Sacramento education leaders laud Noonan
North County Times
May 12, 2005

By: LOUISE ESOLA - Staff Writer

SACRAMENTO ---- If they hadn't already met him at some point in his 35-year career as a California educator, many of the prominent educators in Sacramento said they had at least heard of Oceanside Unified School District Superintendent Ken Noonan, who was well received this week in his new side role as a member of the state Board of Education.

"We are all very pleased to have him here," said state Board of Education President Ruth Green, who met Noonan for the first time this week but has known about him for years. "He will serve the state very well with all the experiences he brings."

 Noonan was appointed to the board by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger last month and attended his first two-day board session in Sacramento on Wednesday and Thursday, dealing with such key education issues as California's take on the federal No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 and the California High School Exit Exam.

Even though he sat among other board members this week, casting votes and contributing to discussions, he still needs to win confirmation from a Senate rules committee, which has one year to schedule its hearing.

The confirmation hearing could serve as a rallying point for bilingual education proponents, some of whom have already said they plan to raise concerns over Noonan's no-exceptions, strict implementation of a state law ---- Proposition 227 ---- banning bilingual education.

But in a large meeting room in the state's Department of Education building catty-corner to the state Capitol building, it was nothing but praise Thursday for the leader of the 21,500-student district in Oceanside.

Noonan was called a "star" by San Diego City Schools Superintendent Alan Bersin, who was also appointed to the state board in the last month. "I have admired his work as a fellow superintendent. As I said to him, I couldn't be happier working with him on issues that are critical to public education."

Noonan has earned a national reputation as the guiding force behind dramatic improvements in student test scores in a school district that was once proclaimed as the worst in San Diego County, Bersin and other officials said.

He's also known for admitting when he's wrong, said state school board member Ruth Bloom, who said she admires Noonan for switching his stance on bilingual education after seeing that students learned English faster in all-English immersion classes.

"He learned to change his mind," Bloom said. "That will be something good for this board, because it sets an example for the other board members."

Noonan, once a bilingual education teacher and founding president of the California Association for Bilingual Educators, has been lauded nationally and statewide for admitting that immigrant students who learned to read and write at a faster pace without bilingual education "proved him wrong," as he wrote in an op-ed piece in the Washington Post four years ago.

That's a statement that Bonnie Reiss, another state board member who is familiar with Noonan's work, said she recalled when she heard of his appointment to the board.

"I think he's an example of fabulous leadership with an open mind," she said. "That's something good for this board."

The state board serves as the decision-making body of the state Department of Education, which oversees all K-12 school districts throughout California. 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.

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