Dr. Sandra Lyon:Superintendent of PSUSD

As noted in previous publications, we believe that some of the finest schools in the valley are right here in Desert Hot Springs. I have had the honor of interacting on a majority of our campuses and it’s amazing to see educators who not only love to teach, but love the communities they teach in. It’s a well-known fact that a great culture within an organization begins at the top, and this week, we have the privilege of speaking with Sandra Lyon, the superintendent of Palm Springs Unified School District. Although I am a product of Palm Springs Unified, I attended schools (high and middle) on the ‘other side’ of the freeway. In the early to mid 90’s, many of us DHS residents were bussed to Palm Springs Schools, and unfortunately, that bussing often times had a negative stigma attached to it. Shortly after I graduated from Palm Springs High, Desert Hot Springs High welcomed its first class, and although we have an amazing High School, the perception hasn’t always been positive.

I met Dr. Lyon in a meeting that was geared toward discovering ways the school district (PSUSD) could see more participation from DHS parents and communities, while creating an avenue for those parents to interact and address concerns directly with the district. As I shared my thoughts with her, I found her to be not only attentive, but passionate about ensuring that the innovative services being offered by PSUSD were being taken advantage of by the parents and students here in DHS.

Shown here awarding one of our DHS High Grads a scholarship!

Being a DHS native, we’ve historically felt disconnected from PSUSD. That has changed lately, why do you think that is?

“There are probably a lot of reasons for this, but I hope it’s partially because we have been very intentional in our efforts to make sure all of DHS feels they are an essential part of the PSUSD community. I heard about the disconnect when I first arrived in PSUSD and have been determined that it is something we overcome. I think using our social media platforms to broadcast all of the good things happening in DHS, making sure we attend events regularly in DHS, working with our elected and city officials in DHS, our community partners, just trying to be present in the community, meeting with leaders like yourself, all of these things help us be connected and, I think, makes the community feel more a part of us. We still have work to do, but I am really excited about the relationships that have been built and the connections that have been made. Our Board of Education, although elected in trustee areas, truly holds the belief that all Board members represent the entire district, and they definitely attend events in DHS as frequently as in any other community.”

What measures have you taken as the superintendent to bridge DHS schools to the rest of the district?

“Not all of these are things I have done as a superintendent, per se, but they are examples of how we are making sure our work in DHS is equitable and aligned to our district goals. For example, as a district, we have tried to tighten up the things that we think are essential for all schools and make sure our DHS schools are just as involved. We have a consistent approach to how we deliver English language arts and mathematics in PSUSD in our elementary schools and that is true no matter where the school is located. This year we are launching a middle school initiative and our two DHS middle schools will be working with our other three middle schools on making sure we are implementing research-based, best practices to improve middle school achievement. We have expanded our Desert Learning Academy offerings to our Ed Wenzlaff Education Center, we have a Family Engagement Center located at the EWEC and we hold two board meetings at our DHSHS campus. This year we held part of redesignation ceremony (when our English learner students are reclassified as having fluent English proficiency) in DHS so families in DHS could more easily attend the ceremony. We flip-flop meetings of our African American Parent Advisory Council between our DHS Family Engagement Center and the District Office to provide more equitable access. We are always looking for opportunities to make sure we are reaching out and connecting with our DHS communities.”

I’ve seen you in support of DHS school events, what improvements have you seen?

“We still have a lot of work to do as a district, and I truly do believe we are the district that will demonstrate that demographics do not dictate destiny. We continue to work to ensure that our students in each of our communities have what they need to have every option in life open to them. We will continue to work with our DHS families, community members and community leaders to provide the best quality education we can and I welcome ideas and support as we continue to improve.”

I have spotlighted principal Gasciogne (Cabot Xerxa), principal Cota, and have a working relationship with principal Arseo (Bella Vista),I have found them to be amongst the best principals in the valley, would you agree?

“I am just so impressed with all that our DHS schools are doing. Principal Cota has done a fabulous job this year of working to improve school climate and student spirit at DHSHS and I think that was evident at the high school football games, for example. I think all of our DHS principals are working to expand their relationships with the community; from soccer events to career days, our principals are doing a lot to make sure that their school events are well attended and that they are in the community supporting other local events as well.”

“Principals Gascoigne, Cota and Arseo, are indeed fabulous principals! And I would say all of our principals are amongst the best in the valley. I tell our principals all the time how very fortunate I am to work with such an exceptional team. They have high expectations for all of our students, believe in supporting the social-emotional side of our students, and have a “whatever it takes” mentality when it comes to meeting our student needs. The same can be said of our teachers and support staff as well. We are truly fortunate to have such great people in PSUSD who care so much about children and their community.”

Thank you Dr. Lyon!!!

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