Though New to SMUSD, Superintendent Knows the Issues

Jeff Wilson
Photo by Zane Hill / OUTLOOK
Jeff Wilson, who served in the Arcadia school district for more than a decade, has come aboard as San Marino’s school superintendent.

In Arcadia, Jeff Wilson had a more modern office, owing to the newness of the building he worked in.
Now moved into his space at the San Marino Unified School District’ main building, with generous square footage and a vaulted ceiling, the district’s recently hired superintendent said he appreciates the aesthetic change.
“This is such a classic room over here,” Wilson said, during an interview on the eve of his official first day. “It’s a beautiful office. I love the windows. It’s got kind of an ornate feel to it.”
The gregarious Wilson will probably be walking in and out of that office frequently throughout the coming months as he acclimates to his new role in running SMUSD, where he began on July 1. Anyone conversing with him would quickly conclude the Board of Education wanted a dynamic people person at the helm, for that seems to be one of Wilson’s defining traits. That he comes from the Arcadia Unified School District — which, like SMUSD, has a track record of high performance — also reflects on the board’s stated goal of luring an experienced executive.
“Certainly San Marino and Arcadia have a lot of pride in their communities,” Wilson said. “Definitely a lot of community involvement. I know the PTAs in both are important to the lives of each school. I think board members in both districts went into what is essentially volunteer work, where they make so many time commitments, because they care so much about the students and the tradition of community and high student achievement. Both districts have a well-rounded approach to education.”
Wilson acknowledged there were challenges for him coming out of the gate. Like Arcadia’s, San Marino’s district is a top performer academically, but both also are near the bottom in terms of state funding. Districts already strapped for cash also face additional pressure from Sacramento with the periodic onset of unfunded mandates, most recently represented, Wilson said, by changes in special education requirements.
“While that’s happening, the percentage of students with IEPs and, more specifically, specialized IEPS has risen precipitously,” he said, referring to the individualized education programs that dictate how special education students are taught. “We have to take a fresh look at what it means to deliver special education services to students who need them.”
Districts statewide also continue to implement revised curricula, after already handling changes such as Next Generation Science Standards, and San Marino is no different.
“These are wonderful challenges,” Wilson said. “On the curricular side, it’s a great era in education but it’s very demanding. There are a lot of political pressures and special interest groups who have a say in how we deliver our social science curriculum and instruction.”
When he was hired, Wilson had been AUSD’s assistant superintendent of educational services since 2014, having first joined that district in 2008 as a middle school principal. Before that, he was a teacher and principal for Covina-Valley Unified School District, and also worked in the hospitality industry on Maui in Hawaii. A graduate of Glendora High School, Wilson has earned degrees in accounting and educational leadership from Cal State Fullerton and in divinity from Biola University; he also has a doctorate in education from Azusa Pacific University.
Although he formally replaces Alex Cherniss as superintendent, Wilson has taken the reins from Loren Kleinrock, who served as the interim superintendent after Cherniss left in September. Given Kleinrock’s four decades with SMUSD (including his first superintendent stint, in which he preceded Cherniss), Wilson said the local icon was well known to him.
“He and I have actually known each other for several years,” Wilson said. “Really enjoyed getting to know him at that point, and he’s been great in this transition. It’s not over, by the way. I plan, moving forward, on reaching out to Loren and nurturing that friendship.”
While speaking at a recent Rotary Club of San Marino luncheon, Kleinrock assured the audience of his confidence in Wilson’s leadership of the district moving forward.
“I think Dr. Wilson will do a great job for us,” Kleinrock said. “He understands the community. He knows the community. He’s someone who will relate well to people.”
Wilson will benefit from a perk that Kleinrock said he enjoyed both times he led the district: a cabinet of assistant superintendents that has relatively stable continuity for nearly a decade.
“It’s powerful, because they have that institutional, historical knowledge that I don’t have,” Wilson said. “Certainly I’m going to invest heavily in my cabinet and find out about what they’re working on and what ideas they have.”
District officials and school board members had noted that Wilson was making the effort to visit and tour school sites and meet with community leaders since his hiring in May, to give himself a running start. He said he intends to continue to make himself a familiar face throughout town as the district hurtles toward the upcoming school year.
“I look forward to being heavily involved in multiple facets of the community,” he said. “Really, my role I’ve planned for myself is to be out there, visible and with people. I call it my listening tour.”

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