ACSA’s Marcus Foster Memorial Award winner Raul Maldonado is often found at his school sites, visiting classrooms and talking to parents about the Palmdale PROMISE.
Maldonado ensures all students reach their promise
November 1, 2021
Name: Raul Maldonado Award: Marcus Foster Memorial Award for Administrator Excellence Title: Superintendent of Schools, Palmdale School District
When Superintendent Raul Maldonado heard his parents wanted opportunities for their children to perform, he created a mariachi program. When the process of working with the city to get free wi-fi to his students was moving a bit too slow, he worked with the district’s transportation department to deliver wi-fi on school buses.
“Raul is an out-of-the-box thinker and his enthusiasm propels us forward, whether we really want to go or not!” said Deputy Superintendent Stacy L. Bryant.
Maldonado’s enthusiasm, responsiveness to the community and his willingness to do the work have made him a deserving recipient of ACSA’s 2021 Marcus Foster Memorial Award for Administrator Excellence.
The son of a migrant farmworker who picked apples in Idaho, Maldonado became a teacher at the urging of counselors and others who said he was good at helping people.
When he advanced to administration, he had the honor of being superintendent at McFarland USD. There, he met the school’s famed track coach Jim White, who was featured in the Disney film “McFarland, USA.”
“The movie is really about the heart. Why we do things,” he said. “[Coach White] said he remembers a lot about what he did, but the most important thing was knowing that students became something in life.”
That idea stayed with Maldonado when he returned home to Palmdale USD as superintendent in 2014. He wanted a strategic plan that was more than words written during a weekend retreat — he wanted a plan that was connected to the classroom, a plan that had “the end in mind.”
What developed over the course of eight months of work with many different stakeholders was the Palmdale PROMISE/La Promesa. It’s a set of five strategic goals supported by 178 action items, but it’s also the hopes and dreams this mostly Latino community has for its children.
“We carry it everywhere,” Maldonado says, showing the PROMISE pin on his lapel. “If you want to work for us, we’re about the Palmdale PROMISE. Parents say, ‘I work for the Palmdale PROMISE.’”
The PROMISE has led to a facilities bond measure that renovated facilities at school sites that had witnessed neglect for years. It also guided changes to better support students’ transition to high school, like extended school days and moving sixth grade to middle school.
From face masks and Zoom backgrounds to bumper stickers and posters in local businesses, the Palmdale PROMISE reaches far into the community. There’s even a “Palmdale PROMISE” radio show that has recently debuted, complete with its own theme song.
While he said it is good marketing, Maldonado has ensured that his customers, the kids, remain the focus.
One of the most important actions in the PROMISE is student voice. Maldonado envisioned student voice culminating in a student school board member position. Although they cannot vote, their opinions matter. Last year, one of the student board members asked for more and better lunch options. The next meeting included samples of different foods that ultimately became part of the menu.
“Raul believes when we ask our students what they think we must put actions behind our words,” Bryant said.
Maldonado also believes in asking parents how to improve schools, which he does during Superintendent’s Breakfast events. He visits his school sites often (“I want to feel it, I want to see it.”) and is ever-present in the community, singing the district’s praises at chamber meetings or while riding his horse in community parades.
With support of his teachers, staff, board and parents, the district has developed an impressive list of rigorous and exciting programs for the TK-8 district, including two dual immersion programs, a film school (in collaboration with actor Edward James Olmos), STEM courses, IB and the aforementioned mariachi program.
Maldonado not only made sure there was a mariachi band, he hired accomplished female mariachi Stacy Lopez to be the instructor. He was also the first one recruiting students to join the program that today boasts six in-demand mariachi groups that are invited to play at various events around town.
“I’m willing to do the work,” he said. “I’ve got to be the first one, that cheerleader that comes in and says, you guys, we can do this!”
Maldonado’s determination was dealt a setback in February when he and members of his family contracted COVID-19. He is thankful to his family for helping him recover and for the support of his cabinet to continue the work of serving students during distance learning.
“Going though that experience, I don’t wish it on anybody,” he said. “Now that I’m back, as I tell people, I’m back 110 percent. Not just 100, because that’s my new sense of renewal and energy to come back and do this work.”
Maldonado said there is plenty more work to be done to continue the Palmdale PROMISE for students in grades 9-12 and beyond.
“I want them to come back and take my job, become the next doctor, police officer, lawyer, business owner,” he said. “That’s usually my message to the community and the kids.”
2021 Marcus Foster Memorial Award winner Raul Maldonado.
2021 Marcus Foster Memorial Award winner Raul Maldonado.
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