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Beverly Hills School Superintendent Plans to Retire, Write Book

June 22, 1986|JOHN L. MITCHELL | Times Staff Writer

Leon M. Lessinger, superintendent of the Beverly Hills Unified School District, will retire from his $80,000-a-year post to write a book.

Lessinger, 62, who has served as superintendent of the Beverly Hills district since 1981, said he will retire on June 30, 1987, when his three-year contract expires. He said he already has a publisher who is interested in book about "effective superintendents."

"My years here have been exciting and richly rewarding," he said.

School board President Frank Fenton described Lessinger as a "professional educator who has always put the education of the children first and foremost above everything else."

Fenton said the district will hire a recruiting firm next month to begin looking for Lessinger's replacement. The firm will consider candidates from within the district and from across the nation, he said.

Financial Difficulties

The new superintendent will inherit a district beset with financial difficulties. The district's reserves have dwindled from a high of $9.5 million in 1983 to a projected low of about $1.4 million at the end of the 1986-87 school year, when school officials are predicting a $1.9-million shortfall in the district's $26-million budget.

Looking back over his six years, Lessinger said he would do only one thing differently.

"We didn't spend enough face-to-face time with the staff," he said. "In a small district so much of what is important is the personal touch."

Lessinger said that the need for better relations with employees was evident this year when the district faced the possibility of its first teacher strike. The district was able to negotiate a contract, but bitter feelings remain.

Lessinger said he would also advise the board to get involved in more long-range financial planning.

Changing Demographics

Also, he said, "we need to be a little more sensitive to the changing student population in Beverly Hills. There are more students from single-parent families and more students who speak limited English."

During Lessinger's tenure, the Beverly Hills school system has become known for many of its innovative programs. A health program developed by the district has been held up as a model for other districts by the state Department of Education and a program that encourages students to view their school responsibilities as they would a full-time job has been marketed across the country. The high school decathlon team came in first in the state for three years and placed second in the nation twice.

Lessinger started his career in education in 1948. He has been a teacher, counselor and principal. He was associate commissioner for elementary and secondary education in the U. S. Office of Education from 1968 to 1970. From 1964 to 1968 he was superintendent of schools in San Mateo. Before coming to Beverly Hills in 1981, Lessinger served as the superintendent of the Stockton Unified School District.

Lessinger has a bachelor's degree in psychology from UCLA and a degree in mechanical engineering from North Carolina State University. He has a doctorate in educational psychology and administration from UCLA.

His first book, "Every Kid Is a Winner" was published by the Science Research Assn. in 1970.

Mayor Charlotte Spadaro, a former school board president who was on the board when Lessinger was brought to the district, said he has "served the district well."

Spadaro said Lessinger would have been able to do more for the district if the board had allowed him to.

"He is an educator and I would have preferred to see him left alone, but (in Beverly Hills) the board leads. . . . I don't know that anyone could have had the strength to lead the board."

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