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Ventura County

Top-Scoring Oak Park District to Lose Leader

The superintendent will join a Redlands company that helps struggling schools.

November 23, 2002|Jenifer Ragland | Times Staff Writer

The superintendent of Ventura County's highest-performing school district will leave her post next year for a job helping struggling campuses nationwide.

Marilyn Lippiatt, who has headed Oak Park Unified School District for a decade, announced she will resign in March to join a Redlands firm that provides educational services to schools in California and across the country.

"I have no reason to leave," Lippiatt said. "But this was a new challenge that came along, and new opportunities to make a difference."

Lippiatt, 60, said she will also receive a "healthy raise" when she joins the Pulliam Group, compared with her $134,000-a-year salary in Oak Park.

On her watch, affluent Oak Park's five campuses have consistently outperformed their peers in the county and the state on achievement tests, from the Stanford 9 to the California High School Exit Exam. It's a notable achievement, said Ventura County Supt. of Schools Charles Weis.

"It was always a well-performing district, but what's interesting is that they have continued to go up each year," Weis said. "They've been pushing the edge on modern and new curriculum every year."

Oak Park is a small, upscale district -- there are just 3,600 students and only 0.7% are poor enough to be eligible for free lunches. But Lippiatt said some of the district's strategies can be used to help poor-performing schools elsewhere, and she hopes to use them in her new job.

"We've done some things in Oak Park that are not exclusive to Oak Park, and that can be shared," Lippiatt said. "These are not high-priced items; they are subtle reforms and changes."

For example, she said, a decision to yield more power to principals at each school -- rather than send out mandates from the district office -- has produced more innovative programs and higher achievement.

A few years ago, for instance, Oak Park High School changed its schedule to add a "student support" period at the end of the day, in which students could meet with their teachers for extra help.

"They worked as a high school to do that, and it has reaped phenomenal results," Lippiatt said.

Cliff Moore, principal at Oak Park, credited Lippiatt's leadership for his school's success.

"She does a lot of work behind the scenes that a lot of people don't see," Moore said.

Of her achievements during her tenure, Lippiatt is most proud of those changes she made to the district's administration that will remain after she leaves. "The changes are permanent," she said.

Lippiatt came to Oak Park in 1993 after eight years as executive director of the California School Leadership Center for the Central Coast region. Her teaching career began in public schools in Los Angeles, where she grew up.

In addition, she taught in Thousand Oaks elementary schools, where she was also a principal. She will continue to live in Agoura Hills with her husband, Tom.

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