The Orange County superintendent of education is not, as the name might imply, the leading voice for educational issues in the county by any statutory obligation. But as a practical matter, there is a reasonable expectation of broader inspirational leadership to be found in someone with that title. The question is, can the person holding the office, charged with very specific duties, fill the larger bill?
The answer in the case of the incumbent John F. Dean is a resounding yes. The county superintendent has responsibility for youngsters with special educational needs and those who have been in trouble, as well as providing teacher training and financial services to school districts. Dean has done well in all these areas.
But in the intangible category of being something more--a leader of and for education issues in Orange County--Dean has answered the calling and filled a void in his first term as a reform superintendent. Fulfilling this role has become increasingly important as questions about the quality and focus of public education have come to dominate the public consciousness and discourse across district lines.
During his first term, it might have been sufficient for Dean to meet his budgetary and administrative obligations, and then begin slowly taking on some of the larger work of agenda-setting, and serving as lightning rod for educational issues in Orange County. He did not wait to accept this challenge. To name a few things, he was out front campaigning against Proposition 174, the flawed voucher initiative; he has urged the county to do a better job of coming to terms with its cultural and language diversity; and he has worked to bring business and industry into partnership with the schools.
Within his own bailiwick, he moved quickly to build a productive relationship with the county Board of Education, and with superintendents and public officials. In a time when difficult budgetary choices had to be made, he might have made more enemies. Yet, morale seems up in the county education hierarchy. He has made the difficult budget choices.
Dean has a challenger this year, but he is clearly deserving of reelection. We are pleased that he has met the high expectations that we held of him the first time around and urge him to keep up the good work. Much of the power of this office is the power of persuasion, and the willingness of the occupant to take up the big causes. In Dean, Orange County truly has a superintendent who is in step with the times and who is providing some vision and leadership.