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Shifts in key positions highlight Claremont school board meeting

It was hello and goodbye at the latest meeting of the Claremont Unified School District Board of Education, held Thursday, June 21 at the Richard S. Kirkendall Education Center.

The school board and the community bid farewell to Interim CUSD Superintendent Gloria Johnston who stepped in after the previous superintendent, Terry Nichols, traded Claremont for the Duarte school district after less than 2 years in office.

“We were so fortunate to find you at this critical time in our history, at a time when morale wasn’t as high as it could or should be,” said board member Sam Mowbray, who said that Ms. Johnston had managed to “wow” the community.

Ms. Johnston, who maintained residency in Claremont during the course of her supervisory role here, will return to her home in San Diego. Her grandchildren, she notes, will be happy to have their grandmother to play with again.

Board member Hilary LaConte shed a few tears as she thanked Ms. Johnston for making her “a better school board member,” sentiments echoed by the board vice president and the board president, Mary Caenepeel and Jeff Stark.

Despite the brevity of her time in Claremont, 16 months, Ms. Johnston seems to have forged some lasting connections.

Former CUSD school board president Beth Bingham attested to her admiration for Ms. Johnston, a fellow midwesterner who was the first to ring her doorbell and give her a hug after the death of her husband. She said that Ms. Johnston has been “a champion of all our students.”

“Interim positions are not easy,” Ms. Bingham said, noting that the role always comes with “tough decisions.”

“A strong leader will probably ruffle some feathers,” she continued. “But as you all know, if a bird’s feathers aren’t ruffled, they will never fly.”

Ms. Johnston received a standing ovation from those in attendance.

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Greetings were in order for Kristin Robinson after the board approved her as the new principal of Sumner Elementary School. Ms. Robinson comes to Claremont from the Chino Unified School District, where she served as principal for Oakridge and Hidden Trails Elementary School, among other posts. Before moving onto school administration, she was a classroom teacher for the Covina Valley and Snowline school districts.

A district news release notes Ms. Robinson was selected to replace former Sumner Principal Frank D’Emilio—who will be returning to a CUSD classroom as a teacher this fall—by the unanimous agreement of 2 interview panels composed of district administrators, teachers, classified staff and parents.

 “Her recommendation is due to her exceptional leadership in building strong relationships with students, families, staff and community,” notes a CUSD press release. “Through these relationships, she is able to impact every student by addressing their social, emotional, physical and intellectual needs.”

Kevin Ward, assistant superintendent of human resources for the Claremont Unified School District, said that all who have worked with Ms. Robinson, who begins her tenure on July 1, have high praise for the administrator.

“She had some of the highest recommendation I’ve seen in my career,” Mr. Ward said.

Ms. Robinson noted that one of her children is already attending a school in the CUSD, and her second will be doing the same this coming year. She looks forward to strengthening her ties with the Claremont community.

“I’ve left behind a great district, with sadness, but I’m very excited to join the team,” Ms. Robinson said.

There was one more goodbye as faculty union president Joe Tonan announced he would be stepping down from his role. Mr. Tonan, a teacher at Sumner Elementary School, hands the reigns over to Claremont Faculty Association Bargaining Chair David Chamberlain. Mr. Chamberlain is an English teacher and speech and debate coach at Claremont High School.

Mr. Tonan thanked Ms. Shoemaker, Mr. Ward, Bonnie Bell, assistant superintendent of educational services, and Mike Bateman, assistant administrator of student services, for the way they have worked with the CFA over the past few years.

At Thursday’s meeting, the board approved an agreement between the faculty union and the district, which union members had earlier passed by a 99 percent vote. Changes to the previous agreement included the institution of a new system in which to evaluate the performances of school nurses, counselors and psychologists. Previously, they were evaluated with the same criteria used for teachers.

A more uniform evaluation process for teachers has also been instituted. At each CUSD school, criteria will be selected via a joint effort by the site administrator, the teacher being evaluated and the teacher’s peers. The former category might represent a consensus of the entire faculty at the school or among colleagues who teach the same grade or subject matter.

“We have accomplished much this year,” Mr. Tonan said.

He shared that, by sacrificing his time to serve fellow faculty member, he had gained insight into the job undertaken by the school board.

“This experience has maybe given me some insight into the sacrifices that each one of you board members make—time taken away from your family and jobs, your passions and interests, in order for you to give your time and talents to the staff and especially to the students of Claremont.”

Budgeting amid uncertainly

The rest of the meeting was dominated by budget concerns as Lisa Shoemaker, assistant superintendent of business services, delivered a report on the CUSD budget for 2012-2013. It represents her 16th such report, she noted.

The budget features 2 main themes: conservatism and contingencies.

The Claremont district is currently solvent, which “is an enviable position,” said Mr. Stark. The board agreed the district’s financial health is due to frugality and the collective decision to “hunker down” until the economic climate improves.

With this in mind, the new budget aims to preserve programs rather than expanding them. The current budget allows for $5,207 per student. Although that figure should be about $1,500 higher, Ms. Shoemaker said the district should be able to continue to serve students and employ personnel at current levels through 2015.

Governor Jerry Brown has proposed a tax initiative, which has qualified for the November ballot, that would increase the sales tax by a quarter-cent on the dollar and raise taxes among individuals who earn $250,000 and above or joint filers who earn at least $500,000.

Should the measure pass, it will generate an estimated $8.5 billion in the current budget cycle. That amount would allow for additional education funding to help bridge the beleaguered state’s $15.7 million deficit. If it does not pass, Ms. Shoemaker said CUSD will face “a little trouble,” and can expect cuts of $3 million per year.

Ms. Shoemaker said the next election’s high stakes with regards to education make it crucial that local voters head to the polls come November.

The COURIER will explore the latest CUSD budget in greater details in a future edition of the newspaper.

—Sarah Torribio

storribio@claremont-courier.com

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