Q&A:  Scott Harden. Building a PUSD for the Future

Scott Harden is currently running unopposed for a seat on the PUSD School Board, District 4.

5 mins read
Scott Harden wearing a suit and tie
PUSD Board of Directors Area 4 candidate Scott Harden. Photo: Campaign
This entry is part 2 of 5 in the series 2024 General Election Candidates

Harden spoke with us about his strategic and programmatic plans for the future. 

Q – What are the issues that are important to you?

A – Part of the reason I’m running is because we need to look at culture and climate across the district and talk about the big issues we face right now. The Board needs to laser focus on desired student outcomes, short and long-term, measurable outcomes so we don’t get off in the weeds and start prioritizing things that don’t matter.

We’re coming into some really concerning years when it comes to budget deficits, and we’ll have to make some tough choices.

The district is awash in innovation, which is good. I think there’s been a lot of positive development over the years in terms of signature programs that reach out to marginalized students. But we now need to look at those and ask which of those are really moving the needle? When and what needles do we want them to move?

“There’s a lot of ‘I’ rather than ‘we’ on the Board today.”

Scott Harden

There’s a lot of ‘I’ rather than ‘we’ on the Board today. There used to be a better energy. That doesn’t mean that everybody has to agree with each other. Elected officers are people representing their constituents. It’s more about whether we can understand each other. Do we understand each other’s viewpoints? With understanding, we can build consensus around a core package of things that really matter.

I have a skill set for that. I led the district’s strategic planning process last year, which is a five-year plan, but I think we need to think beyond five years. We need to think about the next 10 to 20 years. What kind of district do we want? What are we designing towards? Then, we can make decisions operationally, strategically, structurally, and programmatically to educate a generation of students. Communications-wise and linguistically, how do we reach out to families? How do we make sure that their children can succeed in whatever programs they choose?

Q – How can the Board come together and focus on the budgetary issues?

A – The way we fund education at the state level is always in boom or bust cycles. Part of the challenge is that we are a declining enrollment district. We can do a lot to slow that down over the long term, but we have fewer students in the community.

Pasadena is becoming so increasingly unaffordable. It’s really tough, and the school district bears the brunt of that, even if we have great programs and structures. Less than half the students that live in this district go to the public schools. We have over 50 private, independent schools in the community. Private schools are suffering, too. I never begrudge people for making the choices that are right for their students. But the reality is that we share a finite number of students with many other interests.

One of the most effective programs is Transitional Kindergarten, an early childhood education program. Families get involved in PUSD really early, and that will help over the long term. But it’s not going to end the problem. We have to get real, and that means we have to build a district for the future.

Q – How can PUSD do a better job engaging families in the process, and does it involve multiple languages and PTSA?

A – I love this question because I’m a dyed-in-the-wool PTSA leader. I’ve been involved in the PTSA for more than 12 years, serving at all levels. Yes, the PTSA can be helpful, and multilingual support is always welcome.

It is a step in the right direction of creating welcoming environments and a district of empathy. The hard part is having the resources to do it. But we can always advocate for that.

Family engagement means different things to different folks. We need to talk about an equitable engagement strategy. PUSD has made strides to improve how it communicates. But there’s a long way to go. It’s not what the district office does; it is what school sites do within programs within school sites.

PTSA leadership has to reflect the school community. Their national strategy has been pretty effective over the years, and they offer National Standards for equitable family engagement, creating norms of belonging, effective communication strategies for two-way communication and student success and making a concerted effort to share power.

I’m the vice president of family engagement at First District PTSA, the regional body that oversees over 200 PTSAs from Burbank to Covina. One of my responsibilities is bringing this family engagement training program to districts and trying to get families involved in PUSD. Otherwise, you’re relying on district resources.

So, effective training is a huge piece of this. I’m going to be relentlessly in the community, looking at how to communicate and engage families and communities.

Q – Can you talk about fiscal management and opening and closing schools?

A – That’s always the question people ask. It gets back to the long-term vision because we’re going to have some pretty persistent challenges in terms of the number of students that each site serves. I am very mindful of the disruption that closing schools causes families and students. It can have the unintended effect of driving families out of the district, which we’re trying to prevent. So it can create its own spiral.

“I am very mindful of the disruption that closing schools causes families and students. It can have the unintended effect of driving families out of the district…” 

Scott Harden

State Bill 1912 provides harder, tougher benchmarks for districts to ensure that equity and community voices are considered when closing schools. It should be hard to close a school. If we’re going to get into the business of closing schools, I think we owe the public to think about the long-term future of the district.

Let’s design for opportunity. Let’s design for a sustainable future. Let’s avoid deficit thinking in favor of an appreciative mindset.  If a family’s going to have to leave a school because it closed, what is the opportunity we’re moving towards? Can you sell that feature to the public? You’re selling opportunity.

What can we provide for families? If we can use our money more effectively, show that and not just say, oh, we’ve got to close because we can’t afford it. Look at those schools and look at the opportunities that we provide. It’s not a question of which school closed but about designing for the future and setting targets for that. Then, the question of which schools we should close (if we even need to) becomes clearer because we’re basing that whole decision on opportunity. That is what it takes for PUSD to achieve the future.

Q – How is Pasadena City College part of PUSD’s future?

A – Dual college enrollment is one of those programs that definitely is effective. We’re seeing the transition from advanced placement classes to dual college enrollment because it’s a money saver. Students who enroll in college classes get accelerated experiences. It saves them time in college and expenses.

Any ‘leg up’ you can get, especially for families on limited incomes, is really a positive thing. We’re really excited about these programs.

Q – What do you want the electorate to know about you?

A – I’ve been a small business entrepreneur my whole life. I serve as a strategic thinker. I work with organizations large and small. I specialize in designing strategic plans and helping companies and organizations to be more innovative in their long-term planning. This involves fiscal strategy to achieve initiatives.

The real strength for the community is I am a perfect blend of qualitative and quantitative. I’m an ethnographer. What that means is I’m really able to understand the root causes of issues. When something is happening, I synthesize it and use that to really build consensus among disparate mindsets to set goals and success targets.

The Board really needs to do that. We have quantitative people, money people, and people with other skill sets. What we need on the Board is somebody who can pull frameworks and strategies together to design the future and strategically plan how we’re going to make big things happen. Once people understand what I do and how I do it, they’ll see the benefit of electing me because I add something to the Board.

My vision for the district in the long term is to make strides in creating programs and improving outcomes. PUSD has the potential to become a signature district for belonging. The district can be the place where we really integrate our community and come together. We can focus on creating safe, welcoming spaces, programs, and solutions that really help honor the individuality of students, cultures and identities. That’s something that we can hang our hat on.

Series Navigation<< Q&A: Sasha Renée Pérez. Looking At and Beyond the ImmediateQ&A: Alex Balekian. From Glendale Physician to Fox News Regular Guest >>
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Sheryl Turner

Sheryl is Local News Pasadena's Publisher and Pasadena Media Foundation's Founder. When not saving local news, she devotes her spare time to finding the best meatloaf in town.
Email: [email protected]

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