Published Online: May 13, 1998
Published in Print: May 13, 1998, as Administrators

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The Vista, Calif., school board made headlines when it dangled an annual salary and benefits package of up to $300,000 before potential candidates for its superintendent's job.

The money was to ensure that the district could attract people from a variety of backgrounds, including the top ranks of business. But at the end of last month, the board settled on a new chief for the 26,000-student system--and he's an educator. In fact, all three finalists were from other districts.

R. Davis Cowles, formerly the schools chief in Los Banos, Calif., takes over the suburban San Diego district this week with a salary and benefits package worth about $170,000, said Bob Spence, the consultant who conducted the search.

"We had CEOs apply, but most of them, when they heard what a superintendent has to do, withdrew," Mr. Spence said. Business executives were surprised to find, for example, that the budget would have to be approved by the school board.

That's not the way it works in most corporations, where the board of directors meets infrequently and has little say in operations.

Of the eight semifinalists, Mr. Spence said, two were business people, one was a former military officer, one had a background in both education and business, and four were educators. "When you take a look at the position profile we put together," the consultant said, "you see that Dave Cowls has demonstrated the skills we were looking for."

California principals at all three school levels rank improving teacher quality as the most important change for helping them do their jobs better, a recent survey suggests. Elementary principals put reducing class sizes in second place, while middle school principals chose increased funding for facility improvements.

High school principals surveyed said that, after improving teacher quality, strengthening student accountability would help them do their jobs better.

Asked to pick which reforms had the greatest effect on student achievement, California principals at all three school levels ranked reducing class size or improving teacher quality in the first two positions.

The survey of 419 principals was conducted by the nonprofit EdSource of Palo Alto, Calif. The respondents, who mailed back a survey sent to 3,395 principals, can't be considered statistically representative of the state, but the demographic profile of respondents largely matched that of principals statewide, the group said.

--BESS KELLER bkeller@epe.org

Vol. 17, Issue 35, Page 8

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