Temecula school board hires new superintendent amid controversy over selection process

Rob McMillan Image
Thursday, November 16, 2023
Temecula school board hires new superintendent amid controversy
The Temecula Valley Unified School District board approved the hiring of a new superintendent, while critics assailed the hiring process that they said was rushed and lacked transparency.

TEMECULA, Calif. (KABC) -- With the Temecula Valley Unified School District embroiled in controversy over several recent decisions made by the conservative bloc of the board of education, this week's vote to hire Dr. Gary Woods as the district's new superintendent was no different.

"No matter how great any candidates came into the room, I cannot put my name by it because it was not transparent," argued board member Allison Barclay, who said the process was rushed and not transparent.

"I haven't seen a resume of anyone who applied for this position."

The other dissenting vote came from board member Steven Schwartz.

"All I know is we saw three people; I did not see any application materials, resumes or anything else of that nature," said Schwartz. "Openness and communication with parents and stakeholders has not been done in this process and I believe it is a sham."

But the three members of the Temecula Valley School District's board who voted for Woods, who served as superintendent of the Beverly Hills Unified School District from 2011-2015, said he was the right choice for the job.

"Beverly Hills isn't Temecula," said board member Jennifer Wiersma. "But he has the resume; he has the doctorate; he has the experience in the classroom with kids on every level to connect with each one of you.

Dozens of high school students walked out of Great Oak High School in Temecula, protesting recent school board actions that protesters say target the LGBTQ community.

"I'm telling you, he walked into the room and emanated a strength and charisma that touched me. I truly believe right now with where we're at, he's going to be someone who's going to put his arm around you and say I'm with you."

Board member Danny Gonzalez is also impressed with Woods' credentials.

"I think this gentlemen is exactly what this district needs at this time," said Gonzalez. "He draws from a wealth of different experience he brings into this district, and an outside perspective-not business as usual that we've seen here the last two decades."

Woods was a high school teacher in Turlock, in Stanislaus County, before serving as superintendent at both the San Marino Unified School District and Beverly Hills Unified School District.

Noah Margo, the current school board president in Beverly Hills, said when he worked with Woods more than a decade ago, he was mild-mannered, a good listener and incredibly focused on the classroom.

"He organized well, related to his staff well, and built a good cabinet," said Margo, who thinks he can succeed in Temecula, even with the district embroiled in controversy.

"I think he can fit in. He's not a novice with a politicized school board."

But several members of the public spoke out against the decision to hire Woods.

"The candidate chosen has been out of public-school leadership since 2015," said Chris Lindberg, a 4th grade teacher in the school district and former president of the Temecula Valley Educators Association. "A world of changes have happened in the educational sector in that time."

Lindberg also questioned Woods' capability to serve as leader of such a large district.

"When this chosen candidate was a principal, his school only had 600 students; a number surpassed in size by many of our elementary schools. When he was a superintendent, his district was only ten percent the size of ours."

Resident Jenny Sharp also disagreed with the hiring process, saying the three conservative school board members promised transparency during the election.

"The lack of transparency when picking this superintendent goes against everything this board ran on."

If Wood passes a background check, his first day with the district will be Nov. 27th. His annual salary will be $333,000.