School District Leadership Insights

Dublin Unified Superintendent

Chris Funk

"As a principal, it’s easy to operate in black and white because there’s no real choice there...But when you operate in the gray, that’s the challenge of leadership."


Key Takeaways


 •  Leadership for Growth: Hiring talented individuals, providing clear goals, and offering autonomy create a thriving environment for both educational staff and students.

 •   Preparing leaders at all levels: Chris shares specific tactics and programs to develop district and school leaders, as well as the discipline of coaching them and creating a sense of ownership. 

 •  Embracing Technology: The integration of data and technology in education informs decision-making and aids in delivering quality education, though it should be adopted judiciously.

Introduction to Dublin Unified School District and the Superintendent


Chris Funk is the Superintendent of the Dublin Unified School District, with a career spanning over three decades in public education. He has served as the Superintendent of the Dublin Unified School District for three years. Prior to his current role, Chris Funk was the Superintendent of the East Side Union High School District, overseeing 16 high schools and an Adult Education program. He has also held leadership positions in the San Jose Unified School District, including Assistant Superintendent of the Division of Instruction and Director of Human Resources.

Dublin Unified is made up of a total of 13 schools: 8 elementary schools, 2 middle schools, a TK-8 school, and they’ve just opened a 2nd high school with a 2nd TK-8 school that will be opening up in 2026. They were one of the fastest-growing districts in the United States, starting at 4,000 students to just under 13,000 students in less than a decade.

In Chris’s own words, here’s what makes DUSD special.

"We are a bedroom community. We're a commuter community. Many of our families travel to Oakland, San Francisco, and the South Bay, and work in tech because we're right there at that center where there's easy access to the various freeways to take you out.

And because we grew so fast, the majority of our schools are brand new. We were growing 700 students a year for about 6 straight years. That's a brand new elementary school being built each year…

We have a more affluent community where typically kids test better, and we have an outstanding teaching staff and we have things in place where we believe that not only do we have a strong curriculum, a guaranteed viable curriculum that everyone follows, we provide a lot of professional development to our teachers…

We're high achieving, but you do have to peel the layers back and we have some areas of growth and we're not shy from sharing what those are.”

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Leadership philosophy

CT: What is your leadership philosophy, and how do you try to live by it every day?

Chris: I've been fortunate enough to hire very good people to work around me. So when I was a principal at Lincoln High School, I had a great assistant principal leadership team. During my tenure at San Jose Unified, I had more assistant principals become principals than any other standing principal during that time.

And so I like to hire great people to be around me. I don't expect them to all have the same strengths as I do, because I want that diversity of thought but to hire great people. Create a container for them to do their work, their space to do their work, set clear goals and outcomes, and then give them the room to go do their work.

And when they need coaching or they need support, I'm there to support them. But I definitely don't micromanage people. I just need them to work hard and to do their very best. And if a mistake happens, identify that mistake. Learn from that mistake and make sure we don't make a similar mistake in the future.

And when people show that type of integrity, then your leadership team and everyone benefits. Integrity is also important to me because integrity means you have to recognize that if a promise is made and you're not able to fulfill that promise, acknowledge that and then try to repair it. That's critical because there's always an impact of mistakes. Identify what the impact is and attempt to repair it for either your team or the family you're dealing with. Then as an organization, you can move forward.


Nurturing talent and providing autonomy

Under Chris Funk's leadership, the emphasis is clear — hire remarkable people and give them the room to perform their roles effectively. As an experienced leader, Funk outlines the vitality of empowering team members, entrusting them with the decision-making latitudes that often tread into the ‘gray’ areas of leadership. This approach fosters a culture of accountability and growth, as illustrated by his words:

"I like to hire great people to be around me... set clear goals and outcomes, and then give them the room to go do their work."

This narrative isn't just rhetoric; it's reinforced by actions, such as involving principals in the decision-making process, providing mentorship, and applying executive coaching techniques. These measures are the foundations for developing leaders who can lead dynamically, thinking outside the strict black-and-white boundaries.


Preparing new district and school leaders

CT: The job of the Principal is really tough. How do you go about preparing someone for it?

Chris: I've had to change principals only twice because the individuals left the district to move closer to home or get promoted. At Eastside, where I had 13 high schools, one of my strongest strategies was to increase my bench.

And so I created a teaching series that my Assistant Superintendent of Education Services and I ran and in the 1st year, I think we had 28 members in the 2nd year, we had 22. It was designed for any teacher who thought about moving into a leadership role, whether to become a department chair, whether to maybe become an instructional coach, move into an assistant principal, or assistant principals that wanted to become a principal.

