For the past two years, as the president of the Vallejo City Unified School district board, John Fox was one of Adam Clark’s bosses.

But that situation will soon be reversed, as Clark — after three years as that district’s superintendent — will take the reins as head of the Concord-based Mount Diablo Unified School District.

Fox said Mount Diablo made a good hire.

“Adam is approachable, trustworthy, a relationship person who wants to hear other voices,” said Fox, a third-grade teacher at Delta View Elementary School in Pittsburg, part of the Mt. Diablo district. Fox will now be working for Clark, who was formally hired this past week as the new MDUSD superintendent.

And he’ll jump right in helping Mt. Diablo’s schools roll out as robust a “distance learning” program as possible, in light of increasingly restrictive county health orders related to COVID-19.

His final official duty in Vallejo, he said, was helping roll out distance-learning plans in that district. His work leading a quick pivot from a hybrid distance-classroom model to 100 percent distance learning as health orders changed should dovetail with Mount Diablo’s efforts.

“I know there are similar goals in Mount Diablo,” Clark said Wednesday. “I know staff is kicking it into high gear as to what that is going to look like.”

Clark, a native of Berkeley, has also been an associate superintendent with the Antioch Unified School District and an administrator in the West Contra Costa Unified, Acalanes and Liberty Union High School districts. He started his career as a teacher in West Contra Costa.

An enthusiastic appointment

At the July 13 Mt. Diablo board meeting, the trustees appeared almost giddy about Clark’s hiring. Board member Debra Mason made the motion to approve the hiring of “the fabulous Dr. Clark,” and fellow trustee Cherise Khaund said, “We’re all very excited.”

And when the 5-0 vote to approve his hiring was taken, board member Joanne Durkee said, “Yes, absolutely yes.”

Brian Lawrence, president of the MDUSD board of trustees, said Clark is indeed empathetic and charismatic, “but he knows how to set clear expectations, and he’s willing to make hard choices.”

The district was forced to look for a new superintendent after firing Robert Martinez in late May. Martinez was assistant superintendent of the Fairfield-Suisun Unified School District when Mt. Diablo hired him in July 2019.

Lawrence would not say why Martinez was fired. But he said that after Martinez was dismissed, the board sought “a sitting superintendent in the Bay Area who was already familiar with Mt. Diablo so they could hit the ground running.”

Clark was an attractive candidate for several reasons, Lawrence said, including his history as an educator and administrator in Contra Costa County. He had experience at every level, from teacher to superintendent.

And while the Mount Diablo district is much larger, with its 43 schools in Concord, Pleasant Hill, Clayton, Walnut Creek, Bay Point, Martinez and Pittsburg and their 30,000 K-12 students and 20,000 adult education students, compared to the Vallejo district’s 23 schools and 11,000 students, Lawrence said the two districts are similar in their diversity.

“He understands public school finance, and he certainly understands the challenges there,” Lawrence said.

Ready to tackle finances, enrollment decline

Clark said Wednesday that addressing Mt. Diablo’s financial situation, with its years of deficit spending, will be a priority. So too will be the district’s declining enrollment.

“I have experience with these challenges,” Clark said. “Are there obvious patterns there? Are more students moving to charter schools or private schools? Are young families leaving the area?”

He said he wants to meet with teachers, school staff and parents to get insight into those and other issues.

Fox said he wanted Clark to stay in Vallejo, but also knew Clark wanted to lead a bigger school district. Fox said that in Clark’s three years in Vallejo, he helped change a culture he described as “very top-down” under previous administrators, where people were afraid to speak up about problems.

Clark “came into a mess” in Vallejo, Fox said, into a district that was facing takeover by the state. Clark made cuts and other changes that helped fend off that takeover, and fostered teamwork in the process, Fox said.

Fox also said he hopes Clark will help bolster the grade-school curriculum in his Pittsburg school and others in the district.

Lawrence agreed that Mt. Diablo hired the right person.

“A lot of people in the community are already familiar with him,” Lawrence said. “We’ve gotten a lot of phone calls and emails from people who told us we couldn’t have made a better choice.”