Almanac

Schools - March 24, 2010

Insider to take over high school district

by Dave Boyce

The transition coming to the top of the Sequoia Union High School District has the earmarks of being seamless when a new superintendent takes over in July.

The governing board, in a unanimous decision, announced at its March 17 meeting that it had appointed current assistant superintendent and business officer James Lianides, 56, to take over from Superintendent Patrick Gemma when Mr. Gemma retires on June 30 after seven years on the job.

A Feb. 24 decision to limit the candidate search to employees of the district was not unanimous. Board member Chris Thomsen, preferring a nationwide search, dissented in the 4-1 vote made behind closed doors.

Atherton resident and open-government advocate Peter Carpenter said that the board's Feb. 24 action violates the state's open-meeting law, the Brown Act, and should have been discussed and voted upon in public. He has requested that the district rescind its decision or face a lawsuit.

The Sequoia district's lawyer and a lawyer from the District Attorney's Office have both said the board acted appropriately.

No down time

Mr. Gemma hired Mr. Lianides in 2008, and he has since had a high profile on many district issues.

"We are extremely fortunate to have (Mr.) Lianides ready to succeed superintendent Gemma," board president Olivia Martinez said in a statement. "... he will contribute new ideas and leadership to the upward trajectory achieved during Dr. Gemma's tenure."

"There'll be no 'down time' during this pivotal transition, which is particularly important now, with the significant challenges we currently face," Ms. Martinez continued. "Transition to (Mr.) Lianides promises to be smooth, without interruption to the ongoing work and achievements of our outstanding staff and excellent schools."

Since his arrival, Mr. Lianides activities have included:

• Preparing the annual budget, now at $100 million, amid widespread budget cutting by public agencies.

• Overseeing capital projects such as the completion of the new theater at Menlo-Atherton High School in 2009.

• Participating in the district's career technical education initiative.

• Participating in the effort to make the district greener environmentally, including recycling and composting initiatives.

• Managing the district's $6.5 million loss when Lehman Brothers investment bank went bankrupt in 2008. (The Lehman investment was overseen by the county treasurer.)

• Being at Mr. Gemma's right hand in dealing with charter schools, including the controversial effort to place Everest Public High School in East Palo Alto rather than Redwood City, where Everest officials wanted to be and now are.

Thirty-year career

Mr. Lianides came to the Sequoia district from the Pacifica School District, where he was the superintendent.

He lives in and grew up in Redwood City, and graduated from Woodside High School, which is the alma mater of his two sons, district spokeswoman Bettylu Smith said. He is fluent in Spanish.

Mr. Lianides has a bachelor's degree in psychology from the University of California at Berkeley, a master's degree in educational administration from San Jose State University, and a doctorate in education from a program run by UC Berkeley and California State University, Ms. Smith said.

He has headed schools in Mountain View and Half Moon Bay, and taught bilingual classes in Los Angeles and Redwood City, she said. As the business officer for the Pacifica School District, he was recognized by the state's association of school administrators.

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