New administrator brings life experience, passion to CUSD

Myrlene Pierre has only been on the job for a little more than two weeks. Still, members of the Claremont Unified School District community can rest easy knowing the new assistant superintendent of educational services is dedicated to helping provide a top-notch education to every student.

Ms. Pierre brings a unique perspective to the district because, as a child, she represented two very different demographics, that of the high-risk student and of the high-achieving one. Born in Jacmel, Haiti, she immigrated to the United States as a kindergartner. She was one of four kids who landed with their mother at JFK airport. One more child was born in the United States.

Ms. Pierre, whose native language is Haitian Creole, spoke no English when she arrived. Finances were tight before they were able to establish themselves in their new country, with the family doubled up for a time at a relative’s home. As a result, she can identify with the obstacles faced by CUSD’s English language learners, as well as with those kids who are socio-economically disadvantaged.

“The American public school system actually works. It is the great equalizer. The system worked for me,” she said. “My job is to provide support for teachers and administrators so that it works for other students—for every child of poverty, for every child who doesn’t speak English.”

Statistics show that economic factors can make a big difference with school, according to Ms. Pierre.

“When a child’s family is in survival mode, life can be a little more challenging than for another kid across town whose family is going on trips to Europe,” she said. “You’re not always comparing apples to apples.”

At the same time, she understands the needs of kids who have a natural aptitude for school because, against any odds, Ms. Pierre excelled in her studies from the start.

By third grade, she was reading and writing English at a sixth grade level and made it to the district level in a school spelling bee.

She did so well in middle school that, as she prepared to graduate, her Italian teacher suggested she matriculate to one of three elite local magnet schools. As a result, she believes especially gifted or driven students should be nudged towards their potential.

Over the years, each of Ms. Pierre’s teachers were so caring and influential, she wanted to be involved in education as a career.

Ms. Pierre got a bachelor’s degree at Hunter College in New York, double-majoring in sociology and education, and then went on to earn a master’s degree at Queens College in early childhood development. She pondered opening her own school, which would cater to preschool through sixth grade students. After moving to southern California, however, she decided on a more traditional path.

She taught kindergarten for a year with the Compton Unified School District and then spent 17 years as a teacher and administrator with the Anaheim City School District (ACSD). During her tenure with ACSD, she met CUSD Superintendent Jim Elsasser who—before agreeing to helm Claremont schools in 2013—was serving as assistant superintendent of human resources.

Ms. Pierre is delighted to work with Mr. Elsasser again.

“Everything about him impressed me,” she said. “I love his philosophy, having a goal toward excellence but also keeping in mind the human aspect.”

When Ms. Pierre was ready to move on to a new position, she opted to apply for CUSD for a number of reasons. She liked the fact that the district is relatively free of tumult and the stakeholders work cooperatively. It’s not that she’s unwilling to address conflict and tough issues, Ms. Pierre said.  However, feels she can make more of a difference in a district that has a positive working environment. 

Ms. Pierre is very impressed with those in the district, including her predecessor Bonnie Bell, who have worked to ensure teachers are trained in the Common Core and that students are acquainted with the structure and format of the upcoming tests.

“Everyone is very efficient in this district. There’s a precision and a science to what they’re doing,” she said.

Numbers gleaned from last year’s Common Core field testing show the shift will take getting used to, posing difficulties for all kids. Nevertheless, Ms. Pierre is confident that her new district has done its due diligence in preparing students for Common Core assessment, which CUSD students in grades three through eight, as well as juniors, will take starting in May. “I expect they will do very well,” she said.

Another highlight of working with CUSD is the dedication of its school board.

“They take their job very seriously. They pay attention to details,” she said. “They don’t just gloss over documents. They read them and ask questions. It’s one reason Claremont is doing so well, outperforming other districts.”

It’s not all work for this lifelong proponent of quality education. Ms. Pierre has been married to her husband, Sandler, who is also of Haitian descent, for over 21 years. Together, they have raised her stepson Makandal and two daughters, Brittany, 18, and Courtney, 15.

When it comes to unwinding, Ms. Pierre enjoys cooking Haitian food, which she says is similar to Cuban and Puerto Rican cuisine, and reading. She is an admitted bookworm, whose tastes run from escapist fiction—from John Grisham thrillers to Danielle Steele romances—to books on educational trends and philosophy.

And when it comes to the workplace, Ms. Pierre is happy that she didn’t take the advice of several family members who told her she should pursue a more lucrative field.

“Teaching and educational administration are very noble professions,” she said. “I want to make sure I’m supporting the next generation.”

—Sarah Torribio


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