The Tempe Elementary School District Governing Board approved Dr. James Driscoll as its new superintendent. As Driscoll begins this new chapter, he spoke with the district’s Strategic Partnerships and Communication Department to give the community more insight into who he is and his goals for the district. Following is his question-and-answer interview.
Submitted by Gabrielle Dunton
Tempe Elementary School District strategic communications coordinator
Question: You have been the assistant superintendent at Mesa Unified School District for nearly four years. What other career experiences have prepared you for your new role as a first-time superintendent?
Answer: I would say the biggest experience that I have had to prepare me for this role comes from the classroom and being able to see the power that teachers have to shape the lives of our students. This comes from my experience as a classroom teacher as well as being a student and having my own personal experiences with educators who have helped me get to where I am today.
Q: What drew you to Tempe and what are your major goals moving forward for the Tempe Elementary School District?
A: I was very selective in the school districts I would apply to be superintendent. I was looking for school districts that held the same core values and beliefs, and had the infrastructure and personnel to be able to do great things for kids, and the Tempe Elementary School District was that district for me. I believe in TD3’s mission statement: that we have to inspire excellence in every child, every adult, every day. And it has to be “every,” not just a select group. As superintendent, I want all of our students to be able to achieve their dreams and I want to be able to give them the tools to reach them.
My first major goal moving forward is to listen and learn about the Tempe Elementary School District from all stakeholders. That includes teachers, students, parents, classified employees and administrators. Moving forward, my goal is to ultimately change the trajectory of all our students so that when they leave us at TD3 they will have all the skills they need to move forward and be successful in their lives.
Q: What drew you to education for a career? What about administration?
A: The greatest influence I have had in my life is my grandmother. My grandmother always instilled in me that education opens doors and changes your life. I was the first person in my immediate family to graduate from college. My initial plan was to become a medical doctor, but as I moved forward in college I realized I loved working with kids and changed my degree to elementary education in my senior year. I loved it and knew I wanted to continue in the education field to impact students’ lives, and I wanted to help them get the same opportunities I had. As a teacher, I had great leaders and administrators who took a liking to me and pushed me into pursuing administration. I was happy to step into the administrative role, because it allowed me to create an impact on a larger scale.
Q: Aside from the pandemic, what do you feel is the biggest challenge educators face today and how do you think it can be resolved?
A: One of the greatest challenges for our educators is the feeling of inadequacy that what they do is not enough, as well as the pressure that society puts on them with limited resources. I want to share with them that what they do really does change lives, and what they do is more powerful than they may even know.
To overcome this, we have to change the narrative. We need to share all of the great stories and highlight all of the students who have been positively impacted by us. We need to highlight and sing praises of those who support our kids. We need to share these stories because we are changing lives, and that means something.
Q: What is something important that you learned as a child that you have carried into your adult life?
A: Hard work and the value of your word. My grandparents taught me this early on. My grandmother taught me that you can dream to be anything you want to be, but it’s not going to happen without hard work. And my grandfather would always say, “I’m not giving you much in this world, but I’m giving you a good name.” He taught me that if you say you’re going to do something, you’ve got to follow through. And similarly, if it means something to you, you put in the time and effort to make it work.
Q: Do you come from a family of educators?
A: No. Most of the people in my family have high school degrees, if that, and work blue-collar jobs. My wife and her side of the family are all educators. As a family, we are teaching and exposing our girls to different life experiences. My oldest currently wants to be a marine biologist, and my youngest wants to be a principal like her grandma, or a babysitter.
Q: What is your favorite sport to watch or play? Do you have a favorite team?
A: My favorite sport to watch is basketball. My favorite sports teams are the LA Lakers and the Detroit Pistons. I played basketball in college and I just love it.
Q: What’s the most interesting thing about you that is not on your resume?
A: Something interesting about me is that I dropped out of college. In my first semester of college pursuing a pre-medical degree, the registrar informed me that they hadn’t received the entire payment for that year, so I had to leave. My mom came and picked me up from the dorm, and I went home and thought that was it. I started looking for jobs. Then, my grandmother got sick, and before she passed away she asked me to promise her I would get my degree. I promised her, and when I make a promise, I stick to it. So, I went to junior college and played basketball and eventually got an academic scholarship to continue my undergraduate degree. I found the drive to continue and complete that goal for my grandmother. I think if she hadn’t told me that before she passed away, I don’t think I would have gone back to college.
Q: What gives you the greatest joy as an educator?
A: Seeing my former students grow up to be who they wanted to be. We still live in the area where I originally started out as a teacher, and my wife and I always see former students at the grocery store or out and about. Seeing these students be successful in their lives brings me joy. That’s all you really want as an educator – you want your students to do what they want to do, and hope you had a part in helping them get there.
Dr. James Driscoll background
The Tempe Elementary School District, with a mission to inspire excellence in every child, every adult, every day, wanted a leader who would inspire excellence, who would seek exceptional achievement for all students and staff, believed in the responsible stewardship of all available resources, and most importantly, someone who would prepare children to embrace the opportunities of tomorrow.
They hired Dr. James Driscoll, assistant superintendent of human resources at Mesa Unified School District for nearly four years. Driscoll’s success included recruitment and retention of personnel, developing equitable and challenging learning experiences for all students and identifying strengths and weaknesses in collaborative learning communities.
Prior to becoming an assistant superintendent, Driscoll held teaching positions in a variety of grade levels in suburban and urban settings. He’d also been a faculty associate professor at Arizona State University.
Driscoll’s administrative roles include executive director of human resources, dean of students, assistant principal, principal, director of special education and district hearing officer.
He holds a bachelor of arts in elementary education, four master’s degrees (educational leadership, human relations, special education and business and administration) and a doctoral degree in educational leadership.
Driscoll and his wife, a fellow educator, have two daughters. Their youngest is in pre-K and their oldest in first-grade this school year.