Starting his fourth day on the job Thursday, Hayward Unified's new leader Donald Evans was quick to acknowledge that he's still in "fact-finding" mode.

Coming from a three-year stint overseeing secondary schools at Compton Unified and eight previous years working with elementary schools in Oakland, Evans said he didn't arrive in Hayward with preconceptions of what would work best to improve the district.

"Instead of going out and saying 'This worked in San Diego,' or 'This worked in Compton,' I want to go into the community and hear what people are saying," he said.

That includes businesses, educators, community leaders and particularly parents, he said. He invites all to send him an email and make known concerns and comments about what is or isn't working at Hayward Unified.

Evans said his immediate duty is to maintain the path and action plan -- drafted by former Superintendent Janis Duran -- already approved by the school board. However, he's eager to get feedback and bring it to trustees.

"I will say I'm big on professional development, whether that's for principals or teachers, and parent empowerment," he said. "I'm big on businesses getting involved with the schools, and holding everybody accountable. Because everybody is going to hold me accountable in the end -- it trickles down."

Evans said he places great importance on accessibility and transparency, both to the community at large and to the press.

"Probably to a fault," he said. "Sometimes districts tend to be a little closed, but we all need to be working together."

For the past year, Evans has been working with the California League of Middle Schools to focus on what he calls a "missing link" to a successful education.

"Parents tend to be heavily involved in kindergarten and first grade, but then we lose a significant number of them between elementary and middle school," he said. "That's when peer pressure is the greatest. That's when they're changing, becoming in tune with their bodies. If we get them in the middle grades, it will carry on through high school."

Hayward trustees have lauded Evans' work toward increasing English proficiency among Spanish speakers in Compton, as well as gains in a fight against truancy.

They also said teacher retention rates went up in that district.

Evans said Hayward shares fiscal problems with many other districts due to budgeting at the state level.

However, Hayward Unified's fiscal woes run deeper than most.

The district was on the road to state receivership after it couldn't balance its budget in 2010, which resulted in a grand jury report, released in June, that criticized past and current trustees for not making difficult budget decisions.

Hayward Unified recently conducted a phone poll to solicit opinions on putting a bond or parcel tax measure before voters in 2012, the results of which were "favorable," Evans said.

Despite big challenges such as balancing a budget given less state funding, he said it is "the most exciting time to be in education."

"People are ready for a change," he said. "People want us to really start thinking about how one size does not really fit all. Before it was all about staying on track. But now we know that while that track might be good for you, it might not be for someone else, and we all have to get where we want to go."

Evans' first board meeting will be Wednesday. Among the items on the agenda is a review of the voter survey on a bond or parcel tax.

Contact Eric Kurhi at 510-293-2473. Follow him at Twitter.com/erickurhi. Read his blog at IBAbuzz.com/hayword.

NEW SCHOOLS CHIEF
Name: Donald Evans
Age: 49
Education: Major in political science, minor in English from University of Delaware. Education doctorate from UC Berkeley.
Experience: 25 years in education, starting as a teacher in San Diego. Supervisory duties in elementary, middle, high and adult schools. Most recently was administrator
at Compton Unified for past three years, and at Oakland Unified for eight years before that.
Contact: devans@husd.k12.ca.us
In his own words: "I will say I'm big on professional development . . . Sometimes districts tend to be a little closed, but we all need to be working together."