Lakeside Union School District welcomes a new superintendant

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Meet Dr. Andy Johnsen, the newly appointed Superintendent of the Lakeside Unified School District. Except, you may have already have met him; Johnsen has been doing the job on an interim basis for months now.

Meet Dr. Andy Johnsen, the newly appointed Superintendent of the Lakeside Unified School District. Except, you may have already have met him; Johnsen has been doing the job on an interim basis for months now.

Johnsen hails from Los Angeles, born, raised and schooled there. He married and started his career teaching there as well. He became a principal and then director of the charter schools division for the Los Angeles Unified School District. As his family grew, Johnsen looked around for better housing and, finding nothing he cared for in L.A., discovered Poway and moved his family there in 2007. 

Johnsen secured a principalship and spent eight years in the Poway school district. In 2015, as he was evaluating his next career step, Johnsen’s search focused on Lakeside, through friends involved with the language immersion world (he was principal of a similar school in Poway). Finding the assistant superintendent position was open, Johnsen applied for the job and got it.

Moving from a “super-sized” school district in Los Angeles to Poway with its 33,000 students was, as Johnsen noted, “like moving to Kansas.” The Lakeside school district was smaller still and, as such, could have been a little difficult for a newcomer to break into – but Johnsen found the community welcoming. 

“I just loved it,” he said, “the district is great. The people here (in Lakeside) have been here forever and it’s a very tight family and a tight knit group. They were super, super welcoming to me.

“What I love about it is that you can know everybody here. You feel like you can get your arms around the work. We’re moving forward and getting our work done as a team – which I really like.”

After three years with the LUSD, Johnsen no longer feels like a newcomer. He brings a comfortable familiarity to his new job and a vision based on personal experience in the district. Coincidently, the Board of Trustees has asked Johnsen to revisit the district’s official vision, so Johnsen has gathered his stakeholders to seek input. 

“The first question we’re going to ask is, since the kids going through our system now will graduate in the 2020’s and 2030’s, what will the world be like then and what are we doing now to help them prepare for that?”

Johnsen believes the answer may lie in the district’s three signature programs: language, arts and science.

The first program is arguably the district’s most well known. 

“Our immersion program for Spanish and Mandarin is huge and we need to continue to bolster that,” Johnsen said.

Secondly, the district has a very strong performing arts program in the middle schools, with Lakeside Middle School being thought of as the flagship, he said. 

“I’ve been encouraged and pleased that our Board of Trustees, for all these years, that whatever else may need to go, have continued to sustain the arts,” said Johnsen. 

In budget crunch times, the arts are often one of the first programs cut from the curriculum. Johnsen said he believes that experience in the arts is important.

 “It’s just an awesome way for kids to develop a different side of themselves that they don’t often do,” Johnsen said. “When I sit in an auditorium full of parents and watch a 13-year-old standing on the stage, in a spotlight, doing a solo – it’s just amazing, the poise and confidence they have.” 

The third signature program is their “next generation” science standards. 

“If I have a vision, it’s to continue strengthening those things,” he said.

Johnsen explained further: “Whichever way that kids want to go in life, they are going to need to be critical thinkers, they are going to need to be adaptable, they are going to need to be good communicators – these are the kinds of things we are trying to build into our day-to-day instruction.”

Every district has its specific challenges. Johnsen sees some of his most challenging issues coming from the state level and the ongoing budget problems.

“Our revenue is not keeping pace with the costs that we have,” he said. “But we have a lot of creativity and innovation in our district. We’re always trying to figure out how to get a dollar’s worth of impact out of fifty cents.”

School safety is also a challenge, one carried in the daily headlines and on the minds of parents and students across the country.  Every school site and district department has a safety plan, which is required by law. In light of current events, LUSD is working with the Sheriff’s Department and Lakeside Fire to review those plans and update them if and where necessary. This will involve site checks to evaluate security to identify possible weaknesses and improvements that might be needed. Staff will continue to receive training for active shooter events and threat assessments.

“We have protocols and policies in place to deal with threat assessment,” he said. “We have trained personnel on every single school site to do threat assessment. They work closely with the Sheriff’s Department when it’s considered more serious. We have Board policy and education codes to apply for discipline if we have students who are going to make threats. The Sheriff’s Department is very responsive and they are really good partners.”

Lakeside is a unique community in a lot of ways. Lakeside parents are very proud of their schools and their district. They, too, are hands-on and they pay attention. Johnsen said he knows this from personal experience and embraces it. “That’s one of the things that makes our district so strong – there’s so much community support.”

Johnsen said he considers himself very hands-on as well. He is already a regular sight in the community, but more even so on his school campuses – “That’s where I love to spend my time,” he said.

 “We really appreciate the support we’ve always felt from our community,” said Johnsen. “I want folks to know it’s my firm belief that the public schools belong to the public, so we’re here to serve the families and our kids. We also recognize the center of our entire system is the classroom – that’s the whole reason we’re here – so everything we do is to support a student’s good quality day-to-day instruction in the classroom. We do see ourselves as a real integral part of the community.”

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