San Mateo-Foster City district has entrepreneurial new superintendent 

Cyndy Simms, the new superintendent of one of San Mateo County’s largest school districts, brings a wealth of entrepreneurial experience that she hopes will help her find funding for the cash-strapped district.

As a superintendent in Steamboat Springs, Colo., her district became the first in the state to levy a half-cent sales tax — raising around $2 million a year for her schools. As top dog in Mercer Island, Wash., she said she worked with a community foundation to cold-call every parent in the district — also yielding about $2 million.

“That might not be the way we raise funds here,” Simms said. “It’s a matter of thinking what is right for our community, what is special about our district that will get people to be intrigued and attracted.” Simms, 61, replaced San Mateo-Foster City School District Superintendent Pendery Clark on July 6, following his retirement from the 10,900-student K-8 district. Born in San Francisco, Simms became a teacher and school administrator, working her way up to spend 23 years as a superintendent in four districts.

According to a district statement, Simms is “experienced in interest-based bargaining with public employee unions and is known for her collaborative approach to the issues facing public schools.” That approach landed her in trouble in 2010, when she clashed with trustees on the board of the 14,000-student Walnut Valley Unified School District in Southern California. Simms was fired on “amicable” terms over differences in “leadership philosophy and management style,” according to a statement from that district.

“When I was hired, they were looking for a collaborative leader, and that’s my style, but as things went along, a couple board members felt differently,” Simms said.

She said the issue was that, while the board of trustees initially supported her collaborating with members of the public, they later disagreed with the decision they had reached.

“I thought maybe I should retire, maybe I’m not supposed to be a superintendent anymore,” said Simms. But not long after retiring, Simms was offered a job as interim superintendent of the Los Gatos School District.

“When Los Gatos came along, I thought, ‘Why not? I’m really not ready to hang up my superintendent shoes yet.” After going back to work, Simms said she recalled how much she loved her job.

Chris Miller, a trustee on the Los Gatos district board, said teachers appreciated when Simms sent out weekly updates and visited the school sites every week.

“She was really wanting to get involved and know about the schools,” Miller said, adding that Simms did a “tremendous” job of advancing the district’s strategic plan for curriculum and instruction.

“I know she’s going to be very successful in her new district,” Miller said.

San Mateo District trustee Lory Lawson said Simms was selected from a “great pool of applicants” largely because of her range of experience. Lawson said Simms’ firing had no bearing on the district’s decision to hire her.

Simms said she believes the role of educators today is to make sure students have a global perspective, develop empathy for all people and gain the preparation to succeed at whatever they chose to do when they graduate.

Cyndy Simms

Experience: Interim Superintendent for the Los Gatos Union School District in Los Gatos. Superintendent for:
- Walnut Valley Unified School District in California
- Mercer Island School District in Washington
- Steamboat Springs School District in Colorado
- Placerville Union School District in California

Education
- Bachelor’s degree in elementary education from Bethany College
- Master’s degree in public administration from the University of Denver
- Master’s degree in education from the University of Virginia, majoring in special education
- Doctorate degree in school administration from the University of Denver in 1985

Growing district needs new school

The San Mateo-Foster City School District is moving ahead with plans to build a new 15- to 17-classroom elementary school in Foster City.

Last week, district officials put a $25 million bond on the November ballot in the hopes that Foster City voters will agree to help cover the cost of the school.

The tax would run about $19 per $100,000 of a property’s assessed value and requires 55 percent voter approval to pass. An independent poll found 60 percent of city voters supported the tax hike, which would apply only to Foster City thanks to a special tax zone the district created.

The bond also would cover any property costs beyond those covered by $12.5 million in remaining funds from a 2008 bond measure. The district is considering four properties that range between $2 million and $20 million.

Board of Trustees President Mark Hudak said the city needs a fourth elementary school because two schools are already full and the third, Foster City Elementary School, has “gone far beyond the standards that we have for students on a single campus.”

“We are running out of room to house our students,” newly appointed Superintendent Cyndy Simms said. Unlike most districts in the state, which are shrinking, San Mateo-Foster City expects enrollment to grow by about 400 students over the next five years, Hudak said.

The district, which has 14 elementary schools and one middle school, may be the county’s fastest-growing, said County Superintendent of Schools Ann Campbell, in part because people are moving there for the schools.

Another draw is that the district lets parents choose among 20 highly varied schools.

Countywide, enrollment — already at 90,000 — is growing at rate of about 1,000 kids a year, Campbell said.

Parents have strongly supported the idea of building a new school as opposed to adding to the existing ones, Hudak said.

Finding funds

How the district will pay for its new elementary school
- $25 million bond on the Nov. 8 ballot raised by charging $19 per $100,000 of a property’s assessed value
- $12.5 million remaining Measure L funds

How county schools are growing
- District expects to add about 400 students over the next five years
- Enrollment is growing at rate of about 1,000 kids a year

Source: San Mateo-Foster City School District

nkyriakou@sfexaminer.com

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Niko Kyriakou

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