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Curriculum Is Focus of New Laguna Schools Chief

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Theresa A. Daem, who will be appointed Tuesday as the next school superintendent in Laguna Beach, is leaving a district flush with victory from a $30-million bond referendum and moving to one escaping a troubled financial past.

So a question comes to mind: why?

Daem, who has led the San Bruno Park School District for the last 6 1/2 years, said she was first drawn to the Laguna Beach job because of her fond memories of visiting the scenic town as a tourist. She also felt a sense of camaraderie with the school board, she said, and is thrilled to become Laguna’s superintendent, despite the district’s recent turmoil.

“Every year we’ve been doing incredible things here [in San Bruno] and I’m very grateful for that,” she said. “But I think it can be a wonderful situation in Laguna too.”

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Daem has led a district of 2,900 pupils with six elementary campuses and one middle school. On April 14, San Bruno voters passed a $30-million bond initiative to refurbish the seven schools, all of which are more than 30 years old.

When Laguna Beach school board members visited the San Bruno district on Thursday, they were stunned to see several teachers, principals and others become teary when talking about Daem’s departure.

“It was really very touching,” Steven Rabago, a Laguna Beach school trustee, said.

In her first interview since being offered the chance to head the 2,500-student Laguna Beach Unified School District, Daem, 51, said Friday that curriculum development will be one priority.

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She is interested in setting up a curriculum committee to discuss new programs and make recommendations to the board. Daem set up a similar council in San Bruno, made up of teachers, board members, administrators and residents.

That idea was welcomed by Laguna Beach parents, who have seen fewer enrichment courses offered because of budget cuts. Curriculum development has been shelved temporarily while other issues, such as the district’s finances and a lack of leadership, have consumed much of the school board’s time.

“We really have not been able to think about curriculum,” said Betsy Jenkins, PTA president at Top of the World Elementary School. “Spanish, reading, computers--I’d really like to see these subjects” discussed again.

Overall, Daem said, she has no preset agenda when she reports to work early this summer.

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“I’m going to come in and talk to each board member, to the staff, to the administrators and to the school community at large,” she said. Only then will she develop a list of issues that need her attention.

Her appointment will be approved by the board at its Tuesday meeting and contract negotiations are underway. She earns $93,118 annually in San Bruno and is expected to receive an estimated 10% raise here.

She replaces Reed Montgomery, who was fired Feb. 3 and now plans to sue the district for $300,000 in back pay and benefits. Before his short tenure, the school district was mired in financial troubles that resulted in the departure of three top officials, including Paul Possemato, the superintendent. Staff salaries were cut 5% and the county threatened a takeover. In recent months, the district’s financial picture has improved and salaries have been restored.

Daem said she expects to begin her new position in late June or early July.

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

Profile: Theresa A. Daem

Age: 51

Family: Divorced; two college-age sons

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Current residence: Redwood City

Education: Bachelor’s in English and master’s in education, both from Eastern Montana State University; Ed.D in education, University of Southern California

Background: 1978-1985, teacher, deputy principal, Brawley Union High School; 1985-1991, assistant superintendent, Brawley Union High School District; 1991-present, superintendent, San Bruno Park School District

On the outlook for Laguna: “Every year we’ve been doing incredible things here [in San Bruno] and I’m very grateful for that. But I think it can be a wonderful situation in Laguna too.”

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Source: Theresa Daem

Researched by LIZ SEYMOUR / For The Times


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