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Nothing but Good Reviews for New Superintendent  

By Ann K. Williams
Lookout Staff

May 12, 2011 – Usually when two reporters get together to talk about a public figure, a certain amount of dishing goes on, but not in the case of Sandra Lyon, Santa Monica-Malibu's new school superintendent.

“I've never encountered anyone who had anything bad to say about her,” Julie Drake, education reporter for the Antelope Valley Press told the Lookout Tuesday.

Palmdale School District Trustee Jeff Ferrin seconded that impression, calling Lyon “the best of the best.

“She is a consummate professional and a kind-hearted, compassionate administrator who very sincerely understands that all of us in this profession work for children,” Ferrin told The Lookout Wednesday.

Lyon has been Chief Leadership Officer for the Palmdale School District for nearly two years, managing the principals of 24 schools in the 21,000 student K-8 district, the fourth largest elementary school district in California.

The district has a high percentage of students who qualify for free and reduced-fee lunches, and many who speak English as a second language, Drake said. So Lyon is no stranger to working in an environment of economic and cultural diversity.

“We all have a lot of the same challenges,” Lyon told the Lookout Wednesday.

She said she knows she'll be dealing with the achievement gap between white and minority and less privileged students in Santa Monica, just as she did in Palmdale. “It's a state and national” problem, she pointed out.

Lyon is proud of her work in Palmdale to address it. She said she set up “a professional learning infrastructure at schools to get grade levels to focus on achievement.”

She gave teachers the tools they needed to be collaborative, to examine data, and to focus on the students, not adults, during their grade level meetings.

And she took an active role in setting up “a communication structure, so the district communicates with the community,” she said, adding that effective communication goes two ways. One of the things she's looking forward to in Santa Monica-Malibu are the district's active, engaged parents.

She should be equal to the task of bringing together the district's many, sometimes competing, groups, Ferrin said.

“Lyon is unequaled in her capacity to bring about unparalleled systemic change, and to do so in a manner that is prescriptive all the while maintaining positive relationships with all stakeholders,” said Ferrin.

While careful to qualify her answers, saying that she will have to learn more about what's already being done in Santa Monica-Malibu before she announces any specific plans, Lyon responded to questions about some of the district's most intractable problems.

She said she's going to have to “look at the data...drill down” to get a handle on this district's persistent achievement gap.

“All students should have access to the core curriculum,” and to full inclusion, Lyon said, but again, she said she'll have to make a complete study of what's already being done by the district to meet the needs of special education students.

And then there's the budget.

The Palmdale district managed to finish last year with more than a three per cent reserve and with a minimum of layoffs, Drake said.

But Lyon understands that things might harder this year. Manager of Human Services Division Julie

“It's premature to say what's coming down the pike from Sacramento,” she said. There may be cutbacks as high as $350 per average daily attendence (a way of counting the number of students per year), then again, it might not be that bad, she said. At worst, the “hits could be draconian.”

What's important is that members of the education community “pull together,” said Lyon.

So what do Lyon and her husband, Paul, look forward to when they move to the southland?

Lyon said she and Paul love city life. They met and married in San Francisco, and look forward to returning to the kind of environment where they first set out on their careers (Paul is a high school teacher).

As they travelled the state, they looked at various places they might like to live.

“This would be fun, rich with culture, diverse,” she said of Santa Monica.

They like to jog – not run, Lyon specified, jog – and after the dark roads and hills of rural Antelope Valley she's looking forward to jogging and riding bikes by the beach.

And she's looking forward to “liv[ing] in a place with sidewalks where you can walk to a coffee shop on the corner.”

Paul will continue to teach at Palmdale High School. According to Lyon, the “reverse commute” isn't that much longer than his current daily drive.

When Lyon replaces current Superintendent Tim Cuneo on July 1, Palmdale school officials say we'll be getting a gem.

“I am certain that she will be one of the finest, most dedicated, well respected, and most accomplished superintendents that your district has ever engaged,” Ferrin said.


She is a consummate professional and a kind-hearted, compassionate administrator." Jeff Ferrin

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