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Ventura County

Top State Educator Is Back in School

The superintendent helps his alma mater, Oxnard High, celebrate its centennial and later visits other campuses he once attended.

February 01, 2003|Fred Alvarez | Times Staff Writer

As homecomings go, this could be as good as it gets.

Returning to his alma mater Friday, state Supt. of Public Instruction Jack O'Connell was cheered by students, serenaded by the Oxnard High School marching band and supplied with an armload of T-shirts marking the centennial of the campus he graduated from 33 years ago.

"Thank you, guys, I'll wear these with pride," O'Connell told members of the band and Associated Students group who turned out for the landmark visit.

He wasn't done there.

The statewide officeholder, who before winning election in November had represented Ventura County for two decades in the state Senate and Assembly, also toured the Oxnard intermediate and elementary schools he attended beginning in the second grade.

O'Connell's visit was spurred by his desire to thank the high school band for performing at his Jan. 5 inauguration and to fulfill a promise he made a year ago that the first Southern California schools he would visit if elected would be his alma maters.

But he also said that as the state's top educator he wants to begin a tradition of gaining a view of education from the front lines.

"You can't do this job from the office," O'Connell said. "It's important to see and experience the classroom environment to understand and appreciate what's going on in the public school system."

For one morning at least, public education at Oxnard High was all about Jack O'Connell.

Banners on campus and in the auditorium welcomed O'Connell to his old school, where he played varsity basketball and saxophone in the band. He also got his start in politics at the high school, serving as sergeant at arms for student government.

A reporter with the student newspaper asked O'Connell about his memories while another student videotaped the educator's every move for broadcast on the school's television news program. Teachers and administrators ran up to shake his hand, offering congratulations on his election victory. "He's been a friend of our district for a very long time," said Gary Davis, superintendent of the Oxnard Union High School District. "This is important for us and it's very gracious of him to do it."

Joined by his wife, Doree, and his mother, Ruth Kent, O'Connell was serenaded by the band, made up of an energetic group of youngsters who traveled to Sacramento to perform when he was sworn in.

"People in Sacramento are still talking about your performance," O'Connell told the youngsters. "I'm a little biased, but I think we had the best [inaugural] celebration because we had the best band."

Down the road at Curren Elementary School, O'Connell and his entourage were greeted by a squad of cheerleaders and a group of students who presented the schools chief with another T-shirt.

He told youngsters how when he attended the school, from 1958 to 1963, there was no cafeteria, no library and definitely no computer lab.

"You are very lucky," he said. "So study hard, listen to your teachers and prepare yourselves for college."

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