Walt Buster works with doctoral students in educational leadership at Brandman University and coaches school superintendents with Pivot Learning Partners. Previously, he was the founding director of the Central Valley Educational Leadership Institute at Fresno State and a longtime superintendent in school districts around California. Before participating in a panel on school discipline, he revealed that he has the ear of a poet—but not of a foreign language speaker—in the Zócalo green room.
What was your worst subject in school?
Probably foreign language.
How do you take your coffee?
Black with a small drop of cream.
What’s the toughest part about transitioning from classroom teacher to school administrator?
The stereotype is that somehow you’re losing touch with young people and out to work just with adults. For me it was always moving from working deeply within the system to working on the system and trying to make things better for more kids. But there is that stereotype.
Where would you like to travel to next?
I just came back from a hiking trip in Scotland, and that was wonderful, so I probably would like to go somewhere much different from that, someplace like New Zealand or Australia—somewhere in the Southern Hemisphere.
What’s the greatest strength of the San Joaquin Valley’s schools?
The potential of Latinos to build a destiny that would really turn them into a serious economic and social force. And the dedicated teachers who are working in some places—parts of the San Joaquin Valley are poorer than Appalachia—and you see teachers going into those environments and working so diligently with young people, and that’s a real strength.
What’s the best gift you’ve ever received?
My five grandchildren.
What keeps you up at night?
Looking back on days when I was a school principal and school superintendent, I think that some things just haven’t changed—the achievement gap, getting young people to read by third grade. I frequently worry about whether we have made substantive changes in student achievement, particularly for people of color.
What book have you reread the most?
Of Mice and Men.
Who or what do you root for?
I root for where I live—I root for Fresno State when I’m in Fresno, when I lived in L.A. I rooted for the Dodgers, and now that I’m in the Bay Area I root for the Giants. I’m sort of a fair weather fan.
What’s your hidden talent?
I can write poetry.