In addition to dealing with the COVID-19 crisis, the Sunnyvale School District is also welcoming a new superintendent. Dr. Michael Gallagher took over on July 1, after former superintendent Benjamin H. Picard retired. Gallagher was forced to hit the ground running and confront his biggest challenge right from the start.
“Right out of the gate, no grace period, [I had] to be in tune with parents, in tune with teachers, in tune with the school board, in tune with the community to make sense of these guidelines that were changing every week and sometimes every day from the state just based on conditions and to make them work for Sunnyvale,” said Gallagher.
Luckily for Gallagher, he had a big advantage — his 11-year history with the district. Before taking over as Superintendent, Gallagher was the Deputy Superintendent and before that, the Assistant Superintendent in charge of Human Resources. During that time, he helped put pieces in place that are making a huge difference during this time of distance learning.
“We’ve really been a leader district in the area of social emotional learning, not just as a program to teach kids social skills, which is important, but just to understand how the impact that stress has on kids or the impact that their home environment has on kids and their learning; what teachers can do to support that,” said Gallagher. “I would say heading into this, we’re really well positioned in the sense that our teachers are really aware of the social emotional challenges that they have themselves and the impact that’s going to have on their teaching, but also on how that’s going to affect the kids and their learning.”
Gallagher’s connection to Sunnyvale also extends out to the community. He is a past board president of Sunnyvale Community Services and is the current president of the Sunnyvale Rotary Club. Those community connections have helped shape Gallagher’s vision for what the Sunnyvale School District can become.
“What we’ve started to do is to marry [social emotional learning] with culturally responsive teaching. That’s a focus. To have teachers look through a unified lens of social, emotional and cultural to understand how kids are going to learn best, and that all fits under an equity umbrella,” said Gallagher. “Equity in terms of opportunity for kids and equity in terms of outcomes for kids…It’s not just enough to close the opportunity gap. We want all kids achieving at the same levels; in the same high levels.”
Gallagher was born and raised in the South Bay. He graduated from Los Gatos High School and received an undergraduate degree from Santa Clara University (SCU). He received his teaching credential from San Jose State University, but returned to SCU for his post-graduate degrees in Counseling and Educational Administration. He also has a Ed.D. from San Francisco State University.
Gallagher has worked in education for more than 30 years. He started as a teacher and administrator in the East Side Union High School District. He moved to the Cupertino Union School District, where he worked as a principal and then later at the district office. He joined the Sunnyvale School District in 2009.