The search for a new chief executive at the San Marino Unified School District will begin after Superintendent Alex Cherniss leaves his post to take the same job at another district.
Cherniss, who was hired by SMUSD in 2014, is slated to become superintendent of Palos Verdes Peninsula Unified School District. That district’s Board of Education was scheduled to formally vote on his hire Wednesday, after The Outlook’s press deadline.
“I’m going to work with our school board on the transition time, but I would say that fairly soon I’ll be transitioning to P.V.,” Cherniss said in a phone interview Friday, shortly after PVPUSD announced the hire. “I’m super excited. It’s a great opportunity for my family and myself. It’s a little bit closer to home for me as well.” He resides in northern Orange County.
Cherniss was among 47 candidates for the job, according to the Palos Verdes Peninsula district’s announcement. The district has more than 11,000 students in 16 schools and, like SMUSD, generally places high in the state’s academic evaluations.
Since taking over as SMUSD’s superintendent, Cherniss has helped the district continue its academic excellence, with the district ranking No. 1 in state evaluations each year and its individual schools often ranking among the top schools in their categories as well. He led the hiring process for three of the district’s four principals and also helped lead capital projects such as the Barth Athletics Complex and academic endeavors including the Student Wellness Initiative.
SMUSD Board of Education President Shelley Ryan, in an emailed statement, congratulated Cherniss on his hiring and praised his ability at “thinking outside of the box” to make dreams a reality in San Marino.
“Under his leadership, the district continued to provide its students academic excellence, but also added innovative programs like elementary STEM labs and computer coding classes at all levels, as well as collaborative partnerships with local institutions that led to an honors humanities course at the Huntington Library and a Caltech research course,” Ryan said. “Recognizing that the average tenure of a superintendent in California is less than three years, we are grateful to Dr. Cherniss for his four years of outstanding service to the San Marino Unified School District. While the timing of Dr. Cherniss’ departure is not ideal, we are confident that our administrators, teachers and staff will continue to provide the best educational experience to our students during the transition period.”
Cherniss also led the development of a facilities master plan, which was presented to the board earlier this year alongside a proposal for a bond election to borrow up to $148 million. That proposal was shelved after vocal groups of parents voiced concerns at meetings regarding the plan’s priorities, the cost of its projects and the district’s openness in developing the plan.
The district also had remained in the headlines this year because of an internal investigation into board member Chris Norgaard that was launched under Cherniss’ direction after the district received information about allegedly improper behavior on the board member’s part. Norgaard later sued, and he and the district last week began work to settle that matter after tentatively agreeing on terms.
Chris Maling, president of the San Marino Schools Foundation, said by email that the organization congratulates Cherniss on the hiring and wishes him the best.
“We thank him for his leadership and service to the school district and to the students in our district,” Maling said. “We appreciate his partnership with the foundation and working with us to create the best school district in the state.”
The local Board of Education was scheduled to meet in closed session Tuesday afternoon to discuss its next steps in replacing Cherniss. The meeting was to have taken place after The Outlook’s press deadline.
“I’m sure they’ll find a great candidate,” Cherniss said.