New supt. brings two decades of experience to new role
Porterville Unified School District’s new superintendent may be young, but he brings with him nearly two decades of experience working for the district and a focused vision for its future.
Nate Nelson, 38, who replaced Ken Gibbs as PUSD superintendent on July 1, aims to continue pursuing his predecessor’s goals and implement more technology to the academic system.
“I’m committed to the community and to the district,” Dr. Nelson said. “I’ve been here for a really long time and I’m humbled by the opportunity. I realize that I have big shoes to fill and I’m planning to work really hard to do it.”
Nelson was raised in Springville, where he attended elementary and middle school. He spent his first two years of high school in Illinois before coming back to finish his last two years at Porterville High School.
He started working in the technology department at PHS, which eventually created an opportunity for him to become director of technology for PUSD.
While working full-time for the district, Nelson attended Cal State Bakersfield, where he earned his undergraduate degree in Business Administration. Then he attended Fresno State to get his MBA, and he eventually earned his Doctorate in Educational Leadership from the University of Southern California.
“I had to commute to the universities,” Nelson said. “I was working during the day, and taking classes at night.”
Nelson has now worked for PUSD for 19 years. From director of technology, he moved to assistant superintendent of human resources for four years, and has spent the last two years at the business office as assistant superintendent.
As technology director, Nelson visited different sites, met different teachers, and helped implement technology in classrooms, and moving into human resources allowed him to work with PUSD unions and a lot of different employees.
“I feel fortunate to have [been] at the district since high school, getting my feet wet there and then moving through the different departments,” Nelson said.
One of the things Nelson is excited about for the district is its 14th Pathway, the Porterville Military Academy, that will begin this upcoming school year.
“I’m committed to the Pathway program that we’ve grown over the last 10-plus years. I have seen a lot of the programs since the beginning, and I can see the results. They are having outcomes,” Nelson said.
Nelson just came back from a conference in Washington D.C. that was centered around the Pathways program. It gave him a chance to see how PUSD compares with other school districts around the country who use a similar learning approach.
“Seeing where we are at compared to some very large successful districts, really we are the leaders in this area, and I can’t see a reason to not continue that,” Nelson said. “The real clear example is what we are looking to do with the options for students— giving them opportunities to choose whatever interests them.”
Nelson feels PUSD’s greatest accomplishment is its Pathway program, and he wants it to become part of the educational process, where students talk about it in the same way they are choosing a college.
“It has just been huge. It started at Harmony and it branched out across the district,” Nelson said. “I think that’s a real success story. It’s interesting when I hear people talking about it when I’m getting a haircut, and I think that’s a pretty good measure of success.”
One of the biggest needs Nelson identifies for the district is facility upgrades.
“I came from the business office where that was a big part of my responsibility, and it’s hard not to walk the sites and see there are some needs there,” Nelson said. “I plan on being strategic with our resources to figure out the best way to organize maintenance and rehabilitate facilities because they are getting older. That’s something I’d really like to focus on— really upgrading our athletic facilities and the classrooms themselves. That’s a big focus.”
Nelson mentioned one of the lessons he learned from his predecessors Ken Gibbs and John Snavely is the strong relationships they built with employees and partners.
“To me that was amazing,” Nelson said. “We worked on very technical issues that we were able to work through collectively. When we needed something, it was impossible to do it alone. They made that really clear.”
For Nelson, technology is a hobby as well as a professional duty, and he plans implement more of it around the district, removing obstacles for teachers and expediting administrative processes that can be burdensome.
“Before, we had a field trip request that took ten different pieces of paper and ten different steps to make its way through the system. We moved that online, and all of a sudden we can have a chain that’s immediate feedback and easy to track and process,” Nelson said. “I’m always looking to play with the latest and greatest gadgets, so I can see my passion in technology will influence me by implementing something personally and thinking, ‘Oh we should give this a try with the district.’”
Nelson has a brother who teaches history at Harmony Magnet Academy. Nelson’s brother also has two kids, who keep him busy as an uncle. His parents live in the area, and his mother is a social worker for Tulare County and his sister is a nurse.
“My family thinks they’ll probably see less of me,” Nelson said. “They know it’s a big job, but they know I’m committed and will do my best to do a good job for the students and the community.”
Nelson hopes to follow in the footsteps of past successful PUSD superintendents, and plans to continue making the district a better learning community.
“Nothing gives me greater pleasure than seeing our students do better than the county, than the state or national norms. I will work really hard to be able to provide them what is needed to keep on achieving things like that,” Nelson said.
When asked about his long-term career goals, Nelson indicated he plans to stick with the district for a while.
“I’d love to finish my career here,” Nelson said. “One of the things I feel very fortunate about is that PUSD has had superintendents that have lasted for a long time. They’ve had a lot of stability in that position, and I’d like to continue that.”