The Long Beach Unified School District held a special Board of Education meeting last week to announce it had selected the district’s 13th superintendent: the historic choice of Dr. Jill Baker.
Baker will become just the third superintendent of the LBUSD since 1992, and will replace Chris Steinhauser, who is retiring at the end of July to wrap up the second-longest tenure in the district’s history.
Jon Meyer, the longtime board member representing Belmont Shore and the rest of the WIlson district, is retiring at the end of the school year as well, along with other longtime board member Felton Williams. Meyer was glad to be a part of the search committee for Steinhauser’s replacement, and said that Baker was an obvious choice, who will become part of a strong tradition of LBUSD leaders.
“Since superintendent Douglas Newcomb walked into my classroom at Millikan in 1959, I have known every superintendent,” Meyer said. “Jill embodies their best characteristics and exceeds them. I am delighted.”
The transition will happen during a tumultuous time for the LBUSD, and the announcement came just a week after the Board announced that the district’s campuses would be closed through the end of the school year. The original plan according to Steinhauser had been to announce his replacement at the regularly scheduled May 26 Board meeting, but the Board opted instead to quickly announce the hire just three days after the final interviews were conducted.
Baker’s selection didn’t come as a surprise. Only once in the last 80 years has the LBUSD hired a superintendent from outside the district, when Tom Giugni was hired in 1986. Further, Baker had occupied the “Deputy Superintendent” position for nearly five years, a position that answered only to Steinhauser; she was widely seen within the district as being groomed to take over the top spot.
Baker’s emotion was evident during the board meeting.
“My voice may shake a little bit today,” she said. “To the LBUSD family: 135 years ago in a tent, a group of teachers came together to create the first LBUSD school. Over time a story has been written, a story of high expectations…the chapters of this story have landed us on April 9 2020, an unprecedented time.
“This time of COVID 19 has been filled with trials and difficult decisions, it has also been filled with the best of the human spirit. We have an ability to overcome which has been demonstrated after earthquakes, recessions, and riots. As we write the next chapter, let us pause to consider the beauty, and sometimes the pain, of our choice to work in education.”
The news was met with applause from several city officials, including Mayor Robert Garcia, who noted that Long Beach’s primary educational institutions will now all be led by women for the first time in city history, with Long Beach State president Jane Conoley, LBCC interim superintendent-president Lou Anne Bynum, and Baker.
“Dr. Baker knows our school system and knows Long Beach,” said Garcia in a statement. “She will value and uplift our teachers, educators, and the Long Beach College Promise. We look forward to the continued partnership.”
There are many challenges facing the district as Baker prepares to take over in August. She’s been heading the educational task force that’s created the district’s Home Learning Opportunities program, so she’s interacted with many of those challenges already.
“We’ll have some critical budget decisions and the issue of stability in a post-COVID environment,” she said. “And thinking about how to bring school back.”
The biggest challenge remaining in the 2019-20 school year is the question of what to do with high school graduations, which have been taken off the schedule for the time being. Baker and Steinhauser both said they’ll leave much of the decision-making to high school superintendent Jay Camerino and the schools’ activities directors, who are responsible for handling the planning and logistics of graduations.
As of this week, no firm plan had been established. Options being considered included online recognition, as well as a possible delayed physical graduation ceremony to take place later in the Fall, possibly during Thanksgiving break.