Oceanside superintendent settles in for first day on state Board of Education
North County Times
May 11, 2005

By: LOUISE ESOLA - Staff Writer
NC Times,

SACRAMENTO ---- Oceanside Unified School District Superintendent Ken Noonan pledged Wednesday on his first day on the state Board of Education to push for education reforms as his top priority.

"Reform ---- I will point myself in that direction," Noonan said in his opening remarks after being sworn into his new position by state Superintendent Jack O'Connell. "I want to make sure that every child benefits from the decisions made at this table."

 Noonan was appointed to the board by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger last month, although he still needs to win confirmation from a Senate rules committee, which has one year to schedule a hearing.
The state board serves as the decision-making body of the state Department of Education, which oversees all K-12 school districts throughout the state. The board sets all education policies for curriculum standards, instructional materials, standardized testing and accountability.

The board is also responsible for establishing regulations for implementing state education laws, and it has the authority to grant waivers of the state education code.

All 11 board members are appointed by the governor.

The superintendent of the 21,500-student school district in Oceanside spent his first day on the state board sifting through issues such as the federal No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 and the high-stakes California High School Exit Exam.

After spending most of the day sitting at a horseshoe-shaped table alongside nine other state board members, Noonan said that for the first time in his 35-year education career he's experiencing the other side of public school leadership.

"To be sitting on this side of the table is very unusual for me," he said. "I've always been on the operational side of the system, bringing recommendations to some board, answering questions, making presentations. Now I'm asking questions."

The other big difference, he said, is that now he's casting votes on issues that affect students statewide.

Noonan took over as superintendent in Oceanside in 1997, but his newest role gives him a bigger say in decision-making on a bigger stage ---- at the state level, affecting all California public schools.

O'Connell said in an interview that he views Noonan as a good fit for the board because of his work in reforming Oceanside's schools, which at one point ranked among the worst in San Diego County based on standardized tests and which are now routinely touted by state and federal officials as up-and-coming schools.

"He's been universally praised," O'Connell said. "He's a strong leader who's not afraid to make tough decisions."

The board is expected to tackle several tough issues in the next several months, according to presenters at the meeting Wednesday ---- day one of a two-day session.

Noonan's position on several of those issues is clear. He's a big fan of the exit exam, which seniors in the class of 2006 and beyond must pass in order to receive a high school diploma, and he is in favor of tough standards and accountability.

The state board is expected this year to vote on pushing the 2006 exit exam deadline back ---- as it did in 2003 when state law said that students in the class of 2004 would be the first to be held accountable for the exit exam.

On Wednesday, the board discussed taking advantage of some flexibility in the No Child Left Behind law, which requires that all groups of students in schools perform equally on standardized tests and punishes schools that fall behind.

"I like being able to address these issues now, because I have a vote," Noonan said. "These issues are nothing new to me. I'm just looking at them from a different point of view."

The things that are new to Noonan are the monthly two-day meetings and the giant, telephone-book-size agendas.

He arrived in Sacramento this week to attend an orientation session along with two other new members appointed to the board last month: Alan Bersin, the superintendent of San Diego City Schools who was also appointed last month to serve as state education secretary, and Yvonne Chan, a Los Angeles-based charter school principal.

After attending day two of the state board meeting today, Noonan is scheduled to head back to Oceanside. While he will be in Sacramento for meetings for two days every two months, his new role will be time-consuming, he said.

"I was warned," he said. "It's a lot of reading. They have to mail some of the information to me because it wouldn't fit in my suitcase."

During his four-year, unpaid term with the board, Noonan will continue in his role as superintendent of Oceanside schools.

Contact staff writer Louise Esola at (760) 901-4151 or lesola@nctimes.com.