Anaheim Union superintendent earns statewide honor for expanding civic education

The California Council for the Social Studies has recognized Anaheim Union High School District Superintendent Michael Matsuda for his work promoting civic education.

Matsuda accepted the Diane L. Brooks Award Administrative Award on Friday, March 23 at the council’s two-day annual conference, which brought together secondary history and social studies teachers from throughout the state.

Michael Matsuda
Michael Matsuda

Building civic and social responsibility is prominent in the mission statement of Anaheim Union, where Loara and Savanna high schools have become the first campuses in Orange County to join the California Democracy School Civic Learning Initiative, a program designed to institutionalize civic learning.

In addition, AUHSD’s South Junior High has earned the California Civic Learning Award of Distinction, while Dale Junior High and Oxford Academy are Civic Learning Award of Merit honorees.

“More than ever, in these times of uncertainty and declining levels of trust in public institutions, it is important that we put democracy front and center in public schools,” Matsuda said. “Where else are young people going to learn about democratic practices, which include civic inquiry and action?”

Civic action was put into practice recently when Savanna High students successfully lobbied the school board to change their mascot, Confederate soldier “Johnny Rebel.” The decision, which came in late 2017, followed concerns raised by a number of students, their families and community members.

“The students really set an example for adults everywhere in how to have disagreements without being disagreeable,” Matsuda said. “We had a very difficult conversation as a community regarding the fate of the Rebel mascot, and the students led the way in how to have civil discourse on the matter.”

The superintendent said a process for civic inquiry and action was developed by Savanna’s social studies team, establishing a calm atmosphere that allowed the students’ voices to be heard.

Teachers spent a week delivering research-based lessons designed to increase awareness and understanding of the issue. Afterward, students deliberated and participated in a non-binding polling exercise, choosing one of the three options. The vote to rebrand was later announced at a forum that encouraged students to reflect on the skills they learned.

“Coming from a district with so many immigrants and refugees, we want to make sure our students understand that this country was founded on principles of democracy, which includes the notion of no taxation without representation,” AUHSD Board President Al Jabbar said, “and that we must maintain a government that is transparent and accountable to the people it serves.”

Matsuda is entering his fifth year as superintendent of Anaheim Union. During his tenure, he has received several noteworthy accolades, including an honorary doctorate from Chapman University in 2017 for education innovation. In 2016, Education Week selected him as one of 13 “National Leaders to Learn From” for his efforts to support English learner students. He was also honored in 2016 with Cal State Fullerton’s Visionary Leader Award.