Ceremony draws big turnout, big praise for new CUSD superintendent

Richard S. Kirkendall Education Center on Thursday during a welcome reception for new Claremont Unified School District Superintendent Jim Elsasser.

“It feels like you’ve been welcoming me for a long time,” joked Mr. Elsasser, who inked his contract in May and took the reins of the CUSD June 1. “I promise this is the last welcome event.”

Talking to school administrators, CUSD staffers,  school board and council members, however, it was apparent the new district head has not worn out his welcome.

“I’ve never heard so many unsolicited people speak so highly of an individual before. He’s so approachable, particularly for a guy who’s 6-foot-6,” CUSD school board president Jeff Stark said. “As a board member, picking a superintendent can be pretty stressful. It’s nice to know we’re doing a good job.”

Mr. Elsasser did a good job of making the rounds, shaking hands and answering questions during the evening meet-and-greet preceded the regular school board meeting. Guests mingled too, munching on crackers, cheese, fruit and cookies courtesy of CUSD nutrition services against the tuneful backdrop of the Claremont High School jazz combo. 

Board member Steven Llanusa echoed Mr. Stark’s enthusiasm.

“I think he’s one of the best decisions we’ve made as a board,” Mr. Llanusa said. “He not only listens to people, I think he hears their concerns, almost intuitively understanding the subtext.”

Councilmember Joe Lyons said one of his concerns is finding areas where the city can partner with the school district, or any community organizations, for that matter. By teaming up to share resources, students, parents and all Claremonters can benefit while saving money during a time of shrinking state funding. There are already a number of areas where the aims of the city and the district overlap, Mr. Lyons noted. They include the GetAbout program, providing transportation for Claremonters ranging from senior citizens to students to city-sponsored afterschool programs to CUSD’s inclusion in the Claremont Sustainable City Plan, adopted by the city council in 2008.

Steven Boyd, principal of St. Antonio High School, said he is pleased so far with Mr. Elsasser’s sense of partnership and vision with regards to the local alternative education site.

“I love him. He really understands alternative education, which is such a quirky part of education,” Mr. Boyd said. “He has a passion for kids and, just listening to his philosophy, it matches very well with what we’re doing.”

That passion extends to Mr. Elsasser’s own children.  Earlier in the day, Mr. Elsasser traveled to Vista Elementary School to hear 2 authors address Vista and Oakmont students.

One of the presenters at the assembly, aimed at 5th and 6th graders, was Margaret Peterson Haddix, who just released a new installment of her thrilling young adult book series, “The Missing.” Mr. Elsasser¸ who most recently served as assistant superintendent of human resources for the Anaheim City School District, said he and his eldest son read Ms. Haddix’s Shadow Children series together a couple of years ago.

“He didn’t like to read much, so we took turns reading aloud and got hooked,” he said.

Members of a community that is increasingly supportive of Mr. Elsasser will be happy to hear he anticipates staying with CUSD for several years. This assurance comes at a time when many superintendents move quickly from post to post, following the call of greater pay and opportunity.

“My impressions are very positive, not only what I’ve seen in the paper but his interest in our community. The promise of his tenure is good,” noted Butch Henderson, retired Pastor of the Claremont United Church of Christ. Mr. Henderson met with Mr. Elsasser as a representative of the city’s community and human services commission shortly after the new superintendent joined CUSD.

The welcome reception was considered a resounding success, drawing members of an array of organizations, including Sustainable Claremont, Active Claremont and the Claremont Educational Foundation as well as representatives from the local Sylvan Learning Center.

Also present were perennial education boosters like 12-year school board member Joan Presecan and semi-retired COURIER education reporter Pat Yarborough, who may have left their posts but retain their love of CUSD.

“You don’t give up your interest and concern,” Ms. Presecan said. “I also come back to see everyone.”

—Sarah Torribio



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