DEL MAR — As the new superintendent of the Del Mar Union School District, Sharon McClain is backed by more than a century of educational experience, and she has the documentation to prove it. One of the many framed certificates displayed on her office walls is her grandmother’s teaching diploma dated January 1907.
In addition, her mother, great-aunt, aunt and brother have been teachers, and her husband, Joe Condon, recently began his 17th year as superintendent of Lawndale Elementary School District in Los Angeles.
McClain began teaching in 1967, and her career accomplishments have grown to include principal, assistant superintendent and adjunct faculty member at Pepperdine University and the UCSD. Prior to her recent move, she was superintendent of the Hermosa Beach City School District for five years.
McClain spent her first month in Del Mar visiting each of the district’s eight schools. “I’m trying to go back now and meet with as many people as I can so I can get better ideas,” she said.
“The students are doing very well,” McClain said. “I think the instruction is very high-quality. The district is doing really positive things to make the educational program better and to make sure they’re helping every child.”
After her first month on the job, McClain has already set several goals to ensure continued success.
“The children in Del Mar really are very high-performing,” McClain said. “But you always can do better. The focus in a lot of districts is on the lowest-performing child. One of the goals of this district needs to be that we challenge those high-performing children as well.”
McClain also has plans to improve communication and develop collaboration among the different groups serving the district.
“The communication system needs to be enhanced,” she said. “When you’re in a district with eight schools, it’s hard to make sure you’re communicating with everyone, and I think that’s really important. Sometimes people can get the wrong impression or wrong information about something. Then it spins out of control and people will think that’s the way it is. So one of my goals is to make sure there’s correct information out there and that people feel connected to the school district.”
McClain would also like to coordinate the efforts of the PTA, education foundation, teachers union and classified staff.
“We need collaboration among our groups of people,” she said. “One of my other goals is to bring them together. … I think that’s what it takes to make a really good school district and to help kids succeed.”
Another goal is to continue the development programs that were in place prior to her arrival. One such program is the professional learning communities, which helps schools organize their curriculum to meet the needs of all students. “It’s teachers meeting in teams to talk about how to meet the needs of the kids at their site,” McClain said. “It’s setting in place a lot of nets, and I really commend the district for providing the time for teachers to do this.”
As for challenges, McClain said one of her greatest will be finding a new home for the district offices. District personnel are currently housed at the Del Mar Shores Elementary site, which the city bought in May. According to the purchase agreement, the district can remain there for three years.
“I’m working to get the board a lot of options,” she said, such as buying or leasing an existing building or buying property and building new offices. “With the economic downturn, some of that is possible now where it wasn’t maybe eight or nine months ago,” she said. “Now maybe there are some things that would open up for the school district to buy or use. We’re looking into that.”
The city has discussed asking the district to modify the purchase agreement to include possibly vacating the site early. “I would encourage anybody in the City Council to come and speak to the school board … because I know that the board would be willing to listen.”
McClain also faces seemingly continuous state budget cuts.
“We’re facing really challenging times with the budget,” she said. “We will need to take a really detailed and hard look at our budget and make sure our income and our expenses are in line. Right now they are not in line. We’re overspending.
“We’re not in trouble,” she said. “We’re not going to go bankrupt, but if we continue on the path that we’re on we will eventually get into trouble and we need to make sure the district has the funds to pay for the programs they want to have in place.”
When dealing with those challenges, McClain said she keeps the best interest of the students her main priority by asking herself, “Is what I’m doing going to help children or be a convenience for adults?”
Despite her list of goals and challenges, McClain said she is enjoying her new position. “I think it’s going really well,” she said. “It’s just a great place and I’m really happy to be here.”