LBUSD Superintendent Steinhauser to Retire July 1, 2020

From the Long Beach Post, January 9, 2020 by Jason Ruiz

The Long Beach Unified School District Board of Education began laying out parameters for how it will fill the big shoes left behind by longtime Superintendent Chris Steinhauser who announced his retirement in December.

While Steinhauser’s decision was not completely a surprise, it does force the board to start a search process it wasn’t anticipating so soon. Steinhauser is set to step aside at the end of the school year, which is in July, but the board is trying to get a jump on finding his replacement.

At its Wednesday night meeting, the board began to discuss what kind of search it wanted to undertake and how that process might look. While the board won’t vote on an official outline of the process until its next meeting, its members began making suggestions and asking questions about what could be included in that vote.

Will the applicants be able to apply for the job confidentially to avoid burning bridges with their current employers? What will the public outreach look like during the process and how will potential town hall meetings play out?

The biggest question of the night was where the new superintendent would be sought. Will they come from within the district or from the outside?

A majority of the board, including Board Members Megan Kerr, Jon Meyer and Diana Craighead, expressed their feeling that the talent pool within the district was so deep that the search should be focused there first, if not exclusively.

Kerr distinguished Long Beach from Los Angeles and Orange County in saying that Long Beach, while a big city in its own right, has always had a small-town feel with its school district taking a relationships-based approach to education. The person at the top of that structure, she said, should be someone already familiar with that idea.

“When we’re looking at who is going to be at the top, that linchpin of the relationships within this district, I believe that there is no one better to do that work than someone who is invested in our system already,” Kerr said.

Meyer expressed concern that if the search were opened up to outsiders they might hire someone who is looking at Long Beach as more of a stepping stone than a career, which would break with recent history. Steinhauser had served as superintendent of the district for the past 18 years and before him, Carl Cohn had served for 10 years.

Meyer attributed the successes the district has had over that span to the continuity it had from people who were invested in Long Beach.

“Is an outsider going to come in and alter that and say, ‘Oh, Long Beach is a fat job, they’ve got a good district,’ and come in here for five years and say ‘Adios’ after throwing all kinds of changes at us?” Meyer said. “I think we need to keep in mind the stability and the virtue of the long progress we’ve made over the last 20 years.”

While there was sentiment to keep the search insular, other members of the board suggested that it look outward for candidates as well. Board Member Juan Benitez said that the search should be both local and national and that if the Long Beach talent was truly the best, it would rise to the top.

“The only way you can test if your best is the strongest is to put them out against the national best and prove that we’ve got the best,” Benitez said. “We have big shoes to fill.”

Chris Callopy, the executive director of the Teachers Association of Long Beach, agreed that the search should be opened up to all applicants. He cautioned that the Long Beach way has sometimes made the district a little too insular and that new blood wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing.

Whoever the hire ends up being, Callopy said that they will need a mandate and the support of the full board as well as other stakeholders like teachers, parents and students.

“I would encourage the board to have a deliberately open process. We do have plenty of talent her locally but it would not be obtuse to looking outside and just seeing what’s going on out there. The district that Chris [Steinhauser] took over twenty years ago is not the same district we have today and we shouldn’t be afraid to see what else is out there.”

The board is scheduled to meet again Jan. 22 when it’s expected to formally vote on the outline of its search.