Dr. Nancy Nien: 'numbers speak to me more than words'

DOWNEY - Dr. Nancy Nien's appointment as the new DUSD assistant superintendent for business services became official on March 12 when the board approved her as the search-produced replacement for Kevin Condon, who had held the position since 2004.Prior to assuming her new duties in her new surroundings on April 15, Dr. Nien had served in various capacities and responsibilities chiefly in the fiscal and financial areas of education administration at three different school districts. She began her professional career after obtaining her Ph. D. in comparative education and economics from Columbia University in 2001 as manager of student information technology systems at Alum Rock Union Elementary School in San Jose, CA, an area she practically grew up in. After two years of preparing special education, summer school, and child development centers budgets, among other things, she served as budget manager of fiscal services at the district for another year, developing and preparing the annual district budget as well as interim reports (district budget of $100 million), and monitored student attendance accounting, while cross-training in procurement and payroll departments. As they say, things happen for a reason. Dr. Nien came over here from Taiwan when she was ten and attended Homestead High School in Cupertino where she belonged to the Spanish Honor Society ("I'm terrible at Spanish, though"). Otherwise, she's fluent in English, Mandarin, and Taiwanese. For better or for worse, her next occupational step after Alum Rock would bring her to the Southern California area. She was to spend some eight years at Duarte Unified School District, starting as the director of budgeting and accounting from 2004 to 2007 during which she supervised a staff of eight in the following areas-accounting, payroll, accounts payable, benefits, purchasing, attendance, categorical accounting, and facilities accounting-while overseeing all district funds, including the general fund budget and the construction/bond budget Promoted to chief fiscal officer in August, 2007, she completed her service with Duarte Unified as assistant superintendent of business services from July 2009 to February 2012-directing the district's 50-strong business services division (budgeting, accounting, payroll, purchasing, food services), overseeing the district's general fund budget and administering its general obligation bond of $62 million, was responsible for the district's workers' compensation and property & liability programs, while advising the superintendent on all matters relating to district's business and financial affairs. This was followed by a brief stint at the Centralia School District based in Buena Park. Here, as the assistant superintendent of business and administrative services from February 2012 until she was tapped by DUSD, Dr. Nien directed and evaluated the business and administrative operations of the district (fiscal, accounting, payroll, purchasing, warehouse, maintenance, operations, transportation, food services), while overseeing all district funds including its general fund budget, administering the district's health and welfare plans, as well as serving as co-facilitator for the employee benefits committee, administering the facilities' needs assessment project and establishing timelines, etc.). "Coming here to DUSD, everything is similar," she said. She recited the litany of functions she's charged with: budgets, accounting procedures, workmen's comp, property and liability insurance, health benefits, food services, purchasing, and MOT (maintenance, operations, technology). "The last one, technology, has been subsumed by certificated human resources under Roger Brossmer, I think, so we'll have a different acronym," she said. Be that as it may, Dr. Nien said, she has traversed the usual fiscal, budgetary, and financial terrain that the term, "business services," covers and that she is ready to face any challenges before her and bear down on the tasks ahead. Dr. Nien, who received her B.A. in political science from UC-Berkeley in 1995, also has an Ed.M. in education administration, planning, and social policy from Harvard University (1997) as well as an M.Phil. in comparative education and economics (2000) also from Columbia (completion of all her postgraduate degrees took her a total of four years). She says that while numbers speak to her more than words, "I've always wanted to be a teacher. I love kids." "When I was going to Berkeley, I interned at different schools in nearby areas, teaching kindergarten, 2nd grade, and 8th grade," she continued. "I also similarly interned when I went to Cambridge. I wanted to make sure I really wanted to teach. But because I was good with numbers, I heeded a graduate school professor's advice to try education administration. When I was going to Columbia, I interned at the World Bank and at the U.S. Department of Education in Washington, D.C., as I was able to demonstrate my skills at data and economic analyses. Meanwhile, I took the subway and train to Long Island to teach at Hofstra University." Since she assumed her new gig at DUSD, Dr. Nien has been busy meeting as many people as she figures she'll be surely interacting with in the course of her duties: co-administrators, department heads and staff, union representatives, construction consultants, even with a few principal suppliers. "We have visited almost all the school sites, meeting principals, staff, teachers, and the kids, of course," she said. We try to cover three sites a day. I'm looking at the facilities, what needs they have, such as more safety features perhaps and so on." In the meantime, she said, "We are trying to close the books for this year, while gearing for next year. My staff has been putting the budget together, with an eye towards the state's May revise. After this, we'll be presenting our proposed budget to the board in June. We attended a governor-sponsored May revise workshop on May 20th in Ontario. All key administrators were in attendance. We also invited all the union representatives-DEA, and Class. I and II unions-to attend the workshop, so they hear what we heard. I believe this was the first time this happened." "We're shooting for January as the completion date of the construction of the two major buildings at Downey High School-the new administration building and the CTE building," she said. Born in Taiwan, Dr. Nien is the mother of two: Lena, 4, and Kylie, 2. Her radiologist husband, Dr. Daryl Chen, is a graduate of Johns Hopkins University. Her 64-year old mom, Chi-ya Cheng, lives with the couple at Rossmoor in Los Alamitos. Dr. Nien also has a younger brother, an MBA (finance) graduate of Syracuse University who works for a large solar company in San Francisco. Secretary/assistant Debbie Black spoke of a difference in style of her new boss vs. her old one, Kevin Condon: "Nancy is very energetic and is social as Kevin is quiet." She also possesses a very good sense of humor, I thought, and gregarious. But the one thing that really made an impression as a key ingredient in her impressive credentials was her answer when asked how she handled her first official day on the job at DUSD: "Well, I was well-rested and at ease. Anyway, things went smoothly. Besides, I always over-prepare." "She also remembers everything," Debbie said.

********** Published: May 23, 2013 - Volume 12 - Issue 06