CUSD super vows to bring high expectations

Jim Elsasser, the new superintendent of the Claremont Unified School District, is dealing with a much smaller district than he’s accustomed to.

In his previous post, he served as assistant superintendent of human resources for the Anaheim City School District, which encompasses 19,300 students in kindergarten through 6th grade alone. Claremont has roughly 6900 through the 12th grade.

Despite the scaled-down nature of his new district, Mr. Elsasser’s aims for his stepped-up role are expansive.

“I want to make sure we offer our students a high level of education that’s second to none,” he said. “I want to make sure we create an experience for our students that makes them lifelong learners.”

Mr. Elsasser—who earned his B.A. in music education and a master’s in education from Azusa Pacific University, and his doctorate in educational leadership from USC—is ready to learn, too.

As a first time-superintendent, his contract with CUSD stipulates that he work with a professional development coach, whose services will be funded by the district. Mr. Elsasser has already reached out to a mentor, requesting the guidance of Dr. Rudy Castruita of the Rossier School of Education at USC. The contract with Dr. Castruita will be brought before the board at the August 9 meeting of the CUSD board of education.

Mr. Elsasser, 44, also has quite a bit of his own experience to draw upon.

Before joining ACSD in the 2008-2009 school year, he served as director of classified personnel and special projects with the Los Alamitos School District. He was also the principal of Oak Middle School in the same district. Prior to joining Los Alamitos, Mr. Elsasser was a teacher, assistant principal and principal in the Downey Unified School District.

In the 3 weeks since he took office, he has been getting the lay of the land here in Claremont. 

Mr. Elsasser notes he’s conducted one-on-one meetings with over 40 people, including principals, support staff, cabinet members, individuals in the community and members of the school board.

“I’m learning the culture of the district as well as the community,” he said. “I want to learn about the partnerships we have. I’ll be asking, ‘What are our strengths?’ and ‘What are our areas of growth?’”

In recent years, the retention of superintendents has not been one of Claremont’s strengths.

The last superintendent, Terry Nichols, left for the Duarte School District after less than 2 years with CUSD. Gloria Johnston served as interim superintendent in the time between Mr. Nichols’ departure and the inking of Mr. Elsasser’s contract. The previous CUSD superintendent, David Cash, currently superintendent at the Santa Barbara Unified School District, left after 3 years. His predecessor Sheralyn Smith, also resigned after 3 years.

Given this rate of turnover, many Claremonters have a pressing question for Mr. Elsasser: “How long will you stay?” Mr. Elsasser hopes his answer will reassure the community.

“I feel fortunate to have been hired here in the district, and look forward to working here a number of years,” he said. “I have been impressed with the people I’ve met in the organization and in the community. I’ve learned in 3 weeks that this community values education.”

Proponents of art education will be happy to hear that Mr. Elsasser—whose first gig in education was as a middle school music teacher—values enrichment activities. He has been playing piano since he was 8, and is well versed in several brass instruments.

“I want to make sure our students are passionate about something in school—maybe it’s academics, maybe it’s art, maybe it’s athletics—so that when they graduate, they’re able to take that passion and contribute to a global society,” he said.

Mr. Elsasser comes to Claremont at a good time.

At a time when many other districts are financially floundering, Claremont is solvent. Relations between the district and CUSD employees are also going smoothly. Union representatives for CUSD faculty, management and classified  employees recently signed new contracts after a negotiation process faculty union president Dave Chamberlains says was marked by efficiency and respectfulness.

Things are going well on the home front as well.

Mr. Elsasser derives support and enjoyment from his family, which includes his wife, Lori, a medical transcriptionist, and 3 children. Corey, 16, is the varsity quarterback at Canyon High School in Anaheim Hills; his daughter Brooke, 15, also attends Canyon; and his youngest child, Nicholas, is a 7th grader at El Rancho High School.

The new CUSD superintendent says he and his wife have opted to remain in their Anaheim Hills home to keep the kids in their current district. At those ages, they are settled and entrenched in activities at their respective schools.

Despite the fact that, at 6-foot-6, Mr. Elsasser is basketball-player tall, he emphasizes that he’s a music guy rather than a sports guy. He can only marvel at his son’s athletic skill.  

“I don’t know where he gets it—maybe his grandpa,” he said.

Want to see the new superintendent in action? The next meeting of the CUSD Board of Education will be held at 6:30 p.m., August 9 at the Richard S. Kirkendall Education Center.

—Sarah Torribio



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