Remarks by Dr. Joseph I. Castro - December 8, 2021

Fresno County Office of Education, Leadership Program Convening
Brief Remarks (as prepared)
Chancellor Joseph I. Castro
December 8, 2021

Thank you, Dr. Gutierrez, and good morning to all of you! It's truly an honor to be your guest today. I am among my people this morning! Folks who are passionate about educational leadership, and who care deeply about our shared mission to transform lives, families and communities through the power of education – especially in the Central Valley, a place that will forever feel like home to me.  

This morning, I look forward to sharing a few thoughts on leadership before spending some time in dialogue with you. But first, I want to you to know how much I appreciate the extraordinary work you do, whether it's taking a leadership role in diversifying the Valley's teaching workforce, your vital and effective advocacy for early childhood literacy, for championing much-needed and critically important mental and emotional healthcare for your students, for ensuring that they are A-through-G eligible, and for inspiring and equipping so many Valley students to continue their personal and academic journeys at Fresno State and beyond. Please accept my heartfelt thanks for this consequential work.

And I would also like to take a moment to recognize Director of Health Services, Alma McKenry, who was recently named Fresno County's Administrator of the Year. Well done, Alma. Congratulations!

I understand that today's meeting is part of an extended exploration of leadership that Dr. Gutierrez has led through the past nine months or so. I am so pleased to hear that. As we emerge from the challenges of the pandemic and the concurrent socioeconomic issues that have so deeply divided our nation, we need bold, principled and compassionate leaders like never before.

We need leaders like John Gardner.

I had the good fortune of having Dr. Gardner as a mentor when I was completing my doctoral work at Stanford. He was a truly remarkable man and a powerful voice for social reform, having served as secretary of the Department of Health, Education and Welfare under LBJ. He helped form so many social programs that we are all familiar with today. Medicare, PBS, the Senior Corps and the National Head Start program are just a few examples.

Dr. Gardner was also the author of “On Leadership," a book that is a personal favorite and one that I re-read on an annual basis. It's filled with wisdom and insight, but to me it can be distilled to his unwavering belief that leadership – at its core – is about advancing a vision and inspiring others to follow and helping them see themselves as part of something bigger.

In our profession, we're lucky. As I mentioned earlier, our mission is to transform lives, families and communities through the power of education. Our core values include inclusive academic excellence, equity in all its dimensions, social mobility and the relentless pursuit of truth, understanding and growth. With a mission and values this consequential, this worthy, people are drawn in. They want to be a part of it.

As leaders, it's our role to embody these ideals – to live them out every day, especially when we face our most challenging leadership situations. That's why – when I face my most difficult or controversial decisions, I avoid whenever possible making them in the moment. Instead, I take time to reflect on the CSU's mission, our core values and my personal ethics. And when I do that, I find that the noise around an issue tends to quiet – and its fundamental essence, and the correct path forward, become clear. Unfortunately, it's often not the easy path. But knowing that your approach will advance your organization's mission and is consistent with your personal ethics, you can move forward – even on a difficult path – with a sense of calm, clarity and confidence.

I'd like to leave you with one more thought on leadership. Never stop listening. Never stop learning. Be proactive in seeking out alternative ideas and diverse perspectives. And above all, avoid what I call the “leadership trap."

The leadership trap is complacency. Self-satisfaction. The belief that you have it all figured out – and it will mark the end of your growth as a leader.

Perhaps this sounds a bit obvious, but it is very real, and I have seen more than a few great leaders fall prey to it. 

So I urge you to be vigilant. Be intentional. Be proactive about seeking out and engaging with others and authentically listening to their viewpoints, even when – and perhaps, especially when – those viewpoints are in opposition to your own. Almost invariably, you'll find some nugget, some practice, that you can adopt and incorporate to strengthen your own work.

And it's in that spirit that I will close my remarks so that we can spend the rest of our time together in discussion. I am happy to answer any questions you have. But I also invite you to share some of your favorite leadership lessons, or perhaps some of the challenges you've faced and overcome through the pandemic – I welcome the opportunity to learn from you.

Dr. Gutierrez, will you please moderate the discussion?