And so we set up a program on the weekend where I facilitated those conversations and we talked about: What it means to be an effective leader and the different components around that. And I had two different cohorts and they were two years apart. Many of those individuals either became leads they became department chairs. Or they got promoted into an AP position because they knew exactly what I was looking for in a leader. They understood how we use data to inform our decision-making.

And so when they were at the interview, they were able to articulate that. And then I also believe in having buy-in at the school site. So you have California School Employee Association (CSEA) members, you have certificate members, teachers, parents, students, particularly at the high school level, and students that sit on the interview committee. 

CT: What about the impact of coaching teachers and leaders?

Chris: In San Jose Unified and Eastside, we implemented instructional coaching for teachers and it was voluntary and we said, let's start with your best teachers. Unfortunately, what happens in most organizations is we focus on the one teacher or that one person who doesn't show the greatest data improvement. Coaching then becomes “Let’s go fix this person.”

And it's not about fixing people. Even your best teachers want feedback. They want to be praised. They want to be recognized. And if you start the coaching cycle with your best teacher and the teacher has a great experience, then that's going to flow naturally to everyone else. They would think “Maybe I should try it.”

Because if it's not punitive and it's really about the cycle of inquiry, then it's about reflecting on your practices and figuring out “how can I improve my art of teaching so that I can reach every student effectively in my classroom”. And it's the same for principalship.


The importance of continuous feedback and adult learning

CT: How do you measure the impact of leadership both internally on the staff climate as well as on student outcomes? Are there any correlations or links that you've seen that we can point to?

Chris: We do our climate survey every year that we have staff, students, and parents fill out and there are a set of questions that are identical so that we can look at trends, and then there are a set of questions that are unique to who each group is.

So we look at trends there. Anytime we have any type of PD, we have a survey afterward so that we can get feedback. Was it meaningful? Which sessions scored higher than other sessions?

We constantly ask people in advance, what type of training are looking for. It’s important to get that feedback.

Also for those 1-on-1 relationships that you have. Is there something that we said that did not resonate? Or, when I sit in on a principals’ staff meeting, if I see them taking strategies that we use in Cabinet, and adopt them at their school site. Sometimes it's using the same slide that we're using there in our deck in our presentation, or they've taken that slide and the activity and adjusted it to their school, but it was directly the activity we did in cabinet. When I see that, then that gives me a lot of confidence that we had adult learning going on during Cabinet which is now transferred to adult learning at the school site. And so I think that's very important too.

“There's no question that leadership matters. If you don't have a strong principal then the culture at that particular school site will be impacted in a negative way.”


Technology and AI as tools, not drivers

In a world swiftly navigated by AI and technology, Chris exercises a judicious embrace rather than uninhibited enthusiasm. Technology and data as tools for enhancing education is a theme underpinning Chris’s philosophy, yet he cautions against abandoning effective existing approaches for the sake of trendiness.

"We've embraced that... But we're certainly not leading AI yet... we have to start formulating some policies on how we're going to engage with it."

Chris showcases an analytical approach when integrating technology, spearheading the use of data to inform and guide educational paths well ahead of mandated outcomes. This strategic use of tech underlines the balance between innovation and proven educational practices.



Chris Funk

Chris Funk LinkedIn  Superintendent of the Dublin Unified School District



Chris Funk has a career spanning more than three decades in public education and has been the Superintendent of the Dublin Unified School District (DUSD) since June 2021. The Dublin Unified School District serves over 12,900 students, from preschool through adult education, in a diverse suburban environment. It comprises of seven elementary schools, two middle schools, one K-8 school, one alternative high school, and two comprehensive high schools (one of which is currently under construction), and a new TK-8 school in the development phases.

Prior to his time in DUSD, he served as the Superintendent of East Side Union High School District (ESUHSD) for nine years. EHUSD consists of 16 high schools with a combined enrollment of approximately 26,500 as well as an Adult Education program that serves another 4,000 students. Before ESUHSD, Mr. Funk spent five years in district office leadership roles in the San Jose Unified School District as the Assistant Superintendent of the Division of Instruction, and Director of Human Resources where he successfully negotiated successor contracts with all six bargaining units.

Chris Funk, a native of San Jose, received his Masters in Social Science from San Jose State University in 1991. His career in education started in the classroom as a teacher with the East Side Union High School District at Yerba Buena High School. Eighteen of his 30 years in education were with the San Jose Unified District where Chris served for five years as the Principal of Lincoln High School.

During his tenure, Lincoln High School earned a 21st Century School of Distinction, Lighthouse Award, California Distinguished School Award, a six-year WASC accreditation, and improved its API score by 30 points to close the achievement gap between Hispanic and white students by 106 points, a 40% decrease in the gap.

Chris resides in San Jose with his wife Leslie. They have two grown sons living in the Bay Area.

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