On Jan. 29, President Barack Obama announced his intention to nominate several individuals for key roles in the presidential administration. If approved, Palo Alto Unified School District’s (PAUSD) Chief Technical Officer Ann Dunkin will serve as the new Assistant Administrator for Environmental Information through the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Dunkin will hold the responsibility of implementing new technology and management solutions to strengthen the quality of information, technology and data collection within the EPA. She will also help manage informational technology (IT) departments inside the agency.
Currently, according to Dunkin, her job is pending approval from the Senate. After she is confirmed by the Senate, she will begin her job immediately in Washington D.C. “Once all of the paperwork is finalized, it will be sent to the Senate, and the EPA will talk to the Environment and Public Works Committee staff about a hearing date. I’ll go to D.C. for a hearing,” Dunkin said. “After the hearing, the committee will request that written questions for the record be answered. After those answers are received, most nominations are referred favorably out of committee for a floor vote.”
The appointment process began in 2012, before Obama’s re-election. Dunkin submitted her resume to the Presidential Appointments Project, which is run by the Gay and Lesbian Victory Institute. According to the institute, the project serves as a recruitment database for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) professionals who are seeking out opportunities to improve federal policies and processes. Dunkin believes that the project is the reason she received the opportunity. “It is pretty hard to get noticed for one of these jobs unless someone opens a door you,” she said. “Someone from the Victory Institute took my resume, gave it to the Presidential Personnel Office and recommended that they consider me for a position.”
According to Dunkin, shortly after receiving her resume, the Presidential Personnel Office called her and told her about her nomination for the position in Oct. 2012, shortly after Obama’s re-election. Four months later, Dunkin was flown to Washington D.C. to meet with the Chief Information Officer for the United States. By September of 2013, she met with several others, and received a “soft offer” when they told her that she was the only remaining candidate for the job. “That’s when the fun part began,” Dunkin said. “They began my background checks and an FBI investigation.” The Federal Bureau of Investigation ran a background check and spoke to around 40 people Dunkin worked with, including Superintendent Dr. Kevin Skelly. They also examined her human resources files and information regarding her previous jobs.
Dunkin expressed excitement over the nomination. “I think that the coolest part was when the president’s special secretary called and said, ‘The president has approved your nomination,’” she said. Dunkin believes that working in the administration will be a rewarding experience. “I am very excited that if confirmed, I will be part of the administration and I have a tremendous amount of respect for the president,” she said. “I think that the EPA’s mission is incredible as well, and I’ve met some great people in the organization.” But, Dunkin also notes that leaving the district will be difficult especially after all of the work that she has put in. “I’m sad to be going. I feel like we’ve done some really great things here, but I am leaving behind a capable team and I know they will continue to work,” she said.
In the past five years, the IT team has made several changes to PAUSD’s technology infrastructure. Some of the highlights include the introduction of Schoology, the design and implementation of a new fiber network and the use of several productivity tools for teachers such as new email systems. According to Skelly, Dunkin’s work has been essential to the district. “[Dunkin] has done a lot of work on the ‘plumbing’ of the district,” he said. “She has improved a lot of technology and increased students’ access to devices and their ability to get on the network.” Skelly also believes that the knowledge from her position at PAUSD will help in her new venture. “I think the same skills that made Ann successful here will make her successful in that large organization,” Skelly said. “She is incredibly smart. She knows a lot about technical things, but she also knows a lot about organizations and helping organizations reform and helping them manage people.”
Prior to working in PAUSD, Dunkin also worked for the private sector. She spent 20 years at Hewlett Packard, where she held a number of positions including Senior Research and Development Program Manager, IT Director and IT Operations Director. She believes that the variety of positions she has held, especially her work with a subset of Hewlett Packard called Indigo, has prepared her for her job with the EPA.
The district is still unsure of who will replace Dunkin once she leaves. They recently finalized the job description and are looking to get the job posted soon. Skelly believes that they will use a mix of advertising to professionals in the private sector and searching in other public school districts to find a candidate. “[Dunkin] came from the private sector and didn’t understand a lot about the K-12 area, but she picked it up very quickly,” Skelly said. “We may go that way again, or we may pick someone with an educational background. We are not sure what the best approach is yet. We just need to find
someone who is able to learn quickly.”