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New Schools Chief, Similar Leadership


The superintendent for Anaheim City School District is retiring, but if things go as planned, employees and students may not notice too many changes.

The district of 23 elementary schools has chosen current assistant superintendent Sandra Barry to replace Supt. Roberta A. Thompson. Because they've worked together and have similar approaches, Barry said she anticipates a smooth transition. "She works very similar to my style. I have absolute faith in her skills and her ability to lead people," Thompson said.

After 35 years in the district--four as superintendent--Thompson wants new challenges. She says retirement has nothing to do with whether she enjoys her job. "I absolutely love my job," said Thompson, 59. It's simply time to move on to something new, she said.

Barry inherits a district molded by Thompson's directness and emphasis on communication, but it's also one fraught with problems. The district can't find enough qualified teachers. Many students have only limited English skills. And most schools are in sore need of repairs.

Thompson said that despite the difficulties, no challenge overwhelmed her during her tenure. Barry has adopted a similar attitude. "The issues and new challenges are what keep it exciting," Barry said. Both said success comes from good relationships among all employees.

Thus, when a state policy in 1996 called for a reduction in class sizes, instead of panicking, Thompson and her staff worked to find solutions.

The district had few options. It had no money to support or build additional classrooms. And it already ran a year-round operation. "Here's a district with more kids than seats, and we had to find a way," Thompson said.

Thompson said the only solutions were creative ones. The schools went to a staggered schedule, holding two sessions for some grade levels. To further reduce the student-teacher ratio, some classrooms added teachers.

Likewise, the passage of Proposition 227 in 1998 eliminated bilingual education, a previous staple for the district. Many students had limited English skills, but Thompson said they managed to switch gears quickly. They developed new teaching materials and took advantage of already existing training programs for helping teachers.

Barry said she intends to build on Thompson's legacy and meet every challenge head-on. She wants to continue emphasizing team efforts and good communication. But most important, Barry says, she will continue working toward improving her students' education.

Judy Silber can be reached at (714) 966-5988

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