Friday, 14 June 2024

Candidates define the issues in county school superintendent race

LAKE COUNTY – While the 2010 primary election is months away, the issues in the race for county superintendent of schools are already being framed by the two candidates who so far have declared their intentions to run for the job.

Judy Luchsinger declared her candidacy on the courthouse steps Oct. 16, and on Friday Wally Holbrook held his first official campaign event in Finley.

Both Luchsinger, 64, and Holbrook, 58, bring to the race experience, education, knowledge and a determination to improve the education of local children.

They're seeking the job currently held by Dave Geck, whose first term in office ends next year. Geck announced late last month that he will retire at the end of his term.

The two candidates have hit the ground running, taking out the necessary forms to begin fundraising. The process for collecting signatures in lieu of filing fees and filing formal declarations of candidacy will begin early next year, according to the Registrar of Voters Office.

On a rainy Friday afternoon, about two dozen people stood outside the Hells Bend School in Finley, protected from the rain by the tents set up for the event, to hear Holbrook officially kick off his campaign on Friday afternoon.

Among those in attendance were Lake County Board of Education President Dr. Mark Cooper and retired Lake County Superintendent of Schools Dr. Bill Cornelison.

Holbrook was a teacher before becoming a principal and later a superintendent, a role he filled in three districts for a total of 16 years.

Emphasizing the need to collaborate and innovate, Holbrook invited the community to join him in a series of conversations that won't be predicated on his election as county superintendent of schools, but instead would begin right away in an effort to help local schools and students.

“We can't wait another day on this,” he said.

Holbrook shared with his audience two experiences that he said impacted him and led him to make his choice to run.

One took place on the first day of school when he was the new superintendent of schools in Kelseyville.

After welcoming students, he was walking back to the parking lot and he saw a young woman hunched over in her car, weeping. He stopped to see if she needed help, and he said she looked up at him, then pointed to the school and said, “I just gave them my little boy, my baby, I'm so scared for him.”

His voice cracking, Holbrook noted, “I've never forgotten that.”

The second event concerned a graduation event, during which he congratulated a young woman and asked her what she was going to do next. She responded, “I'm going to Disneyland!”

When Holbrook clarified and asked her what her plans were after school, he said her smile faded. “Oh, I dunno,” the girl replied.

Children can't leave local schools unprepared for their future, said Holbrook. “We can't let that happen.”

He promised to work with parents and the community to benefit children, ensure that teachers and staff are well-trained and well-compensated, make schools clean, safe and fun, and see young people involved in the community.

Holbrook outlined some of the challenges ahead, among them resources and instructional effectiveness.

“When it comes to budget and finance, we know we're in for rough times,” he said, adding that the community has to be willing to accept the challenge to do better.

He also said he wanted to convey a sense of optimism amidst the challenges.

“I'm optimistic that we can do good things for kids,” he said.

Luchsinger emphasizes experience, accomplishments

Dr. Judy Luchsinger is no stranger to the Lake County Office of Education.

Starting out as an English and math teacher in Lakeport, for 16 of her 27 years as an educator she served as the county's superintendent of schools.

Holding a doctorate in educational administration, along with lifetime teaching credentials in K-14 education and administration, Luchsinger was county superintendent of schools from 1979 to 1995, when Cornelison defeated her.

In her time there, she amassed a lengthy list of accomplishments.

Luchsinger said she established school music festivals, spelling bees and the Academic Decathlon, initiated courted and community schools, implemented programs to reduce truancy and gang activity, and during her tenure the Taylor Observatory also was constructed. Many of the achievements are commemorated in a commendation she received from the state Legislature.

During this time when cooperation is being discussed increasingly as a way of addressing dwindling educational revenues, Luchsinger pointed out that she saved the county $15 million through group purchasing and other collaborative efforts.

Fiscal accountability is a key area for Luchsinger. “I have the record of setting up services to school districts and saving the county money,” she said, and she wants to bring quality management processes into schools to achieve accountability in student achievement.

Like Holbrook, Luchsinger pointed to the difficult times for public education, noting that the state could be facing another $21 billion budget shortfall over the next 18 months. “The likelihood that the legislature and governor will have to look to public education to shoulder part of that burden would not be a surprise.”

She wants to see the policies and procedures that she previously instituted at the Lake County Office of Education – meant to ensure accountability, transparency and prevent the unnecessary spending by administrators – reinstated, and suggested that they can publish the district's budget, currently about $16 million annually, online so the public can see it and be assured the money is being spent wisely.

She said that creativity can be used to address the county's stretched resources. When a single district can no longer afford a full-time nurse, psychologist or music instructor, the county office can hire and share the costs so that, as student numbers decline – which she said they're doing by 3 percent annually – they can still provide all the educational resources that larger districts can afford.

In addition to bulk purchasing, Luchsinger said pooled resources can provide superintendent search functions, administrator and school board training in-house, and provide staff development and create teacher support networks without using costly consultants.

That allows districts to put more money toward student learning, placing tools and resources into classrooms to get better outcomes, she said.

In recent years Luchsinger has worked as a a private consultant, implementing the quality management requirements in corporations on three continents.

Luchsinger said people talk about the school “system,” but few of them understand how it works or how to ensure that the system operates the most efficiently with respect to student achievement and providing services in a cost-effective manner.

She said her experience as a consultant and coach has given her tools to use in the local schools, because quality management can help them set goals and targets.

“This is what I do for corporations right now and I would welcome the opportunity to bring it back to public education,” she said.

E-mail Elizabeth Larson at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. . Follow Lake County News on Twitter at and on Facebook at .

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