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New school superintendent joins TTUSD

SHERRY MAYS

Patrick Gemma was expected to be named Tahoe-Truckee Unified School District superintendent at last night’s board meeting.

The district board finalized contract negotiations last week and was scheduled to formally approve Gemma’s contract last night after press time.

Gemma, who left the Piedmont Unified School District as its assistant superintendent for curriculum and personnel, is scheduled to replace retiring Vince Deveney Aug. 17.

“All of the basics are intact,” said Gemma about the district’s commitment to the community. “The children are well cared for and the teachers are dedicated. The board is committed to moving the district forward and they are making sure there is the correct leadership to do that.”

Gemma and the board negotiated a contract that will start Gemma at a base salary of $92,000. In addition to the salary, he will receive a $600 per month car allowance, a stipend toward health, vision and dental insurance and paid memberships to professional and community organizations. His contract expires June, 30, 2001.

Prior to his three and one half years at the PUSD, Gemma served in the Martinez Unified School District for 15 years as both a high school and middle school principal. He was also a special education teacher and elementary teacher earlier in his career.

“Pat brings to the district terrific experience, but mostly incredible excitement and exuberance for education and for children,” said John Wojcik, Tahoe-Truckee Unified School District board president. “He has been at the forefront of his prior two districts’ efforts to pass general obligation bonds that were used to modernize outdated facilities. He seems to have the right blend of prior experiences and practical knowledge to help us confront the challenges that face the TTUSD.”

Gemma said he is ready for the challenges, but is optimistic with the support the community has shown for the district. He said the three major issues confronting the district are passing the bonds that will be coming up in March 1999, the reunification of the lakeside and Truckee schools, and adopting a strategy to tie in the local improvement plan with the district’s site plans.

“We need to work on adequate housing needs for our students,” Gemma said. “Then we need to look at the diversity within our district and work on unification. The schools are site-based (managed) now, but maybe there needs to be more standardization to insure equity among the different schools.”

As the Alhambra High School principal in the Martinez district, Gemma assisted in the restructuring of the high school with his efforts in the passage of a $25 million bond to rebuild the high school. He provided daily leadership to the design and construction of new and renovated facilities. In addition, he facilitated staff efforts to implement block scheduling, integrated curriculum and provided an infusion of technology and multiple graduation paths.

In a letter of recommendation for Gemma, Assistant Superintendent Laura Febus from the MUSD wrote, “Mr. Gemma never tired of looking at new ideas. He enthusiastically accepted the challenge of being a change agent championing ideas that led to improved programs and opportunities for students. As Alhambra High School Principal, he challenged the staff to create a new vision for a comprehensive high school. (He was never the one) to shy away from hard work.”

Gemma said his approach to the upcoming bonds will be to spread a new message about the importance of community in the equation for success.

“There are always opponents to every issue,” he said. “People are not the problem, they are the solutions to the problem, and they need to hear that. Once people feel personally successful, the overall success of the district will follow.

“We don’t need to get positive results by beating people up.”

This mutual respect for the community and the district is a legacy left by Deveney, according to Gemma.

“Relationships are everything to Vince,” he said. “He was strong in maintaining relationships and building the notion of family. He cares about you not only as employees, but as people. He cares about you not only as students, but as people.”

Gemma said he understands that building trusting relationships takes time, but he said he is committed to doing that.

“This is a world-class environment,” he said. “I am personally energized in this area. I will bring that excitement to the district.”

Gemma has been skiing the Lake Tahoe area for more than 20 years, some of which were spent working as a ski instructor. He said the prospect of being able to live here and work in the capacity of superintendent is an unbelievable opportunity.

He said he is looking forward to having his two daughters, one leaving to teach in Spain and the other a college senior, visit and enjoy the area with him.

Deveney attended his last TTUSD board meeting last night, which Wojcik said would be a bittersweet moment.

“We are excited to welcome Pat to the district,” he said. “But we are also sad to see Vince go.”

Other agenda items discussed at the board meeting were:

— the approval of the 1998-99 site plans for North Tahoe High, Tahoe Lake Elementary, Kings Beach Elementary and Sierra High schools.

— the approval of a local agreement for child development services that would offer infant care facilities and practical experience classes for teen parents.

Sierra Sun E-mail: sun@tahoe.com

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