By Paul Myers @PaulM_SGN
WOODLAKE – Come June 29, Woodlake Unified’s current superintendent will be moving on from education. In his full 38 year career Drew Sorensen has spent time in the classroom teaching students, organizing school programs, starting as the first ever principal of El Diamante High School and then holding the top spot at Woodlake. By the end of this semester he will trade his powerpoint slides for books he’s put on the shelf, his pens for tennis rackets and instead of driving to school he’ll travel with his wife anywhere they want to go. But of course he’ll reflect on the last four decades and all the things he has accomplished and enjoyed about education.
Sorensen’s reason for getting into education has always been to help kids learn. One of his top accomplishments, among a few, was pushing literacy at Woodlake Unified. Over the last few years the District has been handing out free books at the Woodlake Rodeo in May, establishing book corners at businesses around town so kids can read while their parents run errands and encourage library cards for kids and parents. Sorensen noted the emphasis put on reading by the Children Pathway to Literacy program, intended to help kids reach a third grade reading level by 8-years-old, which started his second year as superintendent.
“It may be a little ‘shtick-y’ but you know you can’t read to learn until you learn to read,” Sorensen said.
For him, watching students come into the school district and grow while they’re there has been something he’s enjoyed from the beginning. And his career began in 1980 in Los Angeles teaching world history at St. Francis High School all boys Catholic College Prep. Fortunately for Sorensen he was already in the neighborhood to take the job after getting his graduate degree from UCLA. He says a nice feature was having the Rose Bowl right across the street from the school.
A counseling position opening at his alma mater, Redwood, brought Sorensen back to Tulare County and his career started to shape and shift in different directions. He wound up moving over to Mt. Whitney as an assistant principal before moving back to Redwood. By 1997 he took on the job of Woodlake High School principal.
“My personal opinion is a high school principal is the best job in education,” Sorensen said.
Between 1997 and 2001 Sorensen says he worked to make sure the school worked for his students. He went on to note there is a certain level of satisfaction when he walked the halls and be around the students and teachers in the classrooms, simply because he likes to watch students grow in their education.
“It’s always a people business. As principal you’re trying to make it as good of a system as you can…you can’t ever forget that you’re in it for the students,” Sorensen added.
By 2001 Sorensen was able to build the culture of El Diamante in Visalia from the ground up. According to him, he was in all decisions. For a full year before the school opened Sorensen hired staff, picked the logo, color scheme and even the fight song. But he was aware of what he was leaving behind in Woodlake.
“I wouldn’t have left Woodlake High School for anything that wasn’t going to be a fun and challenging, and [El Diamante] was,” Sorensen said.
And by 2012 he was serendipitously back at Woodlake Unified, only this time running it. Sorensen says oddly enough he was on his way to a middle school awards ceremony at the Fox Theatre in downtown Visalia when he ran into Tony Caseras. Caseras said there was an opening for superintendent.
“I’m sure I said something like ‘yeah I’ll think about it’,” Sorensen recouts. “When you apply you go all out to get it and let them know what you can do and after thinking about it I said why not give it a shot.”
In his time as superintendent he has not just been happy about the progress students have made in reading, but there are some facility changes the District has benefited from. FJ White got eight new permanent classrooms, they replaced the track and the tennis courts, and Sorensen says he still gets a kick out of the renovated Performance Arts Building. Retrofitted with new lights, new seating and state of the art light show capabilities with new speakers, there is a lot to impress.
“There’s a pride factor there…I’m always happy to see people go in for the first time after not having been in since it was fixed up and they go ‘wow’. It’s pretty great,” Sorensen said.
But being able to end his career in Woodlake was particularly special because he was able to enjoy the same things he enjoyed as a principal.
“As a superintendent in Woodlake you get to do the same stuff as before but you see all the sights. To see what student’s do while they’re here, it’s a pretty cool deal,” Sorensen says.