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School Superintendent Broadens His Education for Possible Move

By Ann K. Williams
Staff Writer

February 8 -- Superintendent Dr. John E. Deasy appeared to be getting ready to move up the career ladder last week, when a prominent Los Angeles businessman sent the district’s chief back to school to sharpen his skills and rub elbows with other top administrators.

One of just 18 applicants chosen nationwide to receive a prestigious Eli Broad Superintendents Academy grant, Deasy will spend seven long weekends in the company of a cadre of educators and business, government and military leaders who aspire to take charge of the nation’s toughest urban schools.

The Academy is the brainchild of self-made billionaire Eli Broad, the son of Lithuanian immigrants and a product of the public schools who sees the future of public education as essential to the American dream.

The first of the sessions started last Wednesday night, and was “incredibly intense,” Deasy told The Lookout.

When asked what this opportunity will mean for his future, Deasy, whose three-year contract extension expires this fall, said he’ll become a Broad Fellow when he graduates. Besides the “knowledge base” he’ll acquire, he’ll gain “the respect that comes with it.”

But there’s more.

“At some point I expect to work in a large urban school district,” Deasy said, defining large as 25,000 students or more, a good deal larger than the Santa Monica-Malibu District.

“I’m 44,” Deasy explained. “I’m probably not spending my career until I’m 65 here,”

Pointing out that the average superintendent spends two and one-half years on the job, Deasy said, ‘I’m in my 5th year. I love my district and I love my work here.”

Whether he is planning to leave Santa Monica is probably “a good question to ask down the road,” he added, though he didn’t say how far down the road.

After a five-year stint as superintendent of schools in Coventry, Rhode Island, where Deasy attracted national attention for his innovative programs, he resigned in April 2001, just after renewing his contract (see article).

His resignation left the schools there scrambling to find a successor while other school officials followed suit, leaving a vacuum at the top, Joseph Butler, who served as chair of the Coventry School Committee, the equivalent of the local School Board, told The Lookout in an article published in April, 2004.

But Butler was not surprised to see Deasy seize the opportunity to head west to run the 12,500-student district in Santa Monica and Malibu.

“He didn’t break his contract,” Butler said. “He told us a good superintendent lasts five to six years, tops. That’s the life span of any good superintendent. Then you have to move on to put your ideas to work elsewhere.”

And some local school officials said they accept this turnover as a fact of life.

School Board member Jose Escarce was quoted in the same article as saying he was aware Santa Monica was probably not Deasy’s last stop, but he was hopeful he would serve until his contract is up.

“When anyone signs on, there is no guarantee they will stay on,” Escarce said. “There must be a mutual fit, and here the fit is.”

Broad Academy spokesperson Erica Lepping cautioned against inferring too much from Deasy’s membership in the program, which is designed to “infuse leadership” into low-income urban school districts.

“Many (past participants) stayed in their district,” she said. “No agreement is required” to change jobs. She also thought that Santa Monica-Malibu might qualify as a “large” district.

However, the Broad Superintendents Academy Frequently Asked Questions page tells superintendents who already work in small urban districts “after receiving the training, you must seek a job in a Broad-eligible large urban district within 18 months.” Santa Monica-Malibu is not on the list of eligible districts.

Lepping went on to stress the benefits that Deasy’s participation would bring to the Santa Monica-Malibu District.

“This is a phenomenal opportunity for this district,” she said. The program “draws in the best and the brightest and the most talented leaders.”

Deasy will “learn from the best key studies,…contact the top minds” and can bring back valuable information during and after the course, Lepping said.

Deasy told The Lookout he hopes to bring back the techniques and insights he learns to further his goals for the District.

Number one on his list was “raising the achievement level for all students and closing the achievement gap.” His other two goals support the first – “being mindful about targeting resources” and “getting everyone focused on the same goal.”

After last week’s session, which ran from Wednesday night through Sunday, Deasy will attend six more long weekends spread out through November.

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