerals for employees and longtime community members. She serves on numerous advisory boards and is a member of groups such as Rotary and the chamber of commerce. She has won the respect of state legislators, local officials, business leaders, fellow administrators, families and students for her empathy, innovative thinking and collaborative spirit.
Jordan assures the board, staff and community that MUSD is a student-centered district. From building career pathways for students in computer science careers to establishing a world languages school, she works to create joyful and relevant experiences for all students. Recognizing that many learners face systemic inequities in education, Jordan has focused on culturally responsive instruction and has championed diversity, equity and inclusion to ensure the “Culture of We” extends to all students.
“I found that Cheryl went far beyond her training and had the heart to ensure that every member of the community (black, brown, Asian, special needs, and every other student) were provided equal access to a quality education — not just during the planning process, not just during the times that she finds herself in front of a microphone, but every day,” said Bob Nuñez, a former superintendent and mayor of Milpitas who currently leads the local NAACP branch.
With an eye to the future, Jordan is leading efforts to complete the MUSD Innovation Campus, a first-of-its-kind education hub that will host a comprehensive high school campus extension, alternative high school, adult education school and community college courses. This hub will connect local businesses and corporate partners with classrooms that will provide real-world training and career readiness experiences in fields such as robotics, artificial intelligence and environmental science. The Innovation Campus is scheduled to open in summer 2025.
“Cheryl believes that moving MUSD forward has endless possibilities,” said Alyssa Lynch, superintendent of MetroED, “and I believe her work is endless because she just keeps on going and going by giving more and more of herself.”
What’s your favorite book on leadership? “Leadership and the New Science” by Margaret Wheatley.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given? Be myself without self-imposed limitations — live outside of “the box.”
What’s your best strategy for work-life balance? The work-life balance conundrum invites anxiety and stress because it infers that we must all be in balance between life and work, but the two are not separate. For those of us in education, we have the privilege of living in the work that allows us to actualize our purpose. The more I practice being in the moment and aware of my emotions, the more adept I am at centering myself so that I can serve and work with others in a way that expands my capacity to provide the best possible environments and opportunities for all learners.
What are some life hacks that you would recommend for a new administrator? Use the AI in the email system to identify “spam,” “social,” “important,” and “everything else” emails. Take the seconds needed to identify spam so that the system redirects these out of the inbox. Respond to emails in three sentences or less, most that take more than that should be a conversation with the other person(s).
Walk through classrooms on the way from one end of the campus to the other in order to make personal connections.
Step outdoors to recharge — it only takes a few minutes and makes a big difference in the rest of the day
Talk with students so that they are at the core of our work
What would people be surprised to learn about you? I went to five different schools by the time I got to junior high, which is one reason I am typically a shy person. Once I became a teacher, my middle and high school students gave me a safe place to be myself and grow from there.
What made you want to become a school administrator? The magnitude of possibility is beyond what I could do with only 150-165 learners in my classroom.
What’s the biggest challenge you’ve overcome to get where you are? Fear that my voice doesn’t matter or that I won’t live up to people’s expectations of me. I have come to realize that there is so much more I can do and more of me I can be when I am focused on what is possible. We manifest world-class educational experiences together when we think beyond norms and are willing to be exceptional.
What are you most proud of accomplishing? Our 22-year-old son speaks up for others, takes risks that move him forward (such as cold calling the CEO of a company to land an internship), builds connections with people and responds to challenges. There was an “urgent” email request for volunteers that he received the first week of his new job, and he showed up at 6:30 a.m. to help. He called me that morning to tell me that he was inspired and because he now has a career, he wants to give back. I am proud that our son knows at this stage of his life what it has taken me so long to learn — we thrive when we invest ourselves in becoming fully who we are so that others can be their best selves as well.
How has ACSA supported you in your career/current position? Mary Berkey invited me to an ACSA meeting when I was an AP, and Joel Herrera encouraged me to become a member of the R8 leadership team 30 years ago. I engaged in many professional learning opportunities including the HR and Superintendent Academies, and am passionate about being a part of ACSA’s legislative advocacy. ACSA taught me how to advocate at the local and state level, and most importantly, how to build rapport with our legislators so that we can effect change that benefits kids.
How are you prioritizing mental health for yourself, your staff and/or your students? Mindful moments, starting meetings with a minute of silence to settle into the moment followed by a check-in and then a check-out at the end of the meeting. This alleviates stress that people might be carrying into the space.
Our Learning & Innovation team models and provides PD on restorative practices to expand our sense of connection to one another throughout the district. At the board’s direction in 2016, we worked to develop our own mental health program for students, which is now districtwide. Through partnerships such as Healthier Kids and Santa Clara County School Linked Services, our students and families have access to counseling outside of school. For our MUSD team members we expanded our Employee Assistance Program to include Care Solace, an online counseling connections service.
Being present with each other and ourselves is key.
2023 Superintendent of the Year Cheryl Jordan.
2023 Superintendent of the Year Cheryl Jordan.
2023 Superintendent of the Year Cheryl Jordan.