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Strength of His Convictions Helped New Superintendent Win the Job : Education: Neil C. Schmidt resigned his previous post over a curriculum he opposed. A school district facing tough issues was impressed.

April 16, 1992|PETULA DVORAK | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SANTA MONICA-MALIBU — Neil C. Schmidt, former superintendent of schools in Lodi, Calif., will take the helm of the Santa Monica-Malibu school district starting July 1.

Schmidt, 50, was picked from a field of about 70 applicants. The final selection was made by the school board after the field had been narrowed to seven with the help of outside consultants and community panels. He will replace Eugene Tucker, who is retiring to pursue a writing career.

Schmidt resigned from his post in Lodi last July after his position on school curriculum and the switch to a year-round schedule spurred a protest in the Central Valley community. The 1990 election put a conservative majority on the Lodi school board, whose members advocated a science curriculum that emphasized the biblical account of creation over evolution. Schmidt said he could not accept that approach.

Although he had two years left in his contract with the Lodi district, Schmidt negotiated to be paid for one year or until he found another position.

A former principal and elementary school teacher, Schmidt said he looks forward to coming to a progressive school district that tackles tough issues.

"I value very much a community and a district that works to focus on complex and controversial issues and not shy away from them," he said, referring to the Santa Monica board's recent decision to approve the distribution of condoms in district high schools.

Schmidt said he looks forward to "working with families in an outreach sense," especially on the subject of literacy, and said he is determined to know "every teacher's and every janitor's name."

The sprawling Lodi district serves 23,500 students in San Joaquin County. The district also includes rural communities as well as a portion of the city of Stockton.

Schmidt, whom former associates in Lodi described as "dynamic" and "enthusiastic," is known for his special interest in early education, evident in his support of the Head Start program.

Ann Johnston, the president of the Lodi school board, said Schmidt was especially deft at dealing with the community.

"He built bridges with the community, in a district with very competitive communities, so he made our district more unified," Johnston said.

Mark Benjamin, a Santa Monica businessman and member of the community search committee, said Schmidt had been his first choice throughout the selection process.

"I was looking for someone who could be approached by parents and business people, and who would approach parents and business people," Benjamin said.

Benjamin said he was also concerned with finding a superintendent who would work well in a diverse community.

Schmidt said he sees an ethnically and racially diverse community as an asset. He said he has worked to bring bilingual programs to all the districts he has worked in.

Benjamin said the dispute over religion in the classroom that cost Schmidt his job in Lodi appeared to have worked to his benefit in the competition for the Santa Monica job.

"He didn't feel it was right to head a school board going in a direction that he doesn't follow," Benjamin said. "There is a line for every individual that he cannot go beyond, and I appreciated the fact that we got to know where Neil's lines were."

Schmidt, a native of King City in Monterey County, received a degree in political science from Berkeley in 1964 and a master's degree in secondary education from San Jose State University in 1968. After teaching in California and New Jersey, he earned his doctorate in educational administration and curriculum from UCLA in 1975.

He was superintendent of small districts in Fillmore and Santa Cruz from 1979 to 1987 before moving to the Lodi district.

Schmidt is planning to move to the Westside with his wife, Julie, and two teen-age daughters.

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