School & District Management

Outgoing San Diego Schools Chief Tapped as California’s Next Education Secretary

By Joetta L. Sack — April 29, 2005 2 min read
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California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has picked one of the nation’s best-known district superintendents to be his next state secretary of education.

Alan D. Bersin, the outgoing chief of the 140,000-student San Diego schools, will succeed Richard J. Riordan in the Cabinet-level post as the governor’s chief education adviser. Mr. Riordan, a former Los Angeles mayor, announced his retirement from the job on April 27.

In announcing the appointment of Mr. Bersin at an April 29 press conference, Gov Schwarzenegger said, “Alan is a reformer and the perfect choice for secretary for education.”

The governor, a Republican, added of Mr. Bersin: “He is a big believer in standards and accountability in schools. He wants to use school performance reports in the most productive way for our kids and teachers.”

Mr. Bersin, a Democrat and a former federal prosecutor, has served as San Diego’s superintendent since 1998. He has drawn national attention for his intense focus on instructional methods, through such initiatives as a leadership academy for administrators, peer coaches for teachers, and a basic-skills curriculum for students.

But in January, the San Diego school board voted to amend the contract of Mr. Bersin, 58, to end this summer, a year ahead of schedule. The contract followed efforts by new board members to dismantle his improvement plans.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell, the state’s elected schools chief, praised Mr. Bersin for his success in San Diego at improving achievement, shrinking academic-achievement gaps between students from different racial and ethnic groups, and his implementation of the state’s standards.

“I have known and admired Alan Bersin for many years,” Mr. O’Connell, a former Democratic state senator, said in a statement. “He has a wealth of experience, a passion for education, and strong leadership qualities.”

Mr. Bersin will begin the secretary’s job July 1, the day after Mr. Riordan departs.

Though the superintendent of public instruction and the gubernatorially appointed state school board hold more authority over K-12 education policy, the education secretary often takes a prominent role in articulating and championing the governor’s agenda for schools.

“I share Governor Schwarzenegger’s commitment to provide the tools and resources necessary to deliver the best possible education to every California child and the best training to every California teacher,” Mr. Bersin said at the press conference.

Mr. Schwarzenegger is facing tough challenges from teachers’ unions, other education groups, and the Democratic-led legislature in getting many of his education plans approved. The governor is currently promoting ballot initiatives to restructure teacher tenure and tweak the state’s school funding formula.

Mr. Bersin holds a law degree from Yale University and served under President Clinton as the U.S. attorney in San Diego before becoming superintendent there.

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