New schools czar targets San Mateo’s ills

David Miller, the recently named permanent superintendent of the San Mateo Union High School District, is quickly acclimating to the troubles of driving through the Bay Area.

“I’ve found this to be an extremely rewarding job, enjoyed every minute of it — except when I’m on Highway 101,” said the 61-year-old Turlock resident.

He will also need to quickly adjust to a school district that has gone through a tumultuous year in 2007.

Miller, the interim head of the school district since Sam Johnson’s retirement in June, has agreed to in the district until at least June 2008.

He said he will decide in February whether to pursue a longer tenure in San Mateo.

But Miller has his work cut out for him as he attempts to mend the district’s troubled financial situation. Johnson retired in June after the district endured layoffs, budget cuts and teacher-contract protests in addition to a student walkout. He left after three years as the schools chief.

“The goals here at the district are not just my goals,” Miller said. “Anyone who comes here with only his goals is naïve and a fool.”

The Ohio native has 26 years of experience as a superintendent on a global scale. He served as superintendent in Zaire in the 1970s and in Greece and United Arab Emirates in the 1980s.

His more recent endeavors include leading schools in Hilmar, a town of around 4,800 just south of Turlock in Merced County, for seven years.

“Their claim to fame is that they have the largest cheese factory in one location in the world,” he said.

Under his direction, API scores shot up from the lowest to the highest in the county from 2002 to this year.

During his short stint at SMUHSD, school board members have praised him. Over the past year and a half, the district has experienced labor strife, financial debt and critical civil grand jury reports.

“He has done a great job for us,” said board trustee Linda Lees Dwyer. “I was told that selecting a superintendent is the most important thing a board will do, and now I agree.”

Miller drives home to Turlock on weekends, and he is building a home in Washington with his wife. However, with his new job, he is home-shopping in the area while staying at hotels during the week.

As to whether he will work beyond June of next year, he said, “It depends on my wife’s wishes and whether I feel I am contributing positively to the district.”

bfoley@examiner.com

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