San Gabriel Valley Tribune 6/21/2012
Maria Ott's 41-year career as an educator has taken her from the classroom to the chief administrator's office. And it is the former that she says has shaped her.
"Work at the classroom level is the most important work that we do," she said. "The experience of the classroom has always stayed with me."
Ott, 64, announced plans last week to retire as superintendent of the 16,000-student Rowland Unified School District, which operates 20 elementary and secondary schools in the cities of Rowland Heights, Walnut, La Puente, Industry and West Covina.
She has accepted a position as executive in residence at USC, where she will teach a graduate level course and work with the school of education on projects, Ott said. She begins in October.
Rowland Unified board member Heidi Gallegos said the board received the news with a "heavy heart.""She's an extraordinary superintendent," Gallegos said."As a board, we understand, and we support her. And at USC, Ott will continue to have an incredible impact on education."
Board members said they have not yet began discussing a replacement for Ott. Ott, who was born in Germany while her father was stationed there in the military, came to the United States at the age of 5 speaking only German. She suddenly found herself in an English-speaking world at school and in the Spanish-speaking environment of her father's family.
The experience gave her a sensitivity to the challenges faced by students who are learning to speak English. "It's been an area of personal passion for me, because I lived the journey," she said. Ott said she has "great empathy with adults and students" who are going through similar experiences.
In 2009, the California Association for Bilingual Education named her administrator of the year. Ott joined the Rowland Unified school district in 2005 as superintendent. Prior to that she served for five years in the Los Angeles Unified School District as senior deputy superintendent. She also served as superintendent of Little Lake City School District, which has schools in Santa Fe Springs, Norwalk and southeastern Downey.
She will continue as superintendent at Rowland Unified until the opening of the new school year in August. "It was a very difficult decision for me," she said of leaving Rowland Unified. "I've shed many tears."
In addition to bringing her experience to USC, Ott hopes to have more time to write. She co-wrote "A Culturally Proficient Society Begins at School," published by Corwin Press in 2011.She makes the transition between jobs with some concerns about the future of education in the United States. "I'm very worried about the impact of the economy on education for us as a nation," she said.
College costs also are a concern. "For many students, college education is unaffordable, and I worry about how that will affect the nation," she said.
But Ott is confident in the future for Rowland Unified. When she became superintendent of Rowland Unified, Ott said she faced the challenge of replacing a generation of educators who were nearing retirement. She also faced the impact of reduced budgets during her tenure. However, she said the district was able to weather the storm, protect programs and maintain class sizes. "Her legacy will live on" at Rowland Unified, said Gallegos.
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