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Association of California School Administrators

Association of California School Administrators

Palmdale School District Chief Business Officer Frances Ufondu says she makes decisions knowing that they will affect the district now and the prosperity of the district well into the future.

Ufondu a ‘quiet fighter’ for students

CBO’s goal is to ensure budget does not constrain student learning

June 14, 2021
Name: Frances Ufondu Award: Business Services Administrator of the Year Title: Chief Business Officer, Palmdale School District ACSA highlights: Member since 2000; ACSA Certified Coach.
ACSA Administrators of the Year graphic.
Chief Business Officer Frances Ufondu knows that vision statements must be translated into action, and she has done just that in helping to fulfill a “promise” for her students.
As the fiscal steward for Palmdale School District, Ufondu has championed student needs while still balancing funding and cost projections in order to implement the Palmdale PROMISE, the district’s strategic plan.
With her years as a site leader and teacher to guide her, Ufondu has been deliberate in connecting funding to student outcomes. When there was a need for more parent communication, Ufondu created the position of Parent Community Liaisons under LCAP to provide a high level of service to families. Her careful planning of bond distributions has allowed the district to pursue a facilities master plan project that includes future learning environments, makerspaces and instructional technologies. During this time of distance learning, she has expertly used CARES Act funding to provide necessary safeguards for students.
As an ACSA-certified Leadership Coach, Ufondu encourages others to grow as leaders. She is described as a tireless, authentic and courageous leader who is willing to stand up when she feels services for students are compromised.
“Dr. Ufondu holds herself and her team accountable for ensuring students come first,” said Elena Esquer, assistant superintendent, Educational Services Department. “She inspires leadership, high expectations, and relentless passion amongst current and aspiring leaders through her example, her actions, and her service.”
What’s your favorite book or quote on leadership?
My favorite quote on leadership is by Simon Sinek: “People don’t buy what you do; they buy why you do it. And what you do simply proves what you believe.” I especially like his book “Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action.” My “why” is to ensure that budget is not a constraint to student learning and organization needs and my “how” is to: see the big picture, implement Palmdale School District Strategic Goals “The PROMISE,” collaborate with all stakeholders, explore alternatives, embrace new ideas, build relationships and a great school culture, move from a safe space to a brave space, and push the boundaries!
What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given? “Life is all about managing expectations — most of all your own,” and “Work hard. Stay humble.”
What’s your best strategy for work/life balance? Finding work-balance is about setting priorities and managing time. Our perceptions, attitudes and assumptions often shape the expectations we have for ourselves. Much of the stress about work-life balance is a result of tension with those we care about the most. Talking about the issue and being open to finding solutions helped lessen the stress at this time in my life. Thanks to Eric, my husband of 31 years, for his support and my beloved children. My strategy for work-life balance includes: building time for myself and family, identifying a mentor and talking with a coach or a friend, making boundaries clear, paying attention to my health, getting enough sleep, and delegating some duties. At this level in my career, I sometimes try to do everything or respond to every request, but I have realized that I have directors in my five departments who can do most of the work and do it even better. I am now comfortable empowering others, building their leadership capacity and expanding the capability of my team members.
What are some life hacks that you would recommend for a new administrator? Don’t forget to laugh out loud, smell the roses and remember, your Google calendar is your best companion!
What would people be surprised to learn about you? I am a co-founder and an editor for an educator magazine “Education Leadership Africa (EL Africa).” The digital magazine is for educational leaders in Sub-Saharan Africa and it covers relevant information that takes a global approach to education in the 21st century.
What made you want to become a school administrator? My mother was a teacher and I started as a classroom teacher, too. After several years in the classroom, I decided to affect more change by expanding my circle of influence. I have very high expectations of the service level desired to make our students successful in the classroom. As John Hattie said, “There is a major role for school leaders and also a major role for the system. System change is crucial in creating a forward momentum to help support students and improve learning.” I wanted to be a part of a bigger purpose and I don’t just think of the now. Sometimes it is hard to do, but I make decisions understanding that it doesn’t just affect the now, but the prosperity of the district in the long run. I see myself as a quiet fighter for the students.
What’s the biggest challenge you’ve overcome to get where you are? Navigating the stereotype of being a woman of color and working 200 percent more to get where I am today.
What are you proudest of accomplishing? Raising my four daughters and a son and the services we have provided to students at Palmdale School District through our “PROMISE” strategic goals.
How has ACSA supported you in your career/current position? As an administrator you face a lot of challenges, and ACSA is always there to support, groom and guide you along the way. ACSA helped me evolve as a leader and I am a strong supporter and often credit ACSA for my critical information and skills learning. I have taken numerous ACSA Academies through my career including Curriculum and Instruction, LCAP and Business Services/Chief Business Officer Academy. The professional development, networking and region support is outstanding. The conferences are also uplifting and refreshing because we cannot do the work alone, it takes a team.
What has the impact of the COVID-19 worldwide health crisis taught you/how has it inspired you as an educator? Leading through uncertainty can be daunting; there were no easy solutions, and often no clear path to follow since we received information from different agencies. How do we lead when we can’t predict what’s going to happen next? As the coronavirus spread, our focus was on the safety of staff and students. Our immediate challenges were maintaining student nutrition services, access to instructional resources for learning, effective communication with stakeholders and critical services for student well-being. We did not have a handbook or playbook to manage such complex challenges, so we used adaptive leadership. We adapted quickly to rapidly changing situations and drew on different available team skills while focusing on key priorities and attending to urgent demands. What we witnessed in our district and schools across the world is the value of creating different designs for learning.
Palmdale School District Chief Business Officer Frances Ufondu, center.
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