FUHSD welcomes new superintendent

Graham Clark announced as the successor to Polly Bove


Rachel Zlotziver

Deputy Superintendent Graham Clark worked as Homestead High School’s principal for 10 years before entering the district office. Photo courtesy of Rachel Zlotziver | Used with permission

Lillian Wang and Sonia Verma

Following an “extensive and rigorous search and selection process,” the FUHSD Board of Trustees announced its unanimous decision to select current Deputy Superintendent Graham Clark as the district’s new superintendent on Tuesday, May 3. Clark is set to begin his tenure on July 1, succeeding Polly Bove at the helm of the district office. 

Although teaching runs in the family — both Clark’s mother and sister are teachers, as well as his wife and mother-in-law — Clark didn’t plan to pursue education during his time as a student. He grew up in east San Jose and attended John Lick High School, where he competed in the track and field team while also juggling jobs at Great America and Togo’s during his junior and senior years. Because neither of his parents had attended college, Clark was the first in his immediate family to enter higher education, instead acquiring a degree in business at Santa Clara University. 

“[My guidance counselor] talked to me when I was in high school and said [that I was] a good student [and] a good athlete, but [I was] probably not going to get a scholarship,” Clark said. “[I] needed some money for college [and] one of the best things that [I] could do [was] apply for a Reserve Officer Training Corps scholarship. So I did that and I got an ROTC scholarship and that allowed me to go to SCU.”

The leadership development Clark underwent as a military officer inspired him to start teaching. Graphic | Lillian Wang

Applying for the ROTC would turn out to be a life-changing decision for Clark. After his graduation from the program, he served in the Army National Guard for 28 years, taking leadership positions in an infantry unit, armor brigade and military intelligence battalion. Although Clark initially worked in finance at Westinghouse, an electric manufacturing company with an establishment in Sunnyvale, his experiences as a military commander ignited his passion for teaching.

“When you’re in the military and you’re working with people, you’re a leader,” Clark said. “A lot of what you do in the military is training, but you could also substitute that word for teaching. I found [that] over time, [teaching] was some of the most fulfilling stuff. I enjoyed my job at Westinghouse, but I was doing a lot of paperwork, modeling and spreadsheets.”

After a seven-year stint at Westinghouse, Clark secured a job at Fremont High School as a math and business teacher. There he met several “good mentors on the administrative team,” such as Rich Stephen, the Math Department Lead at the time, who Clark acknowledges had a significant influence on his teaching philosophy.    

Clark eventually became an assistant principal at FHS but had to leave for a year when he was mobilized to Iraq in February of 2003. Over the following months, he was stationed in “one of the hottest areas” of insurgency during the Iraq War: the densely populated Sunni Triangle region. His unit encountered rampant mosquitoes and sandflies, withstood dust clouds and endured sweltering weather while “trying to meet the Iraqi people [to] find out what they need.”

“We were trying to rebuild schools there, [since] in a lot of these towns outside of Baghdad, there [was] no education for girls, only really for boys, so that [was the] big project we were working on,” Clark said. “We were also working with British people, and there were some Polish soldiers around there and other nations too, so it was an interesting time.”

When Clark returned to the Bay Area, an opening was available at Homestead High School for the principal position. He applied for the position, was accepted and worked there for 10 years, now reflecting that “he really did love the job.” In 2013, he assumed his current role as FUHSD’s Deputy Superintendent. Bove says she and Clark “[work] hand in hand in almost every facet of the work that [they do],” and adds that “he [has] done a phenomenal job” in the position. 

“At the district office, I’ve been involved in technology, and I’ve been working on the modernization and construction program [and] the bond program,” Clark said. “I [also] deal with legal issues, the board agenda items, all the board meetings and human resource type issues, so that’s what I’ve been doing.”

Clark explains his perspective on individual responsibility in tackling district problems. Graphic | Lillian Wang

As the appointed superintendent, Clark wants to ensure that the FUHSD leadership is “[here] for the students and serving the community” by discussing equity, promoting sustainability, managing declining enrollment and providing all students with the same access to classes. He believes problems within the community should be tackled collectively, explaining that high school teachers often limit themselves to a single responsibility and end up overlooking other obligations.  

“Some of the topics that we really need to get into [are] everybody’s responsibility [to address], but they’re no [single] person’s responsibility,” Clark said. “Equity is everybody’s responsibility. It’s not one person’s responsibility. If we want to talk about environmentalism, Title IX issues or bullying, [these] are issues that affect all of us, and they’re super important.”

Human Resources Director Paula Robinson and Clark first met when they were both new to teaching. After working on the HHS administration team as an assistant principal during Clark’s tenure as principal, Robinson particularly appreciated Clark’s ability to create a dynamic team that “builds upon each other’s strengths.” Now, she feels confident about his ability to tackle challenges within the district.

“We obviously know now that our community and world is going through some unprecedented times, both with COVID and lots of uncertainty in the world [and] the economy,” Robinson said. “So I think that’s going to be a challenge for all of us as we move forward. Those are things, looking ahead, that I know Mr. Clark will pay close attention to.”

At the district office, Robinson has volunteered on a variety of tax and bond projects alongside Clark and typically informs him on concerns involving staff and students. Years of close collaboration with Clark as the director of the HR department have given Robinson “every faith” in his leadership. 

“[I’m] very lucky to have served [both] with and under him in multiple capacities over the years,” Robinson said. “I feel like I’ve grown because of his leadership, and I am excited to see what he’s going to do for our district and the students in it.”

Bove also values Clark’s integrity as a standout quality in his work for the district, explaining that he manages challenging processes with “incredible thoughtfulness and grace” while supporting students and families involved.

“If Graham says he believes something, he’s going to stick to it,” Bove said. “If he says he’s going to do something, he does it, and he always does it with kids in mind.”

However, to Clark, the FUHSD community is more than the students within the district; it also encompasses those who pay for the schools, parents whose children are not yet in the system and even businesses that could hire local students. Because governance “really involves all of us,” one of Clark’s hopes is to foster deeper connections between the district office and the community during his superintendency. 

“I’m excited to start this new role,” Clark said. “I’ve enjoyed what I’ve been doing, but I’m also very excited to go back and do some different responsibilities, so I’m looking forward to that.”