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School District Begins to Fill Top Jobs

By Ann K. Williams
Staff Writer

August 14 -- One of three empty principal positions in the School District’s secondary schools was filled last week, helping remedy what some City and school leaders called a “power void” brought on by the resignation of Superintendent Dr. John E. Deasy in February.

The announcement came two weeks after Dianne Talarico was tapped as the district’s new superintendent. (see story)

Tristan Komlos -- a Texas native who served the last two years at Santa Monica High School as one of the school’s six “house principals” -- will take over from Kathy Scott as head administrator of Lincoln Middle School, the district announced last week.

“Tristan has proven that she is able to plan, develop and implement instructional objectives and District initiatives,” Interim Superintendent Tim Walker said of the 12-year veteran teacher and administrator.

Described by district officials as a “well-liked and highly effective leader,” Komlos was an integral figure in SAMOHI’s controversial redesign into six 600-student “houses.”

She also played a key role in bringing the “Facing History and Facing Ourselves” curriculum to a school that’s been wracked by interracial conflict in recent years.

“We turned to Facing History not only because of its reputation as a program of personal connection, relevance, and rigor, but also because several of our teachers knew firsthand the power of the approach,” said “M House” Principal Komlos.

“Facing History transforms teachers, and by doing so, transforms students,” she said.

In a game of administrative musical chairs, the district is realigning its leadership as September 6 -- the opening day of the school year -- approaches.

Lincoln and John Adams Middle schools and SAMOHI lost their principals after Deasy left the district in February to take charge of Prince George’s County Schools, one of the nation’s largest urban school districts. (see story)

Scott resigned her position at Lincoln Middle School because she has moved out of the area, district officials said. Santa Monica High School and John Adams Middle School are still without principals.

Former SAMOHI Principal Ilene Straus took a position in the district’s central office as Senior Director of Secondary Education after she was dogged by controversy over the redesign she spearheaded, and former JAMS Principal Irene Ramos has been given a position as a counselor at SAMOHI. (see story)

School officials said a new principal for JAMS will be chosen very soon.

After the principals resigned, Interim Superintendent Michael Matthews left the district two months after Deasy’s departure, taking a job with Extreme Learning, a private firm that develops after-school programs. (see story)

And Chief Academic Officer Donna Muncey returned to her home in Prince George’s County where she’s taken a job under Deasy’s leadership.

The exodus from top-level administrative ranks has caused some to be concerned about a “power void” in the district.

But district officials and key community volunteers counsel patience, saying it’s better to look for the best candidates, rather than rush to fill the empty positions.

Promising a “relatively seamless” transition going into the fall, Interim Superintendent Tim Walker said in July, “It’s always better to take time finding quality staff.”

And School Board member Jose Escarce told the Lookout that “we’re not going to fill (the positions) with just anybody.”

While he said he “understand(s) the anxiety,” Escarce was confident that the schools will open smoothly in the fall.

Board member Emily Bloomfield agreed, comparing the level of management that’s left at the schools to a civil service that can function competently as top leaders come and go.

“I wouldn’t really call it a void,” Bloomfield said. “There’s a lot of institutional knowledge. Things haven’t collapsed… If you go one level down, those people are still there.”

“Change is somewhat inevitable” when a Superintendent leaves, pointed out Patricia Hoffman, a member of the Financial Oversight Committee that makes sure the district spends its bond money properly.

Hoffman, a former board president, said she was glad that the district is “sticking to its high standards.”

And former SAMOHI PTA president Louise Jaffe, now a candidate for the Santa Monica College Board of Trustees, was reasonably optimistic.

“It’s certainly a time of change,” Jaffe said last month. “Change is a drag, but we might as well make the most of it.”

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