Retirement Looms, but Kleinrock Still Rooting for School District

Loren Kleinrock
Photo by Zane Hill / OUTLOOK
Loren Kleinrock speaks to the Rotary Club of San Marino.

As he prepares to depart the San Marino Unified School District for a second time, Loren Kleinrock, as last week’s featured speaker at the Rotary Club of San Marino luncheon, urged the community to continue to step up to help the school system remain as strong as ever.
“This community has allowed our schools to be really, really, really good by their contributions, both in time and in dollars,” Kleinrock said. “I used to say when I met principals from other schools that what I really like about San Marino parents is that they have high expectations but they put their time and money behind those expectations. It always has been a partnership.”
Kleinrock, speaking on his birthday, is the interim superintendent for SMUSD until June 30, after which he will cede the job to Jeff Wilson. His “second” retirement will conclude a 43-year career with the SMUSD that began with a long-term substitute teaching position and — at least initially — culminated in his three years as the full-time superintendent, a job from which he retired in 2014.
“I literally had never heard of San Marino. Didn’t know where it was,” he said. “I look a flyer, the person who I substituted for never came back, and here I am.”
Kleinrock’s successor, Alex Cherniss, resigned last year, and the school board selected Kleinrock to serve on an interim basis. He already was a consultant for the district and had temporarily filled other administrative vacancies, and the board intended to wait until after the November election to start looking for a new hire.
“When I came back, we were in the midst of getting close to an election,” Kleinrock recalled. “I was kind of surprised that the conversation and the tone that I heard coming back was not what I’ve known San Marino as. There was, in my mind, a marked lack of civility in the discussions that people had. That was missing, and I had to call it out a couple of times.”
Some of the troubling rhetoric, Kleinrock explained, was directed at the district’s administrative staff and board members — the phrase “Drain the swamp” apparently reached Kleinrock’s ears at some point — but he said he would hear none of it. When he first became superintendent, he said it was on the condition that many of the assistant superintendents stayed on. They and the board members take on a “thankless job,” he said, and do it admirably.
“They know what they’re doing, and when I came back this time, it was because I knew they were going to be able to do what they were doing before,” Kleinrock said.
The school district is presently facing a deficit for the upcoming fiscal year, and Kleinrock noted that individual and group donations have for generations helped close the gaps between limited state funding and the cost of the excellent program SMUSD offers. Characterizing the state’s funding formula as creating a “recession” for the district, Kleinrock also recalled the Great Recession that began in 2007.
While Kleinrock was the San Marino High School principal, Assistant Superintendent Linda de la Torre walked into his office with around 35 “pink slips,” notices that districts are required to give to teachers who are at risk of not being rehired for the following year.
“When the actual recession hit, we were looking at a situation where it was ‘Are we going to keep these doors open?’” he said. “During that recession, my predecessor [Superintendent Gary Woods] ran what I thought was a brilliant campaign to save our schools, the ‘Refuse to Lose’ campaign. He went out and got with community leaders and put together a campaign to raise the funds we needed to keep going. It was that dire, but the community stepped up, they filled that gap and we got back on the right track again.”
Finally, Kleinrock confronted the notion that SMUSD schools only prepare their students to test well while leaving the arts, humanities, mental wellness and athletics to the side.
“Couldn’t be further from the truth,” he said. “Our goal has been to create a situation where we were able to produce balanced kids. I do think it’s true that a kid who goes through our schools and does what he or she is supposed to do, they will be prepared to go wherever it is they go afterward, but it’s not just because of test scores. We truly do try to set up those experiences where those kids know they will be prepared.”

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