L.A. Principal New Superintendent in Hermosa Beach


Lauding her experience and fund-raising expertise, Hermosa Beach trustees have named Elaine Gourley, a 31-year Los Angeles educator, as the city's school superintendent.

Gourley, who has been principal of Brockton Avenue Elementary School in Brentwood for five years, will succeed Shalee Cunningham on July 1. Cunningham resigned in April to head a school district in Mammoth.

Board President Joe Mark said Gourley beat out 14 applicants for the superintendent's job, primarily because of her teaching and administrative experience and her initiative in involving local businesses and civic groups in school programs.

As have school districts statewide, Hermosa Beach has had to cut ever more deeply into its budget to make up for losses in state funding. Next year, for example, the district will be forced to dip into its $900,000 reserve fund for the first time in at least a decade in order to balance its estimated $3.5-million budget, officials said.

As a result, the district has turned more frequently to parents and community groups to help raise money to maintain enrichment programs.

This year, annual class field trips were jeopardized by the district's money crunch; although the trips were ultimately approved, the school Parent Teacher Organization agreed to pick up the tab for them in coming years.

PTO President Cathy McCurdy added that the group spent $22,000 this year on school computers, staff supplies and a playground mural, and has already raised $6,000 of the $15,000 it needs for the district's outdoor education program. Half of that money, McCurdy said, was donated by the local Kiwanis Club, Rotary Club and the Women's Club of Hermosa Beach.

At Brockton Avenue, Gourley said she tied fund raising to particular programs. The school's booster club, for instance, recently held a fund-raiser so the school could continue to have a librarian. In addition, the Brentwood Rotary Club supports the school's DARE anti-drug program, and McDonald's restaurants, through the Adopt-A-School program, have provided Happy Meals as prizes for the winners of each classroom's Citizen of the Month award, Gourley said.

Marla Fryer, who heads the Parent Teacher Assn. for Brockton Avenue school, said Gourley was adept at bringing in money for staff supplies and enrichment programs in the face of the Los Angeles Unified School District's budget crisis.

"The PTAs are limited in L.A. Unified with the amount of money we can keep, but when her teachers needed funds, Dr. Gourley would always find a way to manage," Fryer said.

She added that Gourley was particularly sensitive to children with special needs and welcomed parental involvement.

"She's like a Mother Goose," Fryer said. "She takes the kids who need extra understanding and care, and she really tries. She's really easygoing, and easy to talk to, and she's the kind of person parents feel comfortable going to."

Mark added: "She has a lot of experience in keeping the money we have and in getting more. And she seems to have some good ideas about involving the community and industry in picking up the load."

Gourley, 53, holds a master's degree and a doctorate in education from USC, and has lived in Torrance since 1959. Although most of her career has been spent in the L.A. Unified School District, Gourley said she was attracted to the one-school, 700-pupil Hermosa Beach district in part because of the "wonderful atmosphere" at the campus and in part because L.A. Unified's budget crunch has limited upward mobility in that district.

She said there are parallels between Brockton Avenue and the Hermosa Beach kindergarten-through-eighth-grade school. Both, she said, emphasize computers in the classroom, both have high test scores and high levels of parental involvement, and both are faced with funding problems as a result of the state budget crunch.

"I'm looking forward to providing leadership for all the good programs I already see in place in Hermosa Beach," Gourley said. "I'm very excited."

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