Superintendent of the Year

Oct. 30 2017

ACSA is honoring this year’s Administrator of the Year Award recipients, and each is being profiled in EdCal leading up to the formal awards gala at the 2017 Leadership Summit in San Jose.

Making a big ABC impact

It is true that school leaders positively impact many students. And the leaders with the largest impact are superintendents.

One of the best of these leaders is Superintendent Mary Sieu with ABC Unified School District. She came up through the leadership ranks within the district, finally attaining the superintendency in 2012. Since becoming superintendent, ABC has seen its graduation rate rise from 88.4 to 94.4 percent, with a corresponding decline in the dropout rate from 5.2 to 1.7 percent.

And, they’ve done this with a diverse student population. ABC has more than 93 percent of their students representing different ethnic groups with more than 45 languages. Around 51 percent come from low-income families.

The district has had 10 California Distinguished Schools, 13 California Gold Ribbon Schools, and three National Blue Ribbon Schools, among other honors. In CAASPP assessments for 2015-16, 64 percent of students met or exceeded standards set for ELA, with 53 percent doing the same in mathematics.

Sieu, ACSA’s 2017 Superintendent of the Year, said even though she started out in K-12 education, she actually thought she was going to end up in higher education as a career, after working with an engineering college in China. While completing her Ph.D. at UCLA, a guest speaker suggested she consider returning to K-12 after earning her doctorate.

“As I was doing the administrative internship program in ABC USD, I realized that my passion was still in the K-12 setting, where I had spent the first part of my career,” Sieu said. “I deeply enjoyed the dynamic relationships involved, the creative nature of this work, as well as the ability to resolve the challenges that are a part of being an administrator.”

Like so many ACSA members, Sieu said she draws inspiration from her students.

“With more than 31,000 preschool to adult school students, there is not a day when I visit the schools that I am not inspired by the work our students are able to accomplish,” she said. “I recognize the many challenges that our students come to us with. I’m inspired every day knowing that our students are overcoming these challenges to succeed regardless of their demographics.”

2017 ACSA Superintendent of the Year Dr. Mary Sieu

Sieu said the district has worked together as a team to support efforts, keeping the focus on elevating student achievement across the district in the 30 schools serving four major cities.

“Five of our five middle schools in the district have been honored and recognized as Schools to Watch/National Model Middle Schools,” she said. “Four of our four comprehensive high schools and half of our elementary schools are California Gold Ribbon Schools. The results of our work are also evident in the California School Dashboard.

“These accomplishments would not have been possible without the collaborative culture and systems that we’ve built with our staff, labor groups, students, parents and community partners. I remain ambitious and would like to continue our work collectively as we move forward. I would like to have every neighborhood school be the school of choice for the residents of that neighborhood.”

Sieu has invested in her ACSA membership over the past 20 years.

“I’ve had the fortune of serving on the Equity and Diversity Committee, Urban Education Committee, Women’s Leadership Network, and on the state ACSA Board of Directors,” she said. “It has provided me wonderful opportunities to network with educators from across the state when I presented workshops at the ACSA Leadership Summit, Superintendents’ Symposium or Women’s Leadership Forum. Prior to becoming superintendent, I attended the ACSA Superintendents’ Academy that helped prepare me for this extraordinary work. I deeply appreciate the work of ACSA Region 14, where I’m able to connect with my fellow superintendents on a monthly basis, as well as to continue the work of the Women’s Leadership Network that I started more than five years ago.”

Now with this honor, and it should also be noted she won the statewide Valuing Diversity Award in 2011,Sieu has a chance to reflect back on her career beginnings.

“As a daughter of an immigrant family from mainland China, I grew up in the back of a laundry in a storage room with my parents and four siblings. English was my second language,” she said. “I learned to love the world of school, where I was inspired every day by the teachers, administrators and students. Public education became the equalizer that allowed me to change my mindset for the future.

“My personal story represents many students today in my own district. The country and language may be different but our schools and staffs are aware of the limitations some of these students live with. Last year, thunderous applause rang out for a graduating Latino senior who had been homeless throughout his educational journey in ABC USD. He not only was selected for one of the highest honors at the high school that night, but he was an AP Scholar and also received a full scholarship at one of the top universities in California. It was obvious to me that the whole school team supported redefining what was possible for this young man. They were able to lead him beyond his limitations. They were able to see that ‘demographics do not determine destiny.’”

All ACSA Administrators of the Year will be honored at the President’s Gala and Awards Celebration during Leadership Summit in San Jose, Nov. 3. To register, go to

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