Citing his vow for transparency and honest and open communication, Steve Sommers, a philanthropic advisor and adjunct professor, has thrown his hat into the ring for one of three open seats on the San Marino School Board at the November 6 election.
“First and foremost, for all stakeholders, we need to invite a conversation,” Sommers said earlier this week. “There will be difficult decisions that need to be made and you have to have an open door. Whether it’s about the bond issue, school lunches or the length of the drop-off line, that is going to be my policy. There will always be open communication. I will be an honest communicator—with those who agree with me and those who don’t agree with me.”
Dr. Alex Cherniss’s acceptance of a similar post at the Palos Verdes Peninsula Unified School District and the SMUSD’s need to find a new superintendent will present an immediate challenge to the new school board.
“The departure of Dr. Cherniss and this election represent an opportunity for the school board and our community,” Sommers said. “We need a superintendent who is competent but also someone who will foster respect, trust and decorum within our community. Someone whose leadership has been proven through demonstrated confidence in their leadership by his or her prior constituency.”
Sommers also feels that keeping up with current technology will also be a priority.
“Technologically speaking, both content and innovation are influencing and transforming education,” Sommers explained. “These changes are transforming the landscape of higher education. More content is being delivered online than at any time in recent history. Currently, knowledge doubles roughly every 13 months. According to IBM, the ‘internet of things’ will cause knowledge to double every 12 hours. As a result, culture is also changing rapidly. We must equip our children to cope and thrive in an era of rapid technological and culture change.”
Financial sustainability is also a key issue.
“Although fiscally sound now, where will we be in the future when we face future economic downturns and state funding challenges?” Sommers wondered. “The Schools Foundation can make a tremendous contribution to our future financial sustainability. Annually, the foundation supports our schools with a roughly $2 million unrestricted contribution. There is also a relatively small endowment. I would love to see a much larger endowment and double the annual support. But trust must be earned to achieve such lofty goals. In my estimation, the case for support of the Schools Foundation should be based on a vision and willingness to invest in our children’s future and success—and for no other reason.”
Sommers graduated from Augustana College in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. He earned his Masters and PhD at Fuller Seminary in Pasadena. He is also an senior adjunct professor at Azusa Pacific University, where he teaches several classes per year. Previously, he served as Assistant Vice Chancellor of the Business School at Pepperdine University.
He was also a tenured English teacher in the Hacienda La Puente Unified School District and believes his background in education will help him make wise decisions as a school board member.
“The relationship in the classroom between the teacher and the student is sacrosanct,” Sommers shared. “You have to have excellent teachers. You have to recruit them and you have to retain them. You have to be a place where they say ‘I want to go there!’ The culture has to be one that is attractive to bring aboard the very best talent.”
Sommers admires the district’s emphasis on campus safety.
“I believe that education begins in the context of a safe learning environment,’ Sommers said. “We need to ensure that we are doing all we can to guarantee our children’s safety. A day should never arrive when we realize we could have done more. That day will never come for me. You cannot have good education without a safe environment.”
Sommers also encouraged the district to continue developing partnerships “with institutions such as Caltech, Pasadena City College, the Huntington Library, City of Hope and others.”
In addition to being a professor, Sommers is a Senior Philanthropic Advisor for Wells Fargo the Private Bank, where he finds solutions for philanthropic needs and works to achieve philanthropic goals for clients. He is also a member of the Tournament of Roses.
Sommers and his wife, Meredith, have four children, all of whom are or will in the next year be attending San Marino schools. Meredith Sommers is a Client Partner at Franklin Covey, where she works in their education division. She is also a member of the district’s Academic Advisory Committee.
“We are a great school district, but we have to be thinking five to ten or even more years down the road,” Sommers said. “We have a great legacy and we need to build upon that legacy. I am running because I believe in our schools and the power of education to improve lives and I want to see this legacy continue.”