Troy Fennel, the Division of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) Superintendent of Education, is retiring after almost three decades serving youth. Fennel began his career as the sports coach at N.A. Chaderjian in 1992, often showing up for work in gym shorts.
“We had a very robust intramural sports program with basketball, volleyball, softball, soccer, football, weightlifting and handball,” said Fennel, looking back on his long career.
During his 29 and half years, he also served stints at other DJJ facilities such as O. H. Close, Karl Holton, Dewitt Nelson, the Preston School of Industry and CDCR headquarters.
During his time at Preston, he had access to some remote areas of the early facility buildings that are now tourist attractions.
“Preston still had some of the original buildings from the late 1800s and early 1900s that I was able to go into. There were still antique pieces of furniture from the original school, and other interesting artifacts. One of the old warehouse buildings had signatures from youth on the wall and the years they were there,” Fennel recalls.
The old shoe shop, in which youth learned the cobbler trade, was remodeled for use as his office.
Fennel didn’t get ahead by always going along. He once had a beef with management over what he thought was an unfair practice. That process led to him to pursue a career in upper management, becoming assistant superintendent in 2012, and superintendent in 2016.
Fennel credits the Farrell lawsuit for helping change the culture of DJJ and paving the way for educational innovations tied to trauma-informed treatment, such as increased use of technology, project-based learning, advanced math courses, and new partnerships that allow more college courses to be taught at DJJ.
Perhaps the crowning achievement of his career at DJJ was shepherding the partnership with San Francisco State University and Project Rebound to offer a university level certificate program in Ethnic Studies.
“Access to college is critical for the success of youth leaving DJJ and forging a normal life path. Youth need to have as seamless a transition into a positive environment as we can possibly make,” Fennel said.
In retirement, Fennel said he wants to use his experience to continue to help provide programs for justice-impacted people. Rumor has it that he will likely spend his free time near a fishing hole.