Summer 2011

Biolans Up Close

Jim Brown ('78), California's top superintendent

What does it take to be one of the top educators in California? Just ask Biola alumnus Jim Brown (’78), who was recently named the state’s “Superintendent/Principal of the Year” — one of 24 statewide honors given by the Association of California School Administrators in 2011. Brown, who holds a doctorate in education from the University of La Verne, currently serves as superintendent and principal of the two-campus College School District in Santa Ynez, Calif. A 30-year educator, he says his interest in teaching was sparked when he met his wife, Joanie, who is now a retired teacher. He recently shared some of his story with Biola Magazine.

My initial interests when I was a young person were for the ministry. I felt called and had planned to serve in the church and had also a high interest in youth ministry and young people. 

I was a teenager in Palmdale and actually attended church there for several years. In fact, some of the Sutherlands were the founders, charter members, of Palmdale First Baptist Church. [Sam Sutherland was Biola’s longtime president.] I’d been in their homes a few times as a teenager as well, so that Biola tradition has been part of me and my own life and development over the years.

I graduated in June of ’78 with a bachelor’s degree in biblical studies. Halfway through my junior year, I began to consider the
possibility of teaching. … I actually finished my credential the following semester after I graduated in January of ’79.

I was actually in the education department just shortly after I finished my credential when the education secretary at the time, Pat Weaver, took a phone call from a superintendent who was looking for a third-grade teacher. 

She wrote down the phone number, looked at me and said, “Jim, are you interested in a third-grade position?”

I called the superintendent. He invited me for an interview and hired me. That’s how my career started, and it all happened right there at Biola. 

The combination of a Christian education coupled with the education practices and strategies that the education program offered, I think was really foundational for me in terms of my own teaching philosophy and my own belief in servant leadership. And taking from my own education at Biola came the belief that being a leader is really all about being a servant. 

My first priority is to serve those for whom I’m responsible. 

I taught in the classroom for about eight years. I taught mostly elementary but I also taught seventh and eighth grades, and I also did a lot of coaching in the schools and really enjoyed that.

It’s been a remarkable opportunity for me here these last 12 years as the superintendent of the College School District in Santa Ynez. The district has truly become an award-winning school district with a record of achievements through the years.

But I’m only the leader of an incredible team of teachers and instructional support staff — a team of people who really care about kids, are incredibly dedicated and have really worked hard through the years to make sure that the school district was able to accomplish all of these results.

The Association of California School Administrators has an annual awards program and I was nominated here from Santa Barbara County. I learned about my nomination in December, and in January I was notified that I was the tri-county regional winner in the counties of San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara and Ventura. 

I was very surprised and humbled to hear about the nomination. But then to have learned that I won the [state] award, that was even more so. And I really felt honored.

I remember when the phone call came through, I said, “Now, wait a minute. Are you sure that you’ve got the right guy?” And of course, everyone laughed, and they said, “Yes, Jim, we know who we’re talking to and just want to congratulate you.”

It’s been quite a spring for me because I’m not used to this kind of recognition. And even now when people bring it up, I can’t help but blush a little bit because I’m not used to being paid that kind of attention.

The everyday opportunity to be able to have an influence on the kids and adults in the school district — that’s really the best part about my work. No doubt about it.

About the Illustrator: Emily Weiss (‘05) works as a graphic designer for The Father’s House in Vacaville, Calif.You can find more of her work at emilymade.wordpress.com.

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