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First Farewells to School Leaders

By Ann K. Williams
Staff Writer

February 20 -- School officials said their first goodbyes last week to not one but two key figures in district leadership -- Superintendent Dr. John E. Deasy and his assistant Karen Garot.

Deasy was named last week as the lead candidate for superintendent of the seventeenth largest public school system in the country, while it was announced at the board meeting that Garot will retire next fall.

“Obviously it’s been a very difficult day for me,” an uncharacteristically subdued Deasy told the board Thursday night. “It’s very difficult for me to contemplate leaving a community that I love for a community that I’m going to love.”

However conflicted he feels about leaving Santa Monica, Deasy expressed optimism about his new challenge heading Prince George’s County public schools.

The Washington, D.C. area schools have been rocked by state intervention and an FBI investigation into financial impropriety in recent years.

But Deasy told the board that he’s impressed by the Maryland community’s commitment to student achievement for all students.

Deasy also made sure the board and his audience understood that formal goodbyes are still a bit premature. Prince George’s has yet to complete “due diligence,” which in this case means sending representatives to Santa Monica and negotiating a contract.

Judging from the board’s outpouring of congratulations and regret at Deasy’s departure, Prince George’s envoys should get a glowing report.

“He has really done what I believe to be remarkable, outstanding work for this community for the last five years,” Board member Jose Escarce said.

Referring to the “enormous challenges” that await Deasy in the Maryland county, Escarce said, “If anybody is up to those challenges, it is certainly John.”

“Our loss is this new district’s gain and they are indeed lucky,” Board member Emily Bloomfield agreed.

Deasy’s legacy of commitment to equal educational opportunity for all students was cited more than once as his most important lasting contribution to the district.

Thanks to Deasy’s influence, “increasing achievement for all while closing achievement gap is a mantra district wide,” Bloomfield said.

Escarce assured the community that the board will “spare no effort” to replace Deasy with a new superintendent who will continue his work.

But Board members weren’t the only ones singing Deasy’s praises.

Perhaps the most compelling compliments came from Harry Keiley, President of the Santa Monica-Malibu California Teachers Association.

“The superintendent has done an excellent job the last five years” Keiley said. “It’s not always been easy, but it shouldn’t be…(We) were able to put differences aside and to put the greater good above all of our agendas.

“We found ways to disagree respectfully and professionally and sometimes that’s not easy to do,” he added. “Part of a great school district is leadership in many different positions, including the superintendency, and that’s coming from a union president.”

Ever the friend of staff, Keiley made sure to include Garot in his remarks.

“I want to thank you Karen, for all that you have done and your service to our school district, and how kind you have been to me as a human being,” Keiley said.

Deasy’s thanks to Garot were inspired by years of close partnership.

“Karen…has been just beyond a support,” Deasy said. “I will miss her tremendously.”

“There is no question who really runs the district from the day I came here,” he quipped, as board members chuckled.

After two weeks of rumor and uncertainty, there was a sense of emotional release as Deasy’s departure came out in the open.

And though the rest of the meeting was not without tension, after their exchange Deasy and the board seemed relieved, energized and ready to tackle the work they still have ahead of them.

Next week, the board will convene to begin the process of searching for a new superintendent. The first opportunity for public comment will be at a special meeting on Thursday, February 23 at 5:00 p.m. in the board room at the school district offices at 1651 16th Street.

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