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Media Coverage
Schools Look South For New Boss
December 15, 1998



Tuesday, December 15, 1998
Section: news
Page: A03
David Ferris

RICHMOND In their search for a new superintendent, West Contra Costa Unified school board members tentatively have rejected the top local candidate and are focusing on three from Southern California, a board member said Monday.

The three candidates are Gloria Johnston, the superintendent of the tiny Banning school district; Joseph Tafoya, a deputy superintendent in Santa Ana; and Lee Eastwood, a former high school district superintendent in Whittier, said trustee Charles Ramsey.

Meanwhile, the prospect of promotion seemed dim for Deputy Superintendent Anna Blackman, the only local candidate among the five interviewed by board members and a citizens' committee late last week.

The trustees have a top candidate, though Ramsey and other trustees would not say whom. The five trustees plan to fly south to interview parents and colleagues in that person's district late this week.

Announcement of the new superintendent may come by Monday or Tuesday.

The new school chief will succeed Herb Cole, 60, who is retiring in January after six years at the helm.

Cole is credited with pulling the West County district back from a 1991 bankruptcy. A reform effort by the previous superintendent had left the district in financial shambles, but under Cole, the district opened three new schools, restructured its debt and improved its bond rating.

The district's rosy economic picture has allowed the district to choose from among the best candidates, said board President Diana Easton. Enrollment in the 33,000-student district is rising, and voters approved a $40 million construction bond issue earlier this year.

The candidates declined to discuss their prospects for employment in interviews Monday but gave the following information about themselves:

* Eastwood, 57, is a consultant with the Los Angeles County Office of Education. For 11 years, he served as superintendent of the eight-school, 11,000-student Whittier Union High School District. He has 17 years' experience as a teacher and principal.

* Johnston has worked for six years as superintendent of the Banning Unified School District, a district with 4,500 students and eight schools. Previously, she was an administrator in the 32,000-student Poway district and has been a principal and teacher.

* Tafoya, 52, has worked at the Santa Ana Unified School District for five years as an assistant superintendent and for the past five years as deputy superintendent of curriculum and instruction. The 55,000-student district has a budget of $280 million.

He was a principal at various schools at all levels in San Diego for eight years and a high school math teacher for five years.

Blackman, the West County deputy superintendent, may be reconsidered if the other candidates don't work out, Easton said.

Blackman, who has worked up through the ranks since starting as a teacher three decades ago, did not return calls Monday.

"She's highly thought of and has a good reputation," said Tom Butt, a Richmond City Councilman who was a member of the citizens committee. "