Following a six-week search, the Clovis Unified School District governing board on May 30 appointed Eimear O’Farrell, Ed.D. as the district’s new superintendent following the retirement of Janet Young on June 30.
O’Farrell has 34 years of experience in the field of education, first in Dublin, Ireland and then as an elementary teacher for Our Lady of Victory Elementary in Fresno, before joining Clovis Unified in 1993 as a third grade teacher at Maple Creek Elementary. She has served at both the elementary and secondary level, as a teacher, GIS, learning director, elementary principal and deputy principal before assuming the position of principal at Clovis West in 2012.
In 2014, she was appointed Area Superintendent of the Clovis West Area. A firm believer in modeling the habits of a life-long learner, Eimear earned her doctoral degree in 2010.
O’Farrell has had a busy summer so far, but snagged a chance to answer some questions via email:
Clovis Independent: You came to us from Ireland -- what brought you to the States, and specifically, to Clovis?
Dr. Eimear O’Farrell: In 1993, after 10 years of teaching in Ireland, I was granted a “career opportunity” to travel to the Fresno/Clovis area, where my sister and brother-in-law had recently relocated in order for me to experience teaching in another country.
After teaching in a private school for a few years, I secured a position in Clovis Unified and fell in love with the culture of the district. I decided to resign from my position in Ireland and make CUSD my home.
Clovis Unified is very unique and exceptional in its core values and culture of excellence. I have woken up every morning for 21 years feeling that I belong to an organization that cares deeply about all stakeholders — students, employees, families and community members. This precious legacy, gifted to us by Dr. Floyd “Doc” Buchanan, is something to be valued, and something to be nurtured and grown into the future, and I am honored to be charged with the opportunity and responsibility to make sure that we succeed in doing that for all our community members.
CI: What are a few key differences and similarities between education in Ireland and education in the U.S.?
EO: The main difference is that students in Ireland are taught the Gaelic language (‘Irish’) from kindergarten through the end of secondary school. The first hour of primary school (K-6) is devoted to speaking and listening “Irish” and students also engage in reading comprehension and writing lessons just as they do in the English language. Many students travel to the west coast of Ireland every summer to the “Gaeltacht,” a vast area where Irish is spoken throughout the community. Students perfect their spoken language as well as engaging in many cultural activities such as Irish dancing, sports (Gaelic football and hurling), and traditional music.
Another key difference is that there is no middle or intermediate school in Ireland. Students attend Primary (K-6), Secondary (Year 1- Year 6) and Third Level (University).
A key similarity is the focus on writing. In Ireland, there is a heavy emphasis on collaborative academic discourse and writing in every subject area. With our current state standards, and curriculum and instruction model, the U.S. system has moved closer to what I knew as a student growing up in Ireland, where we had to explain all responses in writing including science and math.
CI: You moved your way up from teacher to various administrative roles and now superintendent. Which position has brought you the most joy?
EO: I have thoroughly enjoyed every single position that I have held in Clovis Unified. In fact, I have loved each position so much, that I haven’t necessarily ever wanted to leave a particular position. Instead, I have been encouraged by trusted and respected colleagues to serve the district in a variety of roles. I believe in servant leadership, and I believe in Clovis Unified, so I have willingly stepped up to serve as opportunities have come my way. I will say that my 20 years in the classroom impacting students’ lives every day was thoroughly fulfilling and invigorating.
CI: What do you aim to accomplish in your first year as Superintendent?
EO: My first goal will be to strengthen my existing relationships and build new relationships with our team throughout the district. Dr. Buchanan always reminded us that, “It’s people not programs that make the positive difference,” and I completely believe in the importance of fostering relationships with our entire team.
In Clovis Unified we believe that every employee is an educator, and we are a large group of educators working daily to make a difference in the lives of our 42,000-plus students. Our office managers, our bus drivers, our groundskeepers and custodial staff — we are all using every moment of every day to educate our students.
In Clovis Unified, we have a Strategic Plan, which establishes our three Aims, and it has been our practice to revisit this plan every year. We have many new teachers and classified staff coming on board, and one of my goals is to ensure that our new and existing employees understand the importance of our Aims, and the need to reflect these Aims and purposes in their work. I believe that is critically important to preserving our foundational core values, as we serve a growing and changing community into the future.
There will be many challenges coming our way — political, social, financial, and socio-economic — but I do believe that when we make decisions based on our core values, Clovis Unified will continue to thrive and succeed.
CI: What are some of your long-term goals/vision for the future of Clovis Unified?
EO: Clovis Unified has a long history of excellence in education. Our vision, as established in 1960 by founding Superintendent Dr. Floyd B. “Doc” Buchanan, was to be the “benchmark for excellence in education.” He envisioned us achieving this goal by developing our students in mind, body and spirit. Doc Buchanan framed his vision in a document that has been affectionately named “Doc’s Charge.” It is his charge to us as the future of the District and it outlines the values that have guided the leaders and employees of CUSD for decades.
It is my intention to ensure that we keep those core values alive and continue the tradition of making sure that every new and existing employee receives a copy of Doc’s Charge, and even more importantly, understands how these guiding principles translate into everyday actions through the decisions we all make for our students and their families.
A quote by C.S. Lewis resonated with me recently. “Change is not progress if you lose your core.” One of my long-term goals will be to progress, to evolve, to change as our societal context continues to evolve, but in so doing, to not lose sight of our core values. I always say that the one constant in life is change, but HOW we change will determine our ability to continue to be ‘the benchmark for excellence in education” that we have been for many decades.
CI: What advice would you give to your younger self?
EO: I would advise my younger self to continue to strive to be the very best version of myself in my selected path, both personally and professionally. I would encourage my younger self to reflect on those who have set the bar high in my life — those who have made a difference, those whose impact on my life has been significant — whether family, friends, teachers or mentors. I would encourage my younger self to think about how I can use the inspiration of those individuals to motivate me toward being the very best person I can possibly be. I would also remind myself that being an educator carries a heavy responsibility in society, and that I need to continue to be reflective and strive for continuous improvement. It is both an honorable and humble responsibility.
CI: Time for a few fun, quick questions! What's your go-to Starbucks order?
EO: In the entire history of Starbucks, I have only ever ordered a venti nonfat latte. I am a creature of habit when it comes to something I enjoy.
CI: What's the last book you read?
EO: I cherish my books and have many shelves full of my favorite titles, almost all of which are non-fiction books centered on organizational leadership, culture, purpose, life, and relationships. I am always in the middle of several, and constantly refer to my collection to remind myself of something that comes to mind. Some of my favorites include John Maxwell’s series on leadership, and John Wooden’s works about culture and success. For a quick read, I like to revisit Dr. Spencer Johnson’s little book, Who Moved My Cheese? which is a simple parable about how to successfully navigate life’s inevitable changes with a positive attitude.
CI: What do you listen to while driving?
EO: This may sound unusual, but I love to think when I am driving, and typically, I have the radio turned off. I find that the comfort of the car allows for freedom of thought, and clarity usually comes readily when I am relaxed and driving from Point A to Point B. My principals will tell you that I am most inspired when driving, and I call them with the best of ideas and solutions from the car!
CI: Are you a dog person or a cat person?
EO: Actually, I am a plant and tree person. My children tell stories about how I park the car regularly to get out and take a photo of a beautiful tree or shrub. I really enjoy spending time in my yard and visiting public gardens when I travel.