SCHOOLS: Search for a New Superintendent : Search Begins for New Schools Chief

Times Staff Writer

The president of the South Pasadena Unified School District Board of Education said the district is “seriously considering an inside candidate” to replace Supt. Thomas Brierley when he leaves to head the Carlsbad Unified School District on July 1.

Robert Hartsfield, board president, would not name the candidate likely to inherit the superintendency of the 3,300-student district. He said the board may first hire a consultant “to analyze the direction of the district in the next five years.”

The appointment of Brierley, 49, to the Carlsbad post was announced last week by that district’s president, James McCormick, who called Brierley “a phenomenal man--the motivator and people person we’ve been looking for.”

In his new job, Brierley will earn $64,000 a year to head a 4,800-student district that expects enrollment to climb to 5,200 next year. He was chosen from an estimated 100 candidates after a five-month search, in part because of South Pasadena’s high academic ranking, McCormick said.


South Pasadena schools are in the top 5% in the state’s scholastic testing, and 80% of the district’s high school graduates enter college.

Brierley, who was junior high school principal and has been superintendent for four of his 12 years in South Pasadena, said he had not sought any other positions. “I might not have applied for the Carlsbad job either, if it hadn’t been for a phone call from someone who wanted to make sure I knew about it,” he said.

Brierley currently earns $58,000 a year in a district that educators consider tranquil despite the fact that enrollment has been steadily declining at 2% a year and its 160 teachers have had no raises in four years.

His greatest accomplishments as superintendent, Brierley said, are “surviving financial troubles and school closures, and I’m very proud of the way the staff, parents and students have worked together. We are really unified.”


Three elementary schools have been closed because of declining enrollment and the district this year introduced a new structuring of five elementary grades, a three-year middle school and four-year high school.

Challenges in his new district, Brierley said, “will be to respond to growth instead of declining enrollment.”

He and his wife of 28 years, Arvene, will move to Carlsbad from their home in North Hollywood. They have two grown sons.

Teacher Dispute


Brierley’s predecessor in Carlsbad was Philip Grignon, whose management was picketed by teachers who failed to reach a contract agreement until after his departure this year. Grignon resigned March 1 to become superintendent of a school district in Imperial Beach.

Hartsfield said that at the board’s next meeting Thursday it will begin planning the selection of Brierley’s replacement and may name an interim superintendent.

At that meeting Susan LaCombe will become a member of the board, replacing Verla Sorenson, who resigned because she is moving to another city. LaCombe was appointed to finish Sorenson’s term, which ends in November.

Hartsfield called Brierley’s departure “upsetting, coming with the frustration of having only four board members.” He praised Brierley for “getting the job done with a level head and without fanfare.”


The district’s assistant superintendents are Warren Newman, 51, who heads curriculum, and Ralph Harding, 60, head of district business. One of them may be appointed interim superintendent and could be the leading contender for the permanent post, according to a district official who asked not to be identified.