Scott Bailey won the unanimous approval of the Desert Sands Unified School Board of Education to become superintendent of the largest school district in the Coachella Valley.
The massive district covers 750 square miles and serves 29,000 Coachella Valley students.
The year was 2017. Bailey began duties April 3 taking over for Kathleen Felci. She had served as interim superintendent since Jan. 01, 2017 following Gary Rutherford’s retirement as superintendent.
In less than two years, he has developed a high profile in classrooms, in the district, in the Coachella Valley, and in local coffee shops.
People who know him and work with him describe him as approachable, engaging, entertaining, and intelligent. They also say he has a 1,000-watt smile and an effervescent aura.
Bailey agreed to a Q&A with Uken Report. The unedited transcript follows.
Uken Report (UR): You have led DSUSD for nearly two years now. What has been the biggest surprise for you in your role?
Bailey: Without a doubt, the people remain a pleasant surprise. I constantly brag about the desert’s great climate. Our unparalleled weather is something to boast about, especially during the winter months, yet, there is another climate we can brag about; the people. Since my wife and I relocated to the valley in 2017, we have been greeted with warmth, kindness, and genuine community concern for our valley’s youth. This is the type of climate we strive to nurture and celebrate in the Desert Sands Unified School District family.
UR: What is your single biggest accomplishment since becoming superintendent?
Bailey: Any accomplishment that I can claim is the direct result of a talented staff and a visionary school board. If I had to choose one of many accomplishments to highlight, I would celebrate our innovative initiative to build our own LTE network. Thanks to an innovative public-private partnership, we will soon offer a filtered Wi-Fi connection throughout the district’s 752 square mile attendance zone. Through the lens of equity and access, students who traditionally may not have access to internet connectivity in their household are afforded a hot spot, through which they can connect to the district’s network. This initiative will help us close the digital divide and enhance learning opportunities for all students.
UR: How often do you get out into the schools and into the classrooms?
Bailey: We serve 29,000 students, which gives me 29,000 reasons to be in the schools as much as possible. I try to get into schools and classrooms on a weekly basis since that is where the direct interaction with students takes place. As a superintendent, I believe that the superintendent and cabinet members need to be fully in touch with what is happening in schools and classrooms, as we are often charged with making difficult decisions that affect school and classroom operations. In the past four months of the current school year, I have conducted approximately 70 school site visits and countless walk-throughs. Being in the classroom is always the best part of my day.
UR: Why did you start Bailey & Coffee?
Bailey: In April 2017, nearly 2,500 stakeholders participated in a district-wide survey. Coupled with focus-group dialogue, the thoughts shared by stakeholders were turned into action via the Superintendent Action Plan. The Action Plan includes innovative staff and community engagement initiatives. Bailey & Coffee responds to a need for improved two-way communication with stakeholders. Bailey & Coffee is not only a catchy title, but also an opportunity for students, staff, parents and community to engage in casual conversations about education-related affairs with the superintendent, cabinet members, and board members. It is a trifecta of benefit, as stakeholders, coffee shop owners/managers, and district personnel all benefit.
UR: What have you learned from those coffees that you did not know before or that helped you make a decision or start a project/program?
Bailey: What has been pleasantly surprising is the amount of positive feedback that we receive from the community. Positive feedback validates the effort of our dedicated certificated and classified staff. The events have grown to include elected officials from the respective cities that we serve. In the comfortable atmosphere of a coffee shop, we have casual conversations about district strengths and opportunities for improvement. One of the most memorable interactions was with a middle school student and her parent. That initial conversation led to a district-wide student campaign to collect backpacks and supplies for earthquake victims. One family, the Farias family, has attended all eight Bailey & Coffee events since the inaugural event in September 2017. They have also been the recipient of the signature coffee mug on more than one occasion.
UR: What is the biggest challenge facing DSUSD students, teachers and parents?
Bailey: Without doubt, addressing unlimited needs with limited resources is a daunting challenge.
UR: We recently became aware of how many homeless students there are in the Coachella Valley. How many homeless students are in DSUSD and what is being done specifically to help them?
Bailey: There are over 600 students identified as homeless in the district. To address the whole child, we provide counseling and attendance support to identified families, immediate enrollment, mentoring, basic needs support, assistance in locating housing, transportation, networking with community agencies, Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) completion assistance, etc. We additionally provide professional development to district staff to increase awareness and to better support the individual needs of all students.
UR: How would you describe yourself?
Bailey: Tempered tenacity
UR: What is your No. 1 goal for this school year?
Bailey: An overarching goal is to continue to polish the district’s reputation as the gold standard in the Coachella Valley. I would like us to be recognized as the Ritz Carlton of public education.
UR: Your Not-So-Undercover Sup videos were wildly popular. Can students, parents, and teachers expect another one soon?
Bailey: We have been pleasantly surprised about the national attention these episodes have received. What started as a simple ambition to celebrate employees has evolved into a partnership with DIGICOM Learning and Indio High School’s Institute of Media Production Arts and Creative Technology (IMPACT) career pathway students. Yes, over the next few weekends we plan to film Not So Undercover Sup, The Security Edition. The IMPACT students have already informed me that I will be doing my own stunts.
UR: Who is your role model and why?
Bailey: My late father was no doubt a positive role model. Although he was not afforded the higher education opportunity himself, he supported me in leaving the family farm as a first generation college student, and consistently modeled strong character. He was a great man. In his honor, my family provides a scholarship to the Desert Sands FFA president each year. Yet another role model is Daniel Wade, who worked his way from hotel valet all the way to Vice Chairman of the Board for MGM Mirage. Over the many years of our relationship, he has modeled selflessness, acceptance, and support in all my endeavors. If I needed to phone a friend, I would call Danny.
UR: What makes you laugh out-loud?
Bailey: Practical jokes. I prefer to be the “prankster” as opposed to the “one who’s been pranked,” however.
About Scott Bailey
Prior to taking the helm in DSUSD, Bailey served in various teaching and administrative roles in districts ranging in size from 9,000 to 314,000 students. His career in education spans nearly 29 years, and includes teaching experience in Joplin, Mo.’s R8 School District, teaching and school administrator experience in Las Vegas, Ne.’s Clark County School District, and school and central office administrative experience in Reno, Nev.’s Washoe County School District.
Throughout his career, Bailey earned the distinction of Las Vegas Asian Chamber of Commerce Educator of the Year, and received numerous senatorial, gubernatorial, and congressional recognitions. In 2010, Scott was appointed to the Baldrige Board of Examiners by the U.S. Secretary of Commerce.
A life-long learner, Bailey has taught graduate level courses for Nova Southeastern University, and spent several years learning corporate structures as a part-time cast member at the MGM Grand Las Vegas.
Bailey s certified as a Six Sigma Green Belt by the Institute of Industrial Engineers, and holds four FEMA certificates in emergency response. He has a proven track record of successfully embedding these “outside the box” experiences into various school improvement initiatives.
He is passionate about continuous improvement, enjoys engaging in global professional learning networks, and serves on numerous local and national boards, including JFK Memorial Foundation/Ophelia Project, United Way of the Desert, and Desert Forum. His quotable quote, “We need to teach students the way they want to learn, not necessarily how we were taught.”
You can follow him on Twitter @scaughtsb.