Sheila Jordan’s Legacy Poses a Challenge for her Hand-Picked Successor

Candidates to replace retiring Alameda County Superintendent of Schools Sheila Jordan at a forum Wednesday in Hayward. Left to right, Jeff Bowser, Helen Foster, Karen Monroe and Ursula Reed. PHOTO/Steven Tavares

CAMPAIGN 2014 | ALCO SUPERINTENDENT OF SCHOOLS |There has long been a sense the queen of Alameda County education, Sheila Jordan, has become unresponsive to the needs of some of its struggling school districts and created a bloated administration filled with, what critics derisively describe as F.O.S, or, Friends of Sheila. With Jordan, a former city council and school board members in Oakland, retiring this year, four candidates say they hope to improve the quality of education in Alameda County, except, it’s not hard to discern which of the three is Jordan’s hand-picked successor.

Sheila Jordan

Karen Monroe was named assistant county superintendent two years ago, but as Jordan was contemplating retirement last year, she quietly moved to appoint Monroe to replace her. However, some members of the Alameda County Board of Education privately nixed the idea of giving Monroe the electorally advantageous power of the incumbency in 2014. Monroe acknowledges the attempt by Jordan to appoint her as a replacement, but says she preferred running for office on her own merits.

“The idea of an appointment came up,” said Monroe, “but I asked her to let me run because I know how that works. I know people around here in the community are not in favor of that move.” She also wanted to maintain her independence, she said. “First of all, I’m not going to owe anybody anything for putting me in office.” Nevertheless, some are already connecting Monroe with her ties to Jordan. “Sure, I get that often. ‘Are you just going to be Sheila’s best friend? Are you going to be the same [as Jordan]?’,” said Monroe. “I do work for her. There are things that I like about what she’s done, there are things I would do differently.”

In addition to Monroe, the June 3 race includes San Leandro Councilmember Ursula Reed, Pleasanton Unified School District Trustee Jeff Bowser and San Lorenzo Unified School District Trustee Helen Foster.

If a majority of the vote is not gained by
any candidate June 3, a general election
matchup between Monroe and Reed is likely.
PHOTO/Steven Tavares 

Monroe’s three opponents are well aware of the positives and negatives associated with being Jordan’s favored successor. During an hour-long candidates forum Wednesday evening, it was clear the basis of their platforms, outside of Monroe’s, was to portray Jordan’s 14-year tenure in a negative light, even as the subject of their dissatisfaction was watching from the back of the room.

“I don’t think we need more of the same,” said Foster. “I think we need fresh ideas and we need the modeling of those ideas from the top.” Many in the community from school district superintendents on down to parents say there is no outreach from the county superintendent’s office, she added, “For the last 15 years, I feel like the Alameda County office has lost sight of its mission and purpose.”

Reed, who won a second term to the San Leandro City Council in 2012, likely possesses the most political experience in the race. She has also worked for school districts in Oakland and Hayward. “I believe that makes the difference,” said Reed, who advocated for creating partnerships between the Alameda County Office of Education and private companies. Earlier in the forum, Reed also made allusion to Jordan’s legacy when she vowed to eliminate cronyism at the office of education.

Bowser was the more deferential of the candidates toward Jordan as he often took the high road while using personal stories to convey his platform. As the first of three to graduate from college from a strong middle class background, Bowser said the inaccessibility of higher education worries him. “What really scares me about this economy that we see is we’re losing those middle class jobs and we know the key aspect in order to gain this is to make sure we have a well-educated and healthy populace and it starts with the schools,” said Bowser.

However, when it came time for Monroe to defend her position, and by extension, her boss’s accomplishments, she said, “I don’t think we’re broken. We are absolutely not broken. Can we get better? Absolutely.”