DSAG Awards Dinner celebrates legacies, cultivates new ones

By Matthew C. Stevens

The Dean’s Superintendents Advisory Group (DSAG) Awards Dinner unfolded on Jan. 28 in Monterey with the symmetry that has become an annual tradition: scholarships to emerging education leaders followed by recognition of a decades-long contribution to the field.

The honoree for career achievement was Pedro E. Garcia EdD ’83, whose storied career has included superintendencies in three school districts, including the 79,000-student strong Nashville. And yet to members of the USC Rossier Family, Garcia is the consummate teacher’s teacher, the role he has embodied since transitioning to the EdD faculty at Rossier after retiring from the superintendency.

John Roach EdD ’88, the DSAG Fundraising Chair; scholarship recipients Henry Romero, Robert Allard and Patricia Brent-Sanco; and Rudy Castruita EdD ‘’82. (Photo/Ben Kaatz Photography)

John Roach EdD ’88, the DSAG Fundraising Chair; scholarship recipients Henry Romero, Robert Allard and Patricia Brent-Sanco; and Rudy Castruita EdD ‘’82. (Photo/Ben Kaatz Photography)

The scholarship presentations to current EdD students further solidified the centrality of mentorship to both the EdD program and DSAG. The recipients were Robert Allard, principal, Paramount Elementary School in the Azusa Unified School District; Patricia Brent-Sanco, principal, Mark Keppel School in the Paramount Unified School District; and Henry Romero, assistant principal, Serrano Middle School in the Ontario-Montclair School District.

“As I reflect on my young career in education,” said Romero, “I am keenly aware that I am a product of the remarkable mentors who have invested their time and energy into grooming me for greater leadership challenges.” Dr. Garcia is serving on Romero’s dissertation committee.

“Whenever I encounter a challenge in our profession,” Romero continued, “I know I can turn to mentors for advice. And it is the gift of mentorship that I hope to pass on through DSAG for years to come.”

DSAG was established in 1980 and is now 200 members strong. The group of current and retired superintendents consults with Dean Karen Symms Gallagher and recruits aspiring superintendents to join the USC family. In 2013, DSAG solidified its commitment to the future of the field by establishing the DSAG Endowed Scholarship Fund, a $100,000 endowment built through the generosity of Dean Gallagher, DSAG members and dinner sponsors. Since that milestone, the group has increased annual scholarship awards from two to three.

At this year’s dinner, DSAG Fundraising Chair John Roach EdD ’88 reported that the fund has now topped $200,000, thanks to the greatest year on record in terms of numbers of donations and total amount raised. DSAG member Margaret “Maggie” Chidester EdD ’95 pledged a challenge that evening to match donations from first-time DSAG member donors. The challenge was such a success that several DSAG members made their first gift that that evening, immediately meeting the match maximum. Two of last year’s scholarship recipients, Melissa Moore and Ramiro Rubalcaba, attended the dinner and made contributions to the fund as their way of paying it forward. And the first ever Gold Level Sponsor, Shmoop University Inc., helped underwrite the evening with a $25,000 contribution.

“I am honored to receive this scholarship from DSAG because of what the group represents,” said Allard after the Awards Dinner. “The evening inspired me to continue the challenging and meaningful work of making a difference in the lives of children and their families.”

Allard’s leadership qualities were not lost on Executive Vice Dean Melora Sundt, who had met Allard on her first day at Rossier back in the late 1990s, when he was early in a master’s program not far removed from his undergrad days at USC and working in her office. “His leadership skills, even on that first day, were evident,” recalled Sundt at the dinner, still marveling at the warmth, optimism and take-charge attitude Allard possessed even then.

Patricia Brent-Sanco echoed Allard’s appreciation. “I am truly honored to be one of the 2015 recipients of the DSAG scholarship,” she said, remarking that she was attending the dinner with her mother, herself a 34-year teaching veteran. “I appreciate all of the support I have received from my family, friends, mentors as well as the members and donors of DSAG.”

Dean Karen Symms Gallagher with honoree Pedro E. Garcia EdD ’83. (Photo/Ben Kaatz Photography)

Dean Karen Symms Gallagher with honoree Pedro E. Garcia EdD ’83. (Photo/Ben Kaatz Photography)

Dr. Garcia picked up on the theme of family in his heartfelt speech, which moved seamlessly between tributes to his mother and recollections of mentors from the Trojan Family.

“You can lose everything you own,” his mother had once told him after the family emigrated from Cuba, “but your education no one can take away.”

A string of mentors would steer Garcia’s way well into his professional career, including the taskmaster Ed Dundon EdD ’72, the Garden Grove superintendent and founder of DSAG who encouraged Garcia to buckle down and get his EdD at USC.

Former grad school classmate Rudy Castruita EdD ’82 introduced his old friend at the Awards Dinner, but later recalled the private moment of notifying Garcia of the planned honor.

“The excitement brought him to tears,” recalled Castruita. “He stated that this was the most valued award that he has ever been honored to receive.”

Merely in traveling to Monterey for the ceremony, Garcia was demonstrating the perseverance that has characterized his life since enduring the isolation of a refugee camp as a 15-year-old. Weakened by illness in recent months, Garcia showed why he is a master of converting his own adversity to lessons for those he mentors (“Never allow someone’s opinion to become your reality,” he said from the dais in recollecting discouraging advice he had received as a young student.)

“I still have shelf life,” he proclaimed with equal measures of humor and conviction.

“Dr. Garcia exemplifies the Trojan spirit,” says Castruita, explaining how much truer this is than ever before. “And that is to Fight On!”


Annual gifts can be made to the DSAG Endowed Scholarship Fund to support future EdD students aspiring to become superintendents. Every gift counts toward the Campaign for the USC Rossier School of Education and helps grow the endowment to increase the number of scholarships awarded in the future. To make a gift, visit rossier.usc.edu/giving or contact Diana Hernandez, director of development, at 213-740-3499 or dehernan@usc.edu.