Nationwide Search Ends : Beverly Hills Picks New Schools Chief

Times Staff Writer

The Beverly Hills Board of Education has ended its nationwide search for a new superintendent with the selection of Robert L. French, the 56-year-old superintendent of the Piedmont Unified School District in Northern California.

French, who will assume the position on July 1, has been given a three-year contract with an annual salary of $83,000 and a car allowance. He succeeds Leon M. Lessinger, who is retiring June 30 after six years with the district.

In announcing the selection Tuesday night, school board President Mark Egerman described French as the "ideal person to lead our schools in the coming years."

Excellent Credentials

Egerman said French's "credentials are excellent and those who have worked with him speak very highly of his leadership qualities, insight, interpersonal skills and administrative abilities."

Last year, after Lessinger's announcement that he would not seek a renewal of his contract, the district hired a national recruiting firm. French was selected from among more than 80 applications submitted by candidates from around the country.

School board member Betty Wilson said that it was to French's credit that he has managed a district similar to Beverly Hills.

"It is a high-achieving district which has maintained its high standards, even though it has had to make serious cuts," she said.

School officials also noted that unlike Beverly Hills, voters in Piedmont approved a $212-per-parcel property tax initiative in 1985 to support the schools. Beverly Hills voters failed to approve a parcel tax two weeks ago.

Irresistible Opportunity

French described the offer to head the Beverly Hills district as "an opportunity I just couldn't turn down."

"I'm familiar with the circumstances in Beverly Hills," he said in an interview. "I know that the community has expectations and I am looking forward to working with the residents and the (staff) to meet those expectations."

French was appointed Piedmont's superintendent in 1983. Before that he served 15 years as assistant superintendent of the Fullerton Union High School District in Orange County. He earned his bachelor's, master's and doctoral degrees at the University of Southern California.

French is married to Mary Willims, a graduate of UCLA and a former high school teacher and counselor. They have two daughters and a son.

The Piedmont Unified School District, located in the affluent East Bay hills near Berkeley, has 1,996 students. Ninety-five percent of Piedmont's graduates go on to college.

